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The Spectator 2 September 2017

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2 september 2017 [ £4.25 [ est. 1828
Iran is our natural ally
The National Trust in trouble
Boris in Libya
John R. Bradley
Camilla Swift
James Landale
Can you forgive her?
Isabel Hardman and Matthew Parris on Theresa May’s fate
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established 1828
Call Barnier’s bluff
here is a growing perception that
Britain is floundering in its EU
negotiations, with a professional
team from Brussels running rings around
our bumbling amateurs. It is an idea that is
being put about by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, who this week appealed
for Britain to begin ‘negotiating seriously’.
As he has found out, the strange dynamic of
British public debate at present means that
EU spin is repeated uncritically by those
hostile to Brexit. It can seem, at times, as if we
are in the grip of hysteria normally seen during the final days of an election campaign.
This is not to say that the British side has
been faultless. The government has struggled to articulate the clear case for Brexit
that we heard during the Leave campaign. It
also seems to be repeating David Cameron’s
pre-referendum mistake of assuming that a
good deal is inevitable. The Prime Minister
has said that ‘no deal is better than a bad
deal’ but no longer seems to believe it. Her
argument is that the European countries
have as much to gain from a free-trade deal
as Britain does — but we are not negotiating with those countries. We’re talking to
a dysfunctional EU apparatus, and a team
of negotiators that has never succeeded in
agreeing a deal with one of Europe’s top
five trading partners.
As M. Barnier says, time is passing
quickly. So the British government must go
over the heads of Barnier and his team and
start appealing directly to the governments,
people and commercial interests of other
EU nations. As many governments recognise, there should be no practical obstacles
to Britain establishing a post-Brexit trade
deal with the EU. We are starting from a
straightforward position of free trade. Inevi-
tably, there will be some sticking points —
the main one is bound to be agricultural
goods. Given the EU’s instinctive protectionism, it will be tricky to see how British
farmers can continue to enjoy access to EU
markets while Britain and the EU develop
very different policies to food imports from
Asia, Africa and South America.
Yet progress on these issues could
already be well under way were it not for the
obstructive approach being taken by Barnier
and his team. They have at least been consistent: at the beginning of the negotiations
they said they would refuse to discuss trade
until Britain had agreed to pay a substantial
EU commercial interests
are not going to tolerate
Barnier’s obstinacy for ever
leaving bill. Ever since, they have stuck to
that line, with the result that trade talks have
not even begun. In Barnier’s fantasy world,
this delay is hurting Britain alone. When he
talks of ‘a clock ticking’, it is as if a trade deal
would be of benefit only to Britain, a kindly
offer from the EU which we are in danger of
losing out on.
If anything, given the UK’s trade gap
with the rest of the EU, it is Europe which
stands to suffer more if trade barriers are
erected across the Channel. Last year,
British exporters sold £240 billion-worth of
goods and services to other EU countries,
while they sold £310 billion-worth to us.
The weakness of Barnier’s position is that
commercial interests within the EU know full
well what is at stake and they are not going
to tolerate his obstinacy for ever. There will
come a time when individual member states
begin to question whether he is engaged in
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
a purely political battle, one in which he is
prepared to harm EU industries to score
a perceived moral victory over the UK.
Already there are some signs of this. Last
month, the Hungarian trade minister Peter
Szijjarto warned that Britain could emerge
stronger than the EU in the event of a failed
Brexit deal — he pointed out that in spite
of its claim to be a champion of free trade,
the EU has no deal with the US or China,
the world’s two largest economies, nor with
India, now the world’s fastest-growing large
The French government, too, seems to be
growing weary of Barnier’s blocking tactics.
It has proposed a compromise in which
demands for Britain to pay a ‘leaving bill’ of
€100 billion would be dropped in return for
us agreeing to continue paying our annual
£10 billion contribution for a transitional
period of three years. That would allow trade
talks to commence, but Barnier and his team
have rebuffed the idea.
To succeed in these negotiations, David
Davis and his team are going to have to
call Barnier’s bluff. First, they must prepare
and publish a proper plan for what to do in
the event of a failure to agree a deal with
the EU. Cameron’s failure to do so before
the referendum showed the EU’s negotiators that he was not serious, and that would
accept whatever crumbs they offered.
Theresa May’s government must not repeat
this error.
Barnier’s posturing shows up one of the
EU’s fundamental flaws and why so many in
Britain voted to leave. But this flags up a risk
that there might not be a deal in prospect
at all, because the EU is structurally incapable of negotiating one. And what then? The
government ought to have a good answer.
Was Darwin wrong? p36
Boris in Libya, p7
After the deluge, p12
Leading article
Portrait of the Week
Diary The Special Envoy is here,
and Boris is in his trunks
James Landale
10 Matthew Parris Mad, bad —
and scenting blood
13 Rod Liddle Diana the destroyer
21 Mary Wakefield Bending genders
22 Barometer Would Laurence Olivier
be allowed to play Othello today?
22 Ancient and modern
Reading Latin and trigger warnings
26 Letters Freedom of speech,
prostitution, and thespians
28 Any other business Healthcare,
hurricanes and a foreign student crisis
Martin Vander Weyer
30 Katrina Gulliver
on feeding the British empire
Can you forgive her?
Theresa May’s hoping you will
Isabel Hardman
Polly Walshe
32 Alexandra Coghlan
Mozart’s Starling, by
Lyanda Lynn Haupt
‘Days like trees’: a poem
12 Lessons from Houston
The resilience of Texas
Rupert Darwall and Fraser Nelson
33 Sam Byers
After Kathy Acker, by Chris Kraus
16 Iran is our natural ally
Our Saudi friendship is misguided
John R. Bradley
34 Robert Irwin
By the Pen and What They Write,
edited by Sheila Blair and
Jonathan Bloom
19 Hunters hounded
The National Trust’s strange stance
Camilla Swift
Sinclair McKay
The Last London, by Iain Sinclair
35 Michael Bartholomew Briggs
‘Rendez-vous’: a poem
20 Too Indian to adopt
‘Cultural matching’ goes too far
Sandeep Mander
36 Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
Charles Darwin, by A.N. Wilson
22 ‘Kill! Kill!’ yelled the mob
Is my MP’s reign of terror over?
Aidan Hartley
25 Let’s redo lunch
Ditch the sandwich and get creative
Laura Freeman
37 Caroline Moore
The Red-haired Woman, by
Orhan Pamuk
38 Andrew McKie
A Man of Shadows, by Jeff Noon
Leyla Sanai
The Wardrobe Mistress, by
Patrick McGrath
André Naffis-Sahely
Kate Chisholm and Charles Moore are away
‘A Kind of Love’: a poem
Cover by Morten Morland. Drawings by Michael Heath, Castro, Dredge, Roger Latham, K.J. Lamb, Adam Singleton, RGJ, Nick Newman. Paul Wood, Grizelda,
Geoff Thompson Editorial and advertising The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP, Tel: 020 7961 0200, Fax: 020 7681 3773, Email: (editorial); (for publication); (advertising); Advertising enquiries: 020 7961 0222 Subscription
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© 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 | 2 september 2017 |
Stevenson’s treasured
island, p41
Don’t cry for her, p13
How empire created appetite, p30
39 Emily Rhodes
Forest Dark, by Nicole Krauss
William Cook
The London Cage, by Helen Fry
40 James McNamara
Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie
Boris Johnson reveals he is
thinking of taking up golf. ‘I think
that I am getting to the right age,’
he says. I am surprised by how
depressed this makes me feel
James Landale, p7
53 High life Taki
Low life Jeremy Clarke
55 Real life Melissa Kite
56 The turf Robin Oakley
Bridge Janet de Botton
41 Peter Carty
Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa,
by Joseph Farrell
57 Wine club Jonathan Ray
43 Robert Gore-Langton
The first black actor to play Othello
50 Notes on… Greater Oxbridge
Hugh Pearman
44 Radio
The secret to Classic FM’s success
Petroc Trelawny
58 Chess Raymond Keene
Competition Lucy Vickery
45 Cinema
Deborah Ross
60 Status anxiety Toby Young
Battle for Britain Michael Heath
59 Crossword Fieldfare
61 Sport Roger Alton
46 Exhibitions
Seurat to Riley: The Art of
Martin Gayford
Your problems solved
Mary Killen
62 Food Tanya Gold
47 Television
British jihadis and life after
Mary Berry
James Delingpole
The Shard is an implanted flaw
in the eye. It moves as we move,
available to dominate every
London entry point
Iain Sinclair, p34
Roger Allam has none of
the vanity of the generic actor;
he is not, for instance, dressed
in leather lederhosen, as
Jeremy Irons was when I passed
him in St Martin’s Lane
Tanya Gold, p62
Mind your language
Dot Wordsworth
48 Theatre
Against; The Majority
Lloyd Evans
Rupert Darwall, a former
City analyst, is the author of
The Age of Global Warming:
A History. He writes about
Houston and Hurricane
Harvey on p12.
Katrina Gulliver, a historian
and the author of Modern
Women in China and Japan,
writes about Britain’s imperial
appetites on p30.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Alexandra Coghlan, who
writes about Mozart’s muse
on p32, is the author of Carols
From King’s and often appears
on Radio 3’s Music Matters.
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst,
an English professor at Oxford
and a Dickens expert, writes
about Charles Darwin’s
ruthless ambition on p36.
Leyla Sanai is a former
consultant anaesthetist.
On p38, she reviews a gloomy
novel set in London’s postwar
ir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit
secretary, announced a change in
Labour’s policy by saying that he wanted
Britain to stay in the single market and
customs union during a transition period
after Brexit, which could be ‘as short as
possible but as long as necessary’. The
French government denied that senior
French diplomats had said they wanted
to see Brexit talks make progress by
proceeding to questions of trade. ‘We need
you to take positions on all separation
issues,’ said Michel Barnier, the European
Union’s chief negotiator. British sources
denounced M. Barnier’s ‘inconsistent, illjudged and ill-considered comments’. Then
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the
European Commission, joined in, saying
that he had read the papers submitted
by the British government and ‘none of
those is satisfactory’. A Polish lorry driver
was charged with eight counts of causing
death by careless driving while over the
prescribed alcohol limit after two lorries
and a minibus crashed on the M1 near
Newport Pagnell; another lorry driver will
appear in court this month.
ezia Dugdale, who had been under
pressure from Corbynite factions,
resigned as leader of Scottish Labour. Data
from Home Office exit checks indicated
that 69 per cent of non-EU foreign
students went back home after their studies
and 26 per cent extended their visas to
remain longer; previous data based on
the International Passenger Survey had
suggested many stayed on without leave.
Sean O’Callaghan, an IRA murderer who
became an informer and later worked
to expose the true nature of the IRA,
died aged 62. Boris Johnson, the Foreign
Secretary, visited the Libyan military
commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar
near Benghazi. A 26-year-old man from
Luton was arrested outside Buckingham
Palace after driving at police, reaching for a
4ft sword and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.
he government said that the biggest
companies would have to reveal how
much more their chief executives were paid
compared with the average worker, but
Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of
the TUC, called the reforms ‘feeble’. The
Queensferry Crossing, a cable-stayed bridge
with towers 683ft high, was opened to traffic
between Edinburgh and Fife, while the
Forth Road Bridge was to be turned over
to buses, pedestrians and cyclists.
ouston, Texas, had more than 24 inches
of rain in 24 hours, and the total soon
rose above 48 inches, as Hurricane Harvey
brought floods to large areas of the state.
Freeways were turned into rivers and
neighbours rescued each other in small
craft while thousands left their homes. A
midnight to 5 a.m. curfew was imposed to
prevent looting. Thousands of people were
told to leave their homes in Niamey, the
capital of Niger, which has been affected
by floods since June. Rome reduced the
pressure of its water supply after months
of drought. Russia proceeded with the
construction of a 12-mile road and rail
bridge over the Kerch Strait separating
it from Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
Domino’s pizzas began testing delivery by
self-driving cars in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to
see if customers are happy to accept their
pizza from an empty car.
orth Korea fired a missile over Japan,
with residents of Hokkaido warned
by the government to seek shelter. The
UN Security Council called it ‘outrageous’.
North Korea said it was a ‘first step’.
Theresa May, the Prime Minister of
Britain, arrived in Japan for a visit. China
said India had withdrawn troops from
the disputed Himalayan border area of
Donglang, known as Doklam in India, a few
days before a visit to China by Narendra
Modi, the Prime Minister of India. The
price of vanilla remained above $500 per
kg after the cyclone early this year that hit
Madagascar, the chief producer.
enjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister
of Israel, said that Iran was building
factories to produce precision-guided
missiles in Syria and Lebanon. President
Emmanuel Macron of France bought a
dog called Nemo from a rescue centre and
took him to greet President Mahamadou
Issoufou of Niger when he arrived on
a visit, even though keeping pet dogs is
generally regarded as haram in Islam. The
number of pet dogs in countries classified
as emerging markets has grown by 51 per
cent since 2003 to 243 million, according
to the researcher Euromonitor. Kenya
outlawed plastic carrier bags, with fines of
up to $38,000 or prison sentences of four
years for anyone found selling, making or
carrying one.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
James Landale
oris Johnson is inspecting the
guard of honour and we are doing
our best not to giggle. The Foreign
Secretary is walking down a line of
soldiers from the Libyan National
Army. The red carpets are blowing
over in the breeze. One of the senior
officers looks uncannily like Colonel
Gaddafi. And the band is playing the
worst version of the national anthem
I have ever heard. Yet Mr Johnson
manages to control his features. Just.
For this is the headquarters of Field
Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose forces
control large swaths of eastern Libya. A
thought strikes me. Mr Johnson’s critics
accuse him of upsetting allies, lacking
foreign policy vision and speaking
with forked tongue over Brexit. Yet
here he is, clutching his red Foreign
Office folder, sweating in the baking
North African sun, paying court to a
military strongman whose support will
be needed if Libya is ever to have a
democratic future. For two days, Mr
Johnson will immerse himself in the
minutiae of this country’s confusing
tribal politics, going to places no
western politician has been for years.
The Foreign Secretary may not yet be
another Castlereagh or Kissinger —
but he is getting on with the job.
before Mr Johnson is told that the new
United Nations special representative to
Libya, Ghassan Salamé, is on his way and
perhaps a suit might be more appropriate.
I am not sure that the staff has been
briefed to expect the Foreign Secretary
to wander round the residence seminaked beneath the portraits of Queen
Victoria and George V. He returns with
just enough time to tuck in his shirt before
the arrival of his guest.
n route to Libya, we drop briefly
into Tunis. The ambassador’s
residence here is a glorious white
palace, tiled from floor to ceiling in the
Tunisian style, a few acres of cool calm
in a bustling city. The building was given
to Britain by a Turkish bey in 1850 and
it briefly served as the headquarters of
General Alexander during the second
world war. On one wall there is a framed
telegram, dated 13 May 1943 and marked
‘personal for the Prime Minister’. It
reads: ‘Sir, it is my duty to report that the
Tunisian campaign is over. All enemy
resistance has ceased. We are masters of
the North African shores. Signed H.R.
Alexander.’ No wonder he was known as
Churchill’s favourite general.
diplomatic incident is narrowly
averted. The Foreign Secretary
is keen to avail himself of the fine
swimming pool at the Tunis residence.
Trunks are donned and a towel found
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
hat a contrast in Tripoli. We
visit the burned-out hulk of
the former British residence that
was destroyed by a mob in 2011.
The ambassador was forced to flee,
abandoning all his personal possessions.
Today the building is unsafe. But
reminders of past glories lie in the ruins.
The remnants of a fine snooker table;
an old invitation to a Queen’s birthday
party. It was here that Tony Blair stayed
when he was trying to bring Colonel
Gaddafi in from the cold. But as the
UK increases its diplomatic presence
— there is not quite a full embassy yet
— the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office is looking at reviving the old
chancery if it can find the money. With
an imperial flourish, Mr Johnson raises
a Union Flag on the site for the first
time in six years.
t a press conference in Tripoli, Mr
Johnson starts quoting Herodotus.
The Libyan foreign minister looks
slightly alarmed, uncertain what is
coming next. The Greek historian
apparently claimed that the world
could be divided into Europe, Asia and
Libya. The Foreign Secretary admits
that this is not geographically accurate
but it shows the historical importance
of Libya. The Libyans appear to take
the point but still look a little puzzled.
r Johnson gives us a scoop. Of
sorts. He reveals he is thinking of
taking up golf. ‘I think I am getting to
the right age,’ he says. I am surprised by
how depressed this makes me feel.
s a diplomatic correspondent, I am
wearily familiar with airline food.
And my hopes rarely rise when I board
an RAF jet. But oh, what bliss! On the
flight to Libya, the aircrew present
us with a plate of tasty sandwiches,
substantial slices of ginger and fruit
cake, and fresh, warm scones with
proper strawberry jam and yes, clotted
cream from Rodda’s, whom I have
always liked to imagine as a strongarmed Cornish matron who churns for
her county. Nota bene, British Airways.
James Landale is the diplomatic
correspondent for BBC News.
Forgive and forget
Theresa May is hoping that you will
o begin with, Theresa May was not
planning to take a three-week holiday — but she was subtly advised
that, even if she didn’t want such a long
break, her colleagues needed her to go on
one. She had just lost the Conservatives
their majority, in an election she had called
after consulting almost no one in the party.
The weeks after the result were agonising:
her authority seemed to have vanished,
yet she remained in place. The cabinet was
squabbling at a time when unity was called
for. Everyone needed time to cool down.
She had to ask for forgiveness, which would
be hard. And they had to grant it, which
would be even harder.
Now, refreshed from walking in the Alps, the Prime Minister returns next week to face
perhaps the hardest part of her
political career. She has a number of speeches to deliver later
this month about Europe and
domestic reform, speeches she
will also use as part of her campaign to persuade MPs to forgive and forget. As they all know,
much is at stake. The Tories can’t
agree on anyone to replace her,
which is why she’s staying. But if
they enfeeble their own leader,
out of revenge or anger, they’ll
look criminally incompetent and
might never be forgiven by voters, who are very close to choosing Jeremy Corbyn.
To understand the cabinet turmoil, it’s necessary to note how
many ministers believe they were
monstrously mistreated by May.
Few felt trusted, or even listened to. One
secretary of state, who failed to express total
support for a policy in a cabinet meeting,
afterwards received a furious and profane
message from No. 10, warning him never to
speak out against the Prime Minister in public. Cabinet meetings can be leaky, but only
the most paranoid of advisers would regard
them as a public forum.
The launch of what even sanguine ministers describe as ‘our crap manifesto’ proved
to the cabinet that they weren’t being trusted. One secretary of state says: ‘None of us
will ever forget being on the train going to
the manifesto launch and being handed the
manifesto. You had a carriage full of cabinet members anxiously flicking through it,
not just to see what was in it in general, but
what was being said about their policy area.
You should have seen Jeremy Hunt’s face
when he read about the social care policy. It
began to dawn on us that May was heading
into this totally unprepared. She didn’t want
our advice, or anyone’s advice.’
Many ministers found themselves dreading life under a May government with a big
majority. ‘It’s embarrassing to admit this,
but I actually prefer the election result to
her winning a 100-strong majority,’ confess-
es one cabinet member, who felt the Prime
Minister would have become ‘unstoppable’.
She had made a big show of ending sofa government when she took over from David
Cameron, but May ended up operating what
some felt was tyranny by committee: a rather boring way of ignoring ministers.
Even after the election, when senior
Tories were seething at what May had done
to their party, they couldn’t yet let off steam.
There was a huge — and largely successful — effort from the staff left in No. 10 to
warn cabinet ministers against destabilising
the government, when there wasn’t actu-
ally a government. Would they kindly keep
quiet until the negotiations with the DUP
had successfully concluded? Though most
assented, it meant their frustrations were
pent up for even longer.
May is obviously no longer unstoppable:
indeed, the question is whether the Maybot
(as critics unkindly called her) is restartable. There were times in the summer when
her colleagues felt that she had physically
shrunk, so great was the reduction in her
authority (or in their fear of her). But to
choose a leader, then refuse to let her lead:
this would be a collective act of suicide by
the Conservatives. They have to forgive the
unforgivable (while she might
have to lead what can seem, at
times, to be the unleadable).
Tory MPs are confident that
she will be in place until the
Brexit negotiations conclude
in 2019. There is now little jostling from would-be successors,
and anyone who fancies sticking
their head above the parapet any
time soon would probably suffer the same fate as Adam Afriyie, who was roundly mocked for
planning a leadership challenge
against David Cameron in 2013.
The WhatsApp group of Tory
MPs (a new digital version of the
1922 Committee) is now much
more vitriolic towards anyone
who criticises the Prime Minister
than it is towards her.
May needs her government to
function, as well as not to bicker.
Already, those on the EU side
of the Brexit negotiations have
delighted in creating a narrative that the
UK is too distracted to offer proper detail.
But there are some good signs. ‘Theresa has
looked more comfortable since the election
because it’s not naturally her disposition to
be as dictatorial as the gruesome twosome
made her,’ says one cabinet member, referring to May’s former advisers Nick Timothy
and Fiona Hill. Their replacements — Gavin
Barwell and Robbie Gibb inside No. 10, and
First Secretary of State Damian Green as
her second-in-command — have brought
with them a culture in which the phone is
answered and people are listened to.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
The change does suggest something
interesting about May herself. One senior Tory describes her as a ‘cipher’, and it
does seem that Mayism isn’t so much how
the Prime Minister governs as it is what
her advisers choose to turn her into. Which
might bode well for her ability to change
tactics and style.
Those around the Prime Minister are
acutely aware that she needs to do more
than just survive. No. 10 is determined to
focus on domestic reforms this autumn, and
the chief whip has started emailing MPs a
round-up of everything the government has
done each week to show it isn’t stagnating.
‘We can’t be seen to be sitting round holding
on to power,’ says one special adviser. ‘With
the previous regime, the default response to
anything was “no”. But we have been told by
Gavin Barwell and Robbie Gibb that if you
want to make a policy announcement and
we can make it work, we’ll fit it into the grid.’
The revolution is already under way.
Government departments have been told
that if they can find anything that merely requires secondary legislation — which
either appears on the Commons Order
Paper without debate, or goes to a small
committee with a government majority of
Days like trees
The days like trees grow close together,
Only a practised eye can tell between the days –
Look, they are so like each other.
If you decide to leave you’ll never
Get back in, there is no secret way,
For days like trees grow close together,
It’s hard to tell one from another,
Only a scythe can cut between the days,
And look – they are so like each other.
Go and you’ll mourn them like a lover,
You’ll wish for all the world you’d stayed,
For days like trees grow close together
While in the dark you find no cover,
The moon stares down, there is nowhere to pray.
Look – days are so like each other,
Many ministers believe they were
monstrously mistreated. Few felt
trusted, or even listened to
loyal MPs for the lightest possible scrutiny
— then they should go ahead and do it. Secondary legislation is supposed to be for the
details that MPs don’t need to spend hours
debating in the chamber, like the location of
a road or the precise rate at which a benefit is increased. But governments of all hues
abuse the opportunity to avoid a row, and
can sneak past big, controversial policies
with minimal debate.
It’s not just May who is under pressure. Philip Hammond has to produce a
Budget that shows he is serious about governing after his own summer of letting off
steam, which included appearing in the
French press to speculate about Brexit.
His last Budget ended in debacle when he
had to tear up his flagship reform of raising National Insurance taxes levied on the
self-employed. Tory MPs are expecting
announcements on public sector pay, having spent the summer getting a fair bit of
grief in their constituencies from public sector workers who earn far less than they do.
Hammond was most stung by reports
that May had planned to move him from
the Treasury once the election was over.
But now he, like many others, feels safe:
indeed, many cabinet ministers feel they
have a guaranteed job until she goes. But
senior backbenchers and more junior ministers disagree: they think the Prime Minister would have nothing to lose in a reshuffle
and so should sack some of the more ‘unim-
Silver-white like swords, they’d rather
Slice you small than let you slip away,
For days like trees grow close together
And look – they are so like each other.
— Polly Walshe
pressive’ secretaries of state. ‘If she sacks a
minister tomorrow, what are people going
to say?’ asks one minister, who is presumably not thinking of himself. ‘They’re hardly going to rise up against her because they
already know she’s going.’
Being in government, though, isn’t just
about the plans you make; it’s also how you
deal with the things that happen. Strong
governments can weather these rows.
Weak ones struggle. Irritation with a poor
response to a crisis could end the fragile
harmony. It’s strange to think that, just six
months ago, Theresa May enjoyed the highest popularity rating ever recorded for a
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
British prime minister. She was victorious
in the local government elections, but managed to blow it all in a few weeks of disastrous campaigning.
In this fact lies the hope of her recovery,
however. If her reputation dived so quickly, might it recover? If her party is keeping
her, then it must focus on winning back the
most important constituency of all: the voters who so recently saw the Prime Minister as a unshowy but fundamentally decent
woman, doing her best in very difficult circumstances.
In Can You Forgive Her?, the first of
Anthony Trollope’s parliamentary novels,
he tells of Alice Vavasor, who picks up and
then drops two men who want to marry her.
‘She knew that she had done wrong. She
knew that she had sinned with that sin which
specially disgraces a woman,’ he writes, ‘She
told herself that there was no pardon for
her… she could not forgive herself… But
can you forgive her, delicate reader?’
Mrs May is asking to be forgiven for
the sin which specially disgraces a politician: calling an election which weakened
her government and destroyed her authority. Can you forgive her? On that question
hangs the future of the Conservative party.
May’s opponents are the mad and the bad
first met Theresa May, or met her
properly, way back in the last century. I’d
been invited to speak at a constituency
dinner for Maidenhead Conservatives on a
Saturday night, and sat at her table. She was
with her husband, Philip; I remember only
my suspicion that he didn’t desperately want
to be there. Of her I remember the pallor,
and a certain shyness; but the couple were
pleasant and welcoming to me, and as I’m
not one to pump people for political news
and gossip, and she isn’t one to volunteer
such things, this was not the sort of evening
that would have prompted an entry in the
diary I don’t anyway keep. I suspect hundreds who’ve dined with Mrs May, asked to
recall the occasion, would struggle — as I do
here — to say much more.
The second occasion was very different, and a couple of years ago. This time my
partner and I were the hosts, and our MP in
the Derbyshire Dales, Patrick McLoughlin,
and his wife Lynn had brought the Mays
to supper with us after she’d spent the day
pressing the flesh in the East Midlands. It
was Theresa and Philip’s wedding anniversary, poor things, and this cannot have been
the ideal way to spend their time.
But she was fun. She arrived with a bottle of gin. I teased her about the wedding
anniversary and said that we’d hired a male
police constable strippergram for after dinner but Patrick had reminded me of her
spat with the Police Federation so I’d cancelled. She had the grace to laugh. As the
evening went on everyone relaxed and we
talked about anything but politics, which I
noticed she avoided; and by just before midnight, when the Mays left, I’d concluded she
was nothing like the ‘ice maiden’ or robotic
figure the newspapers claimed. My (imaginary) diary entry would have run to a good
few paragraphs, and noted too her suddenly candid response when somebody mentioned a particular individual she evidently
didn’t care for. ‘Vehement’ would be the
word. It was quite startling.
We are most of us, I’m afraid, susceptible
to feeling flattered by the attention of important people, so I have to report that after that
evening, and after a cup of tea with her at
Downing Street more recently, and because
my mother’s pet name is Terry, I cannot
but wish Theresa May well. One should be
made of sterner stuff, of course, but one isn’t.
I realise — I acknowledge — that her deficiencies as a campaigner, a media performer
and perhaps as a prime minister have been
brutally exposed this year; and all too often,
after wincing at some ghastly phrase like
‘citizen of nowhere’ or ‘subverting democracy’, I’ve fallen embarrassedly back on that
old apologists’ staple: ‘It must have been
written by her advisers.’
It’s more than a soft spot, though: it’s
hard intuition that drives me to say that
there are some extremely mad and extremely bad people around in the world of British politics today, and Theresa May isn’t one
of them. Indeed I fear that she may come
Her deficiencies as a campaigner,
a media performer and perhaps as
a PM have been brutally exposed
under sustained attack from some of those
people — and then it’s our support she will
need, not forgiveness. Remember this about
the Brexit zealots: it’s always somebody
else’s fault.
But is she any good? The most damaging
charge from those who can’t forgive would
be incompetence. ‘She isn’t up to the job,’
they’d say, ‘no fault of hers, maybe, but for
so many years to claw your way up over colleagues in order to pursue your own infatuation with a job that by the morning after
the last election you must have realised
was beyond your talents… that is worse
‘I’m cooking for 528 followers.’
than unforgivable, it’s careless: careless of
your country’s interests. She should have
resigned on 9 June.’
Well, yes, I thought she should have, too.
And so (it’s said) did she. But she was persuaded that her resignation wouldn’t help,
and one can see the force of the argument.
She has been landed in the middle of this
Brexit mess, she didn’t choose it, and it
won’t do any good for her to jump ship.
Besides, aren’t we diehard Remainers
guilty of a certain disingenuousness when
we say that Mrs May isn’t up to the job of
making a success of Brexit? I thought we
didn’t believe it was possible for even the
Angel Gabriel to make a success of Brexit?
That’s, anyway, what I believe. So don’t
ask me what May ought to be doing that
she isn’t, because I know very well already
that what she ‘ought’ to be doing — telling the headbangers they’re bloody fools
and should surrender at once to the softest
Brexit we can salvage — would bring down
the British government.
I have an explanatory theory of Theresa
May. It’s too clever by half but I nevertheless expect events to move as though it
were true, even if it isn’t. My theory is she’s
known from the start that Brexit was silly
but, understanding all too well the damaged mental processes of the Brexiteers,
has understood that Brexit Syndrome can
only be cured by the shock of experience.
She has therefore decided to present herself
— indeed to behave — as a leaf in the wind,
Prime Minister in name only, blown hither
and thither by hot blasts of zeal from the
Brexiteers and freezing intransigence from
Brussels. A cruel-to-be-kind nanny, she’s
letting the children play, knowing full well
it will all end in tears.
The dark moon rising behind all
this madness is Brexit, and Theresa May
cannot stop the tides. Scholars question
whether Canute thought he could, the
received wisdom being that the king’s aim
was only to teach his subjects a lesson. The
next 18 or so months will, likewise, be a
lesson in impotence. If, by proving powerless
to stop Britain totally messing this up, Mrs
May can teach her country humility, she
will deserve our forgiveness. I can forgive
Icarus, too.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Lessons from Houston
The real story from Texas is about resilience, not devastation
he numbers are awesome. In a matter of hours, Hurricane Harvey
dumped nine trillion gallons of rainfall on Houston and southeast Texas: at one
stage, 24 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Like
all American cities, Houston is prepared for
hurricanes and floods — but Harvey was of
a different magnitude. ‘We have not seen
an event like this,’ the chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, William ‘Brock’ Long declared. It led rapidly to unprecedented flooding in one of the
world’s richest cities.
The photos from Houston have been
heartbreaking. Pensioners have been pictured sitting half-submerged in retirement
homes, awaiting rescue. Some 30,000 may be
forced into shelters, and officials are braced
for almost half a million requiring federal
assistance. We have seen parents walking
knee-deep in water with their children in
their arms, and belongings balanced in bags
on their heads. Families wait on the rooftops
of their homes, stranded by the flood.
Amid all this, another picture emerges:
of the resilience of the city and its people,
of the calm effectiveness of the emergency
services and the orderliness of communities responding to an extreme set of circumstances. The volunteers who took their boats
to rescue those who had been stranded.
There are people like Arthur Buchanan,
who runs the C&D hardware store on 11th
Street, who cycled to work through the
floods. ‘We only close five days out of the
year,’ he told reporters, who were amazed
to find his shop open, ‘and this ain’t one of
them.’ That’s Texans for you.
As early as 1937, local officials declared
Houston to be a city ‘at the mercy of the
relentless water’. Storms have battered the
city several times over recent years: Hurricane Allison in 2001 and Rita in 2005 each
had a significant death toll. Yet its population keeps growing, and the risk of hurricanes are factored into everyday life. As
the storm approached, locals were telling
journalists that they had filled the bath with
water, had prepared plenty of food and were
ready to stay put for a few days and sit the
storm out.
Outsmarting the weather
is part of the basic story
of human progress
Americans are less afraid of the weather
than they used to be, and with reason. The
pictures of Houston’s motorways turned
into rivers look shocking, until you realise
that this is their function. Houston has 2,500
miles of managed waterways, a network of
drainage channels and sewers. They fill up
when a hurricane strikes, but the idea is that
the roads provide overrun and act as massive drains — saving neighbourhoods that
might otherwise be underwater. More roads
could, and should, have been upgraded in
this way. Houston’s first ‘chief resilience
officer’ said earlier this year that he needed about $3 billion to upgrade, but the city’s
overall defences saved countless lives.
This is the story of human development:
when a nation grows more prosperous, it
is less at the mercy of the elements. When
Superstorm Sandy struck New York five
years ago, it took 74 lives — but if a similar storm had struck cities in the third world,
the death toll could have run into the thousands. An MIT study of natural disasters
between 1980 and 2002 found that America
suffered an average of 17 deaths per windstorm, compared to almost 2,000 in Bangladesh. The average flood cost six lives in the
US, but a couple of hundred in East Asia.
It isn’t that the storms are more severe or
more frequent — just that America has the
money to cope better.
Outsmarting the weather is part of
the basic story of human progress. Indur
Goklany, a science analyst at the US Department of the Interior, once looked at all
deaths from 8,500 droughts, wildfires, storms
and floods over the last century. He found
that in the 1920s there were nearly half a mil-
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Safe: Catherine Pham
and her baby son are
rescued in Houston
lion deaths annually from extreme weather
events. Although since 1900 the world’s population has more than tripled, global deaths
from extreme weather have fallen by 93 per
cent. (T he number of deaths from flooding
has fallen by 99 per cent.)
And why? Not because the weather is
any milder, but because developed countries
can afford to protect people from it. Globally, mankind turned the corner after 1970,
the year that deaths from storms, including
hurricanes and typhoons, peaked.
Had Hurricane Harvey struck ten years
ago, it might have been enlisted into the
political battle about global warming. But
the tone of debate is less hysterical now;
only a few voices say that this is a taste of
what we can all expect in the future. It’s not
true to say that Harvey is ferocious by historical standards: some estimates rate its
strength at 14th out of all the hurricanes that
have made US landfall since 1851.
As our understanding of the science
evolves, a new rationalism is supplanting the
old climate hysteria. We might not be sure
how much meaningful difference we can
make to the trajectory of climate change,
but we know that we can adapt to it — and
that we can help the third world do the same.
That’s why, as the Swedish author Johan
Norberg has argued, it’s counterproductive
to demand drastic and far-reaching efforts
to limit carbon dioxide emissions. The test
for climate policies is that they should not
impede the ability of poor nations to create
more wealth and to bring power and shelter
to those who need it. To force countries to
adopt expensive energy policies risks keeping the world’s poor down.
When hurricanes, floods and other disasters are predicted for countries like Bangladesh due to global warming, an important
factor is often left out of the equation. The
models which assume that sea levels will
have risen and extreme weather events
intensified by, say, 2080 might also assume
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
that, by then, Bangladesh will be as rich as
the Netherlands is today. If so, what would
its flood defences look like? How far would
the likely impact of storms be reduced?
Might the best form of climate defence be
the pursuit of policies that are likely to create and spread wealth?
Most people who die from disease or
extreme weather today are, in fact, dying
from poverty. The best defences against the
world’s biggest killers are provided by sanitation, medicine and civil engineering, but
they are often available only to people who
can afford them.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 4.3 million people annually die
prematurely from illnesses that can be attributed to household pollution caused by the
use of primitive solid fuels for cooking. Just
over a million die each year from diarrhoea,
which with proper sanitation is generally
avoidable. These kinds of numbers put into
perspective the 35,000 annual deaths due to
extreme weather.
We will soon be hearing estimates about
the financial cost of Hurricane Harvey, and
the figure will doubtless be eye-watering.
When a storm of this size hits such a large
city — the fourth-largest in America — the
financial cost will always be extraordinary.
But the courage, neighbourliness and generosity that Texans have demonstrated in
recent days are no less so. Nature’s fury may
be awesome, but mankind’s resilience is
greater still. That ought to be the real lesson
from Houston.
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Thanks to Diana, the royals are done for
e are approaching an important
royal anniversary, which I trust
will be marked with a display of
the appropriate reverence for the woman
involved. It is almost exactly 20 years since
Princess Anne was gratuitously rude to Cherie Blair, during a reception at Balmoral.
The Princess Royal can sniff out stinking
fish from a distance of several miles, I think.
Anyway, having been introduced to HRH
for the first time, the ghastly Blair insisted
that she should call her ‘Cherie’. Anne
replied, icily: ‘Actually, let’s not go that way.
Let’s stick to Mrs Blair, shall we?’ That put
the vaulting Scouse besom in her place. Why
did Anne take an instant dislike to the Prime
Minister’s wife? To save time, one supposes.
We do not hear very much about Princess Anne these days, just the occasional report of her snapping a little testily at
photographers or commoners. She has not
explained to the world, via a television interview or through the press, her profound
mental anguish and depression at having a
retinue of emotionally incontinent half-wits
ahead of her in the queue for the throne,
although that is something she must surely
feel. And so she has not been sainted by the
maniacally obsessive and dangerous mental
health lobby or the simpering, touchy-feely
liberals. She may be the last person in our
royal family to retain those truly royal genes
of stoicism, discretion, a certain hauteur and
a sense of bearing. I don’t think you’ll find
any of that stuff in her largely idle, perpetually whining nephews — nor indeed, in her
older brother. She works harder than the
rest of them, fulfilling her duties uncomplainingly. Cherie Blair later referred to
her as ‘that bitch’. Acquiring the enmity,
immediately, of a woman as truly awful as
Blair is just one more reason Anne should
have our unqualified respect. We will not see
her like again, I fear.
Another anniversary is upon us, of
course. It may have caught your notice. It
is also 20 years since the Princess of Wales
was killed, horribly, in a car crash in Paris.
And so we are seeing a reprise of the same
bizarre weeping and wailing, conspicuous
emoting and largely confected grief from
certain sections of the public and the media
that accompanied her untimely passing and
so astonished me — in its weird hysteria, its
mawkishness — on the day of her funeral
on 6 September 1997. I thought then that I
had woken up in a different country. I suppose it is otiose to wonder if our current
predilection for emoting, for letting it all
hang out, even when there is nothing very
much to hang out, for allowing an imbecilic
sentimentality to rule one’s head, would
have been visited upon us quite so quickly
had Princess Diana not expired in the back
of a Mercedes S280. That is the moment that
many people pluck from their memories if
asked when it all began, and her name has
entered the modern lexicon to explain the
process: Dianafication.
My suspicion is that we were already
heading in that direction anyway — urged
to express ourselves, to wallow in a kind of
You cannot democratise
a monarchy without
chopping their heads off
narcissism and solipsism: I am, and that is
all that matters. I exist and I feel, so you’d
better take me seriously. This suited the
leftish cultural mood of the time and was
undoubtedly abetted by the first reality TV
shows and the growth of that most narcissistic of all mediums, the internet. But Diana
was a personification of this new trait, however cruel her death may have been. She
spilled her guts out and complained on TV
about stuff, about her travails and how terribly badly she’d been treated.
But the signs were there long before her
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
TV interview with Martin Bashir. The leaks
from her office, the continual reports of a
rift within the family, sotto voce criticism of
the stuffiness of the senior royals. And the
staged photographs — sitting alone looking
a bit mopey by the Taj Mahal — all about
me. The idea that she might subordinate her
feelings for the good of some higher purpose did not sit easily with Diana. Because,
according to this new mantra, there is no
higher purpose than simply what one feels.
Unfair though this might seem, it is
likely that Diana has brought the royal family close to an end, in a meaningful sense, in
three ways: her behaviour, her genes and her
death. (Unfair because, of course, she cannot be blamed for the latter two.) She was at
one with the New Labour idea that the royal
family should be somehow democratised —
the recourse of a political party which didn’t
quite have the guts to call for an abolition of
the monarchy and so reached instead for an
idiotic non-sequitur. This was reflected in the
oxymoronic title coined by Tony Blair and
Alastair Campbell: ‘the People’s Princess.’
But you cannot democratise a monarchy
without chopping their heads off, and there
is no such thing as a people’s princess.
Forcing the royals to abase themselves
by emoting, by being folksy, by speaking
in a common demotic, does not make the
monarchy any more democratic — all it
does is rob the monarchy of those things
which have enabled it to survive all these
centuries. Robs it of a sense of mystery, of
aloofness from the general, of dignity, of
being above the fray and ruling uncomplainingly. The very qualities we have witnessed
for the past 65 years from Queen Elizabeth
and the Duke of Edinburgh.
All now gone, I think. When Prince Philip
announced his retirement earlier this year
one could sense the baton being handed over
to a very different set of creatures, creatures
who will not be rude to foreigners but might
well cry on television. It is difficult to see
what exactly is royal about Princes William
and Harry, except for their blood and their
titles. And nobody thinks any of that matters
any more, do they?
The argument continues online.
Iran is our natural ally
The West’s friendship with Saudi Arabia is misguided
he Saudi town of Awamiya — like
so many countless cities across Iraq,
Syria and Yemen that are witnessing an unleashing of the ancient hatred of
Sunni for Shia — now exists in name only.
Last month, days before an assault on its
Shia inhabitants by the Saudi regime, the
UN designated it a place of unique cultural and religious significance. But under the
guise of fighting Iran-backed terror cells,
the Saudis then subjected Awamiya’s entire
civilian population to the indiscriminate use
of fighter jets, rocket-propelled grenades,
snipers, heavy artillery, armoured assault
vehicles and cold-blooded executions.
More than a dozen Shia, including a
three-year-old boy, were killed. Hundreds
of young men were rounded up. At least
500 homes were flattened, and 8,000 residents were forcibly removed from those
that remained. Saudi soldiers recorded
themselves dancing and singing amid the
rubble of the town’s once-beautiful old city.
They stomped on a poster of a revered Shia
cleric from the eastern province, Nimr alNimr, beheaded last year for sedition. And
they denigrated the town’s ‘cleansed’ local
Shia as ‘rejectionists’ and ‘dogs’ — language
identical to that of their fanatical Wahhabi
brothers in Iraq and Syria, who rejoice in
slaughtering Shia in the name of Isis. The
mass beheading of 14 local Shia activists,
including a severely disabled teenager, is
said to be imminent.
In the wake of this sectarian carnage
it seems preposterous that Donald Trump
stood next to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman
in Riyadh in May at the launch of a new
centre to combat Islamic extremism. In a
keynote speech, Trump had, just as bizarrely, singled out Iran and its Shia proxies as
the instigators of terrorism and sectarian bloodshed in the region. In the past,
such Saudi duplicity was laughed off in the
name of selling the infantile princes billions
of dollars in arms (from which they take
massive kickbacks) and heightening their
borderline-insane obsession with the supposedly existential threat posed by Iran to
Israel and the latter’s despotic Sunni allies.
The joke isn’t funny any more. Last
month, the former head of MI5, Jonathan
Evans, warned that Britain will face an
Islamist terror threat for at least 30 years.
Only the most blinkered observer would
find it difficult to understand his concern.
For with the near fall of Isis, thousands of
jihadis steeped in the caliphate’s Wahhabi ideology are returning to Britain and
Europe, determined to keep alive the dream
of massacring infidels. It is our own civilisation that faces the real existential threat.
The wave of terror attacks in Spain, Finland,
Britain and Belgium has happened in a year
in which Europe has witnessed at least one
serious jihadist incident every week.
A recent report, suppressed by the UK
government, revealed the majority of funding for UK mosques that promote Islamist
extremism, and which play a crucial role
in radicalising homegrown jihadis, originates from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf
Terror attacks are not a natural
phenomenon; they are fomented
by politicians’ decisions
Arab countries that also embrace the odious Wahhabi ideology. These findings tally
with other exhaustive studies on the expansion of Islamist extremism, both here and in
Europe, which have singled out the spread
of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism as the gravest threat to our security and values. All
were similarly ignored by those who rule in
our name.
Saudi Arabia is thus being given the
green light by our treacherous political elite
to ensure that, as the dream of the caliphate
in the Middle East fades, murderous jihad
will grow with increasing fury on our doorstep. The argument that intelligence from
Saudi Arabia helps prevent attacks sounds
increasingly hollow, given how many terrorist acts are being carried out regardless.
The defeatist rhetoric about how jihadist
atrocities are something we must learn to
live with, like mudslides and hurricanes, is
‘You going anywhere terrifying this year?’
no less infuriating. Terror attacks are not
a natural phenomenon; they are the result
of circumstances fomented by politicians’
decisions. If we have any hope of combating
the Islamist menace, politicians must wake
up, first and foremost, to the fact that mass
immigration of mostly young Muslim men
into a Europe where Saudi-funded Wahhabi
Islam dominates mosques and madrassas is
cultural suicide. Political understanding of
the Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East,
and how that relates to the Islamist terror
threat, must likewise be re-evaluated. The
atrocities in Awamiya demonstrate nothing if not the absurdity of the notion that
the Wahhabis are our friends in the fight
against extremism and that the Shia are our
mortal enemies. By any objective measure,
the exact opposite is true.
Like Saudi Arabia, Shia-dominated Iran
is a backward theocracy ruled by vicious
old men who wrap themselves in the cloak
of religion to limit their people’s freedom
and steal their country’s wealth. Both countries are gross human rights abusers. There,
though, the similarities end. In Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims are forbidden from practising their religion in public, while Iran’s
constitution protects the rights of Christians
and Jews. (One of my fondest memories of
the region is hanging out with the Jewish
communities in Tehran and Isfahan.)
ike the Jews, and very much unlike the
Wahhabis, the Shias have no interest in
converting everyone else to their religion;
and the Iranians even have the decency —
if that is the right word — to distinguish
between Israel and Jews in anti-Zionist government rhetoric. Saudi Arabia promotes
the kind of anti-Semitism the Nazis would
have been proud of, while damning the Shia
as collectively evil. Iran has a democracy and
a vibrant press that, while hardly comparable to what we take for granted in the West,
puts to shame anything found in Saudi Arabia. Iran has never invaded another country;
Saudi Arabia is presently destroying Yemen.
Moreover, when geopolitical pragmatism has dictated, Iran has offered to work
closely with the West, while at every turn,
by funding its jihadist proxies, the Saudis
and their allies in the western intelligence
communities have been working against us.
After the September 11 attacks, carried out
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
by mostly Saudi nationals, Iran — which of
course has no sympathy for al-Qaeda —
rounded up hundreds of Arab terrorists and
provided intelligence to Washington to aid
the war on terror. In 2009, Tehran was publicly offering to help Washington rebuild
and stabilise Afghanistan; two years earlier,
both countries held (ultimately unproductive) talks on Iraq.
None of that is to mention the elephant
in the room. Without the heroic military sacrifices of Iran and its Shia ally, Hezbollah,
on the front lines in the crumbling caliphate,
Isis would not today be in its final death
throes there, and al-Qaeda jihadists (whom
we funded, trained and armed) would not
be running for their lives. The US has also
worked alongside Iranian generals in Iraq
in the joint fight there against Isis. Even
today, US special forces are working with
the Lebanese army as it launches a simultaneous push with Hezbollah against Islamist
terrorists created by Saudi and other Sunni
countries that are still causing mayhem on
the other side of the Syrian border.
Why do we never hear this other side
of the story? One reason is that almost all
the ‘experts’ on the region, who contribute
countless op-eds to US newspapers, brief
US intelligence officials and appear as
pundits on TV, work for think-tanks funded by the Arab monarchies or Israel. For-
‘Cake news.’
mer British and American diplomats who
were based in Riyadh and Jeddah are notorious for retiring on the Saudi gravy train.
And our Foreign Office, as always taking
its orders from Washington, continues to
stand uncritically alongside Israel. The latter fears the mullahs in Tehran are building a nuclear arsenal to make good on its
repeated promise to wipe the Jewish state
off the map.
But here, again, a pragmatic reassessment is in order. Israel, after all, is a
nuclear power, and has the best-trained
and equipped army in the region. If it cannot fight its own battles now, it will never
be able to. And truth be told, the only thing
the mullahs really care about is maintaining
their rusty grip on power. Even the Iranhating, Israel-loving White House grudg-
ingly accepts that Tehran is abiding by the
internationally brokered nuclear treaty.
The bottom line is that Iran poses absolutely no threat to us.
In fact, the only people that Isis foot soldiers are more determined to slaughter than
westerners are the Shia. With that knowledge, we should be embracing the maxim
that my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Let
us fully let the Saudis know we have had
it with their terror funding by launching a
ferocious crackdown on all manifestations
of Wahhabism. Let us simultaneously do
away with the sanctions imposed against
Tehran. In this way, we can build on Iran’s
extensive shared intelligence and close military cooperation with the US — the most
effective way of convincing the country to
abandon any lingering nuclear ambitions it
may have. Let Britain finally break free of
Washington’s disastrous Middle East military interventions and duplicitous alliances
with Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi proxies. Only by doing so can we face down the
real causes of Islamist terror. We would
also be in prime position to benefit from
post-sanctions Iran’s $600 billion foreign
investment opportunities.
John R. Bradley also writes for the Daily
Mail and the Jewish Chronicle and is the
author of four books on the Middle East.
For more than 40 years, his voice on Test Match Special has been the sound
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the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
The NHS, faced with a growing, ageing
population and limited resources, has been
forced to focus on providing sick care, rather
than health care. Unless a radical approach is
introduced, the future of our health system
appears destined to come under even more
pressure, increasing the already significant
strain. However, it is possible to paint a more
positive picture for the NHS’s future.
Healthcare professionals (HCPs) and the
general population are beginning to harness
the power of connected care technology [1] as
one solution to the problems faced, according
to the Future Health Index, an international
report commissioned by Philips.[2] Highly
adaptable, connected care technology can
be integrated across key stages of the health
system to deliver cost-effective, quality care
that supports clinicians in their decisionmaking and empowers individuals to take
control of their health.
Prevention is at the core of moving us away
from a sick care society. In fact, the UK
findings show that 42 per cent of HCPs
think they should focus the majority of their
time on preventative care, while 66 per cent
recognise the role connected care technology
has in preventing medical issues.[2] Flexible
and adaptable to all stages of life, it can enable
everyone to maintain their own health.
For example, nearly half (46 per cent)
of parents see a role for connected care
technology in helping to manage their baby’s
health.[2] Philips uGrow monitors a baby’s
health through connected devices to provide
parents with personalised data analytics that
they can use to track healthy development.
In fact, parents can be supported even prior
to a newborn’s arrival, with apps such as
Pregnancy+.[3] With more than 12 million
downloads worldwide, it demonstrates
how popular technological solutions are
Our health system is a world-class hub of
expertise and treatment innovation. It is
also a minefield of disconnected systems
and digital deprivation. By unlocking the
collective genius of information, technology
and people, it’s possible to cut through
complexity and improve productivity.
Ensuring patients receive the right care, in
the right place, at the right time.
Faced with rising cancer rates and a
shortage of pathologists, smart integrated
systems like Philips’s IntelliSite help improve
patient outcomes despite the odds. Sheffield
and Hull NHS Hospitals have teamed up to
form the ‘East and South Yorkshire Digital
Pathology Network (EASY Path)’. It uses this
open platform to scan tissue samples into
information-rich digital images, which are
transferred digitally to a virtual network of
specialist pathologists, empowering them to
make fast and confident diagnostic decisions.
One of the great advances in the way society
can look after itself is home healthcare, but
90 per cent of HCPs think current home-care
services aren’t sufficient to alleviate the strain
on the NHS.[2] Telehealth services, remote
patient monitoring and advanced home care,
connected in the cloud, are questioning the
traditionally ‘reactive’ sick care approach,
and demonstrate improved patient outcomes
are achievable.
Philips Dream Family, used for the
treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA),
perfectly demonstrates the benefits that
can be achieved through integrated home
care solutions. The system uses therapy
devices designed with patients in mind, webbased software and personalised tools to
provide tracking and analysis of the patient’s
positive airway pressure (PAP). Patients
and consultants are able to track the data in
real time, encouraging treatment adherence
and potentially reducing the number of
appointments, freeing up resources in the
health system.
With positive shifts being made
throughout the health system, the will for a
new approach is there. Embracing connected
care at all stages of the health system can
empower the NHS with a sustainable future.
For more information on the Future Health
Index visit:
[1] Connected care technologies – such as devices that track
various health indicators (e.g. wearables such as smart watch/
fitness trackers or home health monitoring devices); computer
software that allows secure communication between doctors
and hospitals; and health devices that are internet enabled and
transmit data
[2] The Future Health Index drew data from 3,891
healthcare professionals (HCPs) and 29,410 adults from 19
countries to determine the readiness of health systems to
address the pressing health challenges.
[3] Provided by Health and Parenting Ltd, a
Philips company.
Hunters hounded
The National Trust is on dangerous ground with its stance on trail hunting
For the sound of his horn brought me from
my bed/ And the cry of his hounds which he
oft times led/ Peel’s ‘View, Halloo!’ could
awaken the dead/ Or the fox from his lair in
the morning.
ack in the early 1800s, the legendary huntsman John Peel galloped all
over the northern Lake District. His
successors are the Blencathra Hunt, a ‘fell
pack’ who hunt on foot, but the Blencathra
may be the last to hunt on Peel territory.
Much of the Lake District is owned by the
National Trust, the UK’s largest private
landowner, and at the next National Trust
AGM, on 21 October, a motion is being
put forward which proposes banning trail
hunting on all the Trust’s land.
Members will receive their voting papers
in the coming weeks — but even before the
vote has taken place, the Trust has already
changed its stance. Last week, it surreptitiously changed the rules for hunts operating on its land. Future ‘meets’ must advertise
themselves on the Trust website, it said, and
no ‘animal-based scents’ should be used.
These might seem like small changes, but
as the National Trust well knows, they are
not. They will make it incredibly difficult
— if not impossible — for hunts to operate. Publishing information about meets in
advance is a gift to hunt saboteurs. Forewarned, they can plan and gather en masse.
This means more police will be needed to
protect the hunt, which is an exasperating
waste of police time, and more farmers are
likely to think that letting the hunt gallop
over their land just isn’t worth the hassle.
Because foxhounds are currently trained
to follow an animal-based scent, introducing a new scent involves retraining. It might
even mean that the 67 hunts affected by the
ban have to breed new packs of hounds.
Dame Helen Ghosh, the current head
of the Trust, has not had a quiet time of it
during her tenure. She has been accused of
‘dumbing down’ Trust properties and politicising the charity. Under her leadership, a
row erupted over the word ‘Easter’ being
airbrushed from the Trust’s springtime egg
hunts. Volunteers were very nearly forced to
wear gay pride badges. Which way will the
crucial hunt vote go? It’s instructive to look
at what Ghosh has previously said about
trail hunting on National Trust land.
Back in March she was quizzed about
why they allow it to take place. She replied:
‘We have had a lot of correspondence, there
has been a lot on social media.’
The trouble with paying too much attention to outrage expressed on social media
is that it doesn’t bear much resemblance to
the ‘real’ world. Activists are adept at using
online petitions to give pet causes more
heft. The League against Cruel Sports has,
as it puts it, ‘supported’ the motion on the
ban. But it’s not as if it represents the average National Trust-loving tourist.
There is an online petition running at
the moment calling on the Trust to ‘revoke
land use for “trail” hunts’. It has at the time
of writing been signed 136,028 times, but
according to the data provided by the petition’s website only 67,887 of those support-
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
ers are in the United Kingdom. So who are
they all? Do they even exist? No one at the
Trust checks to make sure the signatories
are all actual people and not part of some
co-ordinated campaign. If the signatories
don’t even live in the UK, should anyone
take their ‘vote’ seriously? In August, various animal rights groups organised a march
through London which protested against a
number of issues, including the badger cull,
grouse shooting and fox hunting. Promoted by that prolific activist Chris Packham,
it gained traction on social media and was
billed as ‘Britain’s largest ever wildlife protection march’. In the event, only about
1,000 people actually turned up. That was
not much reported. Clicks on social media
do not mean feet on the ground.
When it comes to shooting, the National
Trust takes a very different view. It states
that: ‘We allow field sports to take place
on our property where traditionally practised, provided they are within the law’. But
hunting with hounds is legal. Why should the
two be different?
Ghosh admits that a number of the
Trust’s actions in recent years have alienated what she calls its ‘perhaps more traditional visitors’. Well exactly, Dame Helen. If
you bend yourself too much towards your
new ‘audience’, you’ll lose the support of
your trusted and long-term supporters —
not to mention your financial backers. There
are rumours that some of the charity’s more
serious benefactors will pull their funding if
the ban goes ahead. This could be a change
that the Trust lives to regret.
Too Indian to adopt
The obsession with ‘cultural matching’ can go too far
am not surprised that the mother of
a white Christian girl should be upset
that her daughter was placed by Tower
Hamlets council in London with a foster
family reported to adhere to a strict form of
Islam. But my experience is very different
— one in which cultural sensibilities were
taken into account, but to an extreme and
absurd degree. Our story is about adoption,
not fostering, but one assumes that similar
decision-making guidelines govern the
placement of vulnerable children.
My wife and I are British Sikhs, but not
practising ones. We have open minds — we
like to think there is something out there
but we are far from being religious. We both,
as it happened, went to Roman Catholic
schools. We both work in business and our
closest circle of friends are white British. We
do not seek to convert anyone to Sikhism
or any other religion. Yet on the basis that
our parents came from India, we have been
prevented from adopting any white British
child. Given that we live in Berkshire, which
is not exactly brimming with Sikh children in
need of adoption, this means we have effectively been banned from adopting.
When we first got in touch with the
Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, everything seemed so promising. They
put us in touch with their adoption arm,
Adopt Berkshire. We went to an introductory workshop where we were received with a
very positive attitude. The message seemed
to be: everyone is welcome, different races,
different sexualities and so on. We pondered over adopting for another six months
before deciding that it was something we
really wanted to do. We weren’t demanding a newborn — because we were a youngish couple in our lower and mid-thirties we
had ticked the ‘under two’ box. But when
we called Adopt Berkshire, their attitude
had changed. The official very bluntly suggested that maybe we ought to go and look
at adopting from somewhere else, because
they would not be able to ‘prioritise’ us.
When I asked what they meant, she
came up with the term ‘cultural heritage’.
We were being frozen out because Adopt
Berkshire had classified us of Indian/Pakistani heritage and therefore unsuitable for
adopting white British children, who make
up the bulk of local children in need. It all
came down to a question I had been asked
when we first applied. Asked my ‘ethnicity’
I had said ‘Indian’. That was true: ethnically I am Indian. Yet I am British, born and
raised here, as is my wife. The fact that our
parents were from India does not make us
culturally Indian.
We weren’t going to give up easily. I
phoned them again and asked them to send
someone round to our home so they might
understand who we were as people. We
had everything to offer to a child, with four
empty bedrooms waiting to be filled. That
triggered another question — since we had
a large home, would we consider taking siblings? Of course, we said.
So they sent an official who spent half an
hour looking around before becoming apologetic. ‘Whatever happens,’ she said, ‘I hope
this doesn’t put you off adoption. You two
seem like a great couple for adoption.’
Adopt Berkshire recommended that
we adopt from India because the
culture was similar to our own
But not good enough, apparently, to satisfy the strictures of Adopt Berkshire. A
week later we were told we wouldn’t even
be allowed to apply. One reason given was
that we didn’t have any childcare experience.
This surely cannot be unusual, given that
people often choose to adopt because they
have been unable to have their own children.
The greater reason, it turned out, was still
our ‘cultural heritage’. Even today we cannot understand what this means. Take, for
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example, Adopt Berkshire’s recommendation that we adopt from India because the
culture there was ‘similar to our own’. But
India has so many diverse cultures and religions: Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Christians
and more — how could we have ensured
the cultural match they thought was so
In fact, we are culturally British and
we believe race was the overriding factor.
Given that Adopt Berkshire did nothing to
explore whether we really were culturally
Indian/Pakistani or not, it really came down
to one thing: the colour of our skin.
We are now in the process of adopting a child from abroad, though not from
India. We have been approved to adopt a
child from the USA by the Department
of Education in the UK after undergoing a long training programme run by the
Intercountry Adoption Centre in London.
We passed with flying colours. In America, it
is the mother of a newborn baby, not social
workers, who makes the ultimate decision as
to who adopts her child. So, finally, we will
be able to give a child a loving home. But
why couldn’t it have been a British child?
Sadly, our experience came in spite of
efforts to change the system by Michael
Gove, who was then the minister responsible for adoption. He could see that an
obsession with ethnic and cultural matching
of children and adoptive parents was denying stable homes to a large number of black
children because of a shortage of black
volunteers. Children were being shunted
between foster placements while waiting for
an elusive match.
Of course, race should be one of the factors when making decisions about adoption, along with financial stability, the home,
religious persuasion, age and so on. But it
should not be the overriding factor, as it
appears to have been in our case.
It was wrong of Tower Hamlets to place
a white Christian girl — one old enough
to understand her identity — with foster
parents who appear to have tried to convert her to Islam. But it is wrong, too, that
an obsession with cultural sensibilities is
being used to turn willing and capable parents away from the adoption system. Councils may think they are doing the children
a service, but in fact they are letting them
down badly.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Oh brave new gender-fluid world…
ater this year, the Advertising Standards Authority will reveal to the world
their list of rules designed to wipe out
‘gender stereotyping’ in TV ads. I’m already
looking forward to it because the ASA’s first
thoughts on the matter, published in July,
were fascinating. An ad for baby milk which
showed a girl growing up to be a ballerina
was deemed quite unacceptable; KFC got
flack for featuring one man teasing another
for not being manly enough. Stereotypes
on TV contribute to ‘unequal outcomes’ in
reality, explained ASA’s chief exec.
Of course no one wants boys and girls to
feel forced to conform — some boys are feminine, some girls boyish — but that wasn’t the
issue here. What seems to trouble the ASA
is that gender stereotypes exist at all. It sees
them not as a caricature of the real differences between men and women but as a fiction,
an embarrassing legacy of our misguided and
misogynistic past.
The only sadness of that first review was
that (after some weighing of the matter up)
the ASA decided not to actually ban ads from
depicting women at the sink. It’s irresistibly
weird to imagine a Britain in which women
slogging through the dishes are forced to
watch a TV world in which only happy husbands do the washing up.
I had thought in July that perhaps the
ASA was particularly po-faced and PC but
over the past few weeks it’s become clear
that their philosophy, the notion that all stereotypes are imposed with no basis in biology, has become fashionable again. The ASA
episode was followed by the strange case of
James Damore, sacked by Google for suggesting that men are better suited to computer engineering. And then, hot on Damore’s
heels, has come a rush of pieces claiming that
when left to their own devices, baby boys
don’t prefer cars or football and that girls
have no intrinsic liking for pink. A new book,
Testosterone Rex, by the psychologist Cordelia Fine (author of Delusions of Gender: How
Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create
Difference) aims to ‘slay the big, scaly body
of assumptions, preconceptions, conjectures
and distortions regarding ‘what men are like’
and ‘what women are like’.
I’d have more faith in science journalism if I didn’t remember quite clearly just
a few years ago a fashion for articles saying
the opposite. ‘There is increasing evidence
of a biological basis for gender identity,’ said
Science Daily. You can see quite plainly on
scans, said Scientific American, that boys and
girls have different connections between their
frontal lobes. Do we need scientists to tell us
that? Does it really make sense to imagine
that though men and women look different
physically, their brains are identical?
The idea that the male gender stereotype
might be traumatic has found a keen audience among male celebrities. Robert Webb,
a comedian who I’ve previously admired,
gave a painfully irritating interview to the
Sunday Times in which he claimed to have
been oppressed in some non-specific way
If gender stereotypes are an invention,
then why, left alone, do so many men
and women freely conform to them?
by macho working-class culture. A breath
later he mentioned to the interviewer that
in the early years of his marriage he’d left
all household jobs and childcare to his wife.
There are fashionable ideas about gender, reflected back and forth across the
media, and then there’s the great dark mirror
of the internet which reflects the actual reality. If there’s no real difference between the
sexes — if gender stereotypes are founded
on myth — then why, when left to our own
devices, do so many men and women freely
conform to them? It’s ironic that Google’s
so very right on, because it’s in our Googling
that we reveal ourselves. Overwhelmingly
it’s men who look at sex and sport. Overwhelmingly it’s women who swipe through
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
gardening, cookery, childcare.
Perhaps you could say that the men and
women of the 20th century have been irrevocably conditioned, our browsing habits
moulded by the patriarchy. But what of
teenagers, the girls and boys of the Snapchat
generation? Never and nowhere have boys
been more free to be girls and vice versa.
But the way most teens behave on social
media is a throwback to well before the sexual revolution.
Sales of make-up have tripled in recent
years. A 21st-century girl spends just as much
of her day applying make-up as did the most
painted Victorian, and more time preening
for the camera than any starlet. We think of
wolf-whistling as outdated macho behaviour.
Yet below the radar of most parents, an oldfashioned beauty pageant is under way every
day on Instagram. The girls parade themselves, the boys ogle and comment as they’ve
done for millennia. Teen girls on social media
groom each other just as female chimps do.
They compliment each other on their selfies
back and forth: ‘Wow! You’re unreal! Gorg!’
‘No you are!’ It’s a brave new gender-fluid
world but even the unspoken rules of straight
dating seem eerily retro. Girls don’t ask boys
out; they just look pretty and wait.
This is not to say all girls and boys behave
like this. The terrific thing about our day
and age is that everyone feels much freer to
be who they are. But in general, they freely
behave according to stereotype.
Boys post pics of themselves getting
smashed or scoring goals, and as far as I
can tell from my young female cousins, they
lobby girls ceaselessly for topless ‘pictures’
which they then save and share with their
mates. How unreconstructed is that? Feminists thought they’d won a great battle getting rid of the Sun’s Page 3. They thought the
old days of casual objectification were in the
past. How much better was Page 3 than this
casual trade in naked schoolgirls?
Cordelia Fine thinks we imagine the
effects of testosterone. Snapchat and the
porn industry says otherwise. The trouble for
the ASA and for anyone who’s set their heart
on eliminating gender is that evolution can’t
be undone by right-on thinking. Unseen,
unjudged, for fun, girls and boys behave in
different ways.
Ethnic ethics
My MP’s reign of terror
Actor Ed Skrein withdrew from a cartoon
film after protests that he had the wrong
ethnic background to play a JapaneseAmerican. Some famous performances
which, on the same principle, could be
regarded as unacceptable:
— Laurence Olivier blacked up to play the
lead role in the 1965 film of Othello.
— Andrew Sachs, son of a German Jew,
played Manuel the Spanish waiter in
Fawlty Towers in 1975 and 1979.
— Eddie Redmayne, who is not disabled,
played Stephen Hawking in the 2014 film
The Theory of Everything.
— Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is of Puerto
Rican descent, played founding father
Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway
musical Hamilton, which he also wrote.
Bridge of size
How does the Queensferry Bridge, the new
road bridge across the Forth, measure up
against its predecessor?
queensferry bridge
forth bridge
Opened .................. 2017 ................. 1964
Cost ................ £1.35bn ..............£11.5m
(£210m today)
Main span ......... 2,130ft ............. 3,300ft
Height above
high-tide level:...... 683ft ................ 512ft
Tonnes of steel ..35,000 ............. 39,000
Construction deaths ..... 2 ......................... 7
Vicious cycles
A cyclist using a ‘fixie’ bike with no front
brake was convicted over the death of a
woman who stepped into the road. Which
vehicles are most lethal for pedestrians?
— In 2015, for every billion miles cycled in
Britain, 137 pedestrians were hit by a bike,
leading to 0.6 deaths and 30 serious injuries
(per billion miles). Pedestrian victim
figures for other vehicles:
serious injuries
Car ....................... 1.1 ............................... 16
Lorry ....................... 3 ............................. 6.8
Motorcycle.......... 3.6 .............................. 75
Bus/coach.............. 10 .............................. 76
Figures per billion vehicle miles.
Source: Department for Transport
Storm force
How bad was Hurricane Harvey? It was
briefly a Category 4 storm as it hit Texas,
the strongest in the state since Hurricane
Carla in 1961. But other states have
suffered more. In the last century, eight Cat
4 storms and these three Cat 5s, all made
landfall in the USA (excluding Hawaii):
— Florida: Labor Day Storm, September
1935; Hurricane Andrew, August 1992
— Mississippi and Louisiana:
Hurricane Camille, August 1969
‘Kill! Kill!’ yelled the mob
Laikipia, Kenya
ollowing Kenya’s recently concluded
elections, I took a walk on my Laikipia
farm and lit up a cigar, stale because
I had saved it for a day when I might hear
a bit of good news that never seemed to
come. I felt it was the end of a terrifying
five-year ordeal when I frequently sensed
my life was in extreme danger. A few weeks
before at a rally on the plains near our farm
boundary, our local MP, Mathew Lempurkel, had allegedly declared: ‘If we win this
election we will take this land… We will
make sure all wazungus (white people) go
to their homes.’
This speech was recorded by witnesses,
and Mathew was arrested and charged with
incitement. But my MP was no stranger to
criminal cases. In March he was arrested
following the shooting of my friend and
neighbour Tristan Voorspuy, though charges
were dropped for lack of evidence linking
him to this cold-blooded murder. In another pending criminal case he is accused of
threatening to burn down my local police
Lempurkel seemed frequently
to crash vehicles and he had a
reputation for hard drinking
station if its commander did not release his
cohorts from the cells. In yet another pending case, he is accused of assaulting Sarah
Korere, his arch rival for the Laikipia North
parliamentary seat. He allegedly beat her
up in a government office last November,
after which he sent her an SMS threatening: ‘Withdraw this case you prostitute or
you die idiot.’
I have known Mathew since even before
I bought my land 14 years ago. His people
are the local cattle-keeping Samburu, but
he was partly raised by an elderly Italian
Catholic priest. He promoted himself as a
militant Samburu leader during a bloody
feud with the neighbouring Pokot tribe in
which hundreds died. He seemed frequently to crash vehicles and he had a reputation
for hard drinking. I sensed he loathed white
people, but I always showed him respect,
because he was prominent in his community.
Mathew had strong political ambitions
but funding election campaigns in Kenya
is an expensive business. Before the 2013
national polls, his Italian patrons claimed
that he had run down a Catholic charity set
up to organise operations for small children
suffering severe heart problems.
In the years since I started building up
my farm, life in Laikipia had always been
very peaceful for us. The trouble kicked
off the day Mathew won his election. For
three nights running, extremely violent bandits hit the farm, rustling cattle. Shots flew
everywhere. A gunman emptied an entire
clip of AK-47 bullets into my car — from
such close range that sparks from the muzzle bounced off the windscreen — as I drove
to help my neighbours, who suffered cattle
raids every night for a week.
In the succeeding years, the violence
escalated all around us. Hordes of Samburu
armed with guns, spears, knobkerries (a form
of club) and swords pushed multitudes of
cattle into ranches owned by white farmers
— but also into the maize patches and pastures of poor smallholders from rival tribes.
Mathew was always making headlines. In
2014 he was kicked off an Emirates flight,
accused of drunkenly assaulting flight
attendants and throwing glasses around
while demanding to be served alcohol
before takeoff. Dubbed a ‘rogue’ passenger by the airline, he later complained: ‘I
just wanted a Tusker.’ When he returned to
the Catholic charity and started loading up
computers and other property to take away,
locals tried to lynch him.
In 2015 a gang of warriors, known as
morans, who were allegedly herders for
some of Mathew’s large mobs of cattle,
entered my land. Several men threw rocks
at me while shouting: ‘Kill! Kill!’ I used my
left hand to fend off one missile, the injuries festered and the doctors nearly had to
amputate my fingers. I adore Kenya, where
my family has been since the 1920s, but as I
lay in hospital for a week I wondered whether farming in Laikipia was worth the risk.
Early last year, Mathew — who has
repeatedly denied the numerous offences of
which people have accused him — came to
visit me on my farm. He is a short man with
a falsetto voice and an otter-like sleekness.
He is clearly intelligent but he has this disturbing habit of grinning when a nasty sub-
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
ject comes up in conversation. I implored
him to be a leader for all ethnic communities in Laikipia rather than just the disgruntled, unemployed Samburu youths who
followed him around. Our constituency is
beset with some ghastly social problems:
child marriage and the clitoridectomy of
young brides.
All children should attend primary
school by law in Kenya, but in Laikipia you
see tiny boys herding cattle — a perilous
task in the African bush. In 2015 I saw a
photo of a small Samburu child herder half
eaten by a lioness. Mathew had a budget
of millions of pounds earmarked for social
projects in education, health and so on —
but in the shanty that was his powerbase, a
few kilometres from the farm, he had built a
single-roomed structure the size of a garden
shed, which he called a ‘school’.
I told Mathew I had met men like him
before — in Rwanda in 1994, Hutu warlords
driven by hatred for the Tutsis. The young
militias they incited to kill others eventually turned on them and practically ate their
leaders. Mathew blinked and played with
his phone. A few months later he told my
I adore Kenya, but as I lay in hospital
for a week I wondered whether
farming in Laikipia was worth the risk
farm workers that he would break down
my gates and fences.
I survived another ambush with gunshots flying as I drove home one night. In
late October, as Kenya heated up for this
year’s elections, my Samburu neighbours
came to tell me Mathew was inciting a mob
of young moran warriors to invade my farm.
I refused to believe this claim, because I was
doing plenty of business with my Samburu
neighbours. I had bought £30,000 worth of
cattle from them that year and I was about
to start giving them pasture for their cattle
at the onset of the dry season.
A few days after this on 27 October, 300
warriors armed with bolt cutters smashed
through our electric fences and poured
10,000 cattle into the farm. Within ten
minutes of the alarms sounding, I phoned
Mathew and implored him to withdraw his
supporters. He denied that he was behind
the invasion, jeered at me and said, ‘Bring
the witnesses to testify in court’, before cutting the line.
During the two-month invasion, I lost
£282,000, according to an assessment
by the local government livestock production officer. After the mobs had destroyed
all the fences and pastures, leaving empty
cans of Red Bull and bottles of cheap hooch
known as Trigger, I heard Mathew held a
celebration on the plains. Here he slaughtered two bulls and allegedly said something along the lines of: ‘I gave you the grass
— now give me the votes.’
Reading Latin doesn’t require a trigger warning
Last week, Brendan O’Neill
described in this magazine
how students regulate
‘unacceptable’ political
views with ‘no platform’
policies, safe spaces and
trigger warnings. Two weeks
ago a student Latin course
(Reading Latin, P. Jones
and K. Sidwell) was ‘outed’
by an American PhD
student, because the text
featured three goddesses,
each confidently stripping
off, determined to win the
golden apple from Paris, and
two rapes. Such ‘offensive’
choices, she said, did not help
the cause of Latin, ‘or make
the historically racist and
classist discipline of classics
any more accessible’.
Both rapes featured
in a foundation myth of
early Roman history. The
most important was that of
Lucretia by Sextus, son of
king Tarquinius Superbus
(‘the arrogant’). After
explaining the situation to
her husband and father,
Lucretia said: ‘But while my
body alone is violated, my
mind is innocent. My death
will bear witness to that.’
They urged her to desist:
‘It is the mind that sins,
not the body; where there
is no intention, there is no
blame.’ She replied: ‘I acquit
myself of wrongdoing, but
do not absolve myself from
punishment. Never shall any
unchaste woman live because
of Lucretia’s example.’ With
that, she stabbed herself to
death. Enraged Romans
drove out the Tarquinii and
the republic was founded.
Roman males
demonstrated their ultimate
heroism by self-sacrifice in
battle in the name of the
Roman state; Lucretia hers
by her commitment to her
‘battlefield’ — the sanctity of
the Roman family. Christian
Impunity brings any perpetrator to a
point of no return. What the person has
done wrong cannot be undone, and because
after each criminal act the stakes are raised
ever higher, in order to survive he must
commit wrong after worse wrong.
During Laikipia’s invasions over the
past ten months, dozens of people have
been murdered — most of them poor black
smallholders — and losses from vandalised property and lost business is estimated at around £30 million. A few weeks ago
Mathew’s boss Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, told the Times that white-owned
farms in Laikipia would be ‘rationalised’.
At press conferences Mathew seemed to
‘More adagio and we’ll come to a full stop.’
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
thinkers such as St Jerome
applauded her. St Augustine
disagreed: to value chastity
above life was usurping
God’s authority.
Ian Donaldson’s book
The Rapes of Lucretia (1982)
explores in great detail the
uses of this myth and the
nature of heroism down
the millennia. That is what
historians do — interrogate
the past. It is beyond belief
that someone committed to
serious historical enquiry
could find such an exercise
‘offensive’, as the PhD
student presumably must,
since she seems to think
history should consist of just
the fluffy bits. Though deities
seldom compete to win
golden apples these days, it
is not as if rape has vanished
from the face of the earth, let
alone racism and classism.
One might have thought
that historical takes on
issues of such contemporary
importance were the perfect
medium to explore them
— Peter Jones
be always at Raila’s side. In the nights before
election day on 8 August, I could not sleep a
wink. I felt the world was about to come to an
end. A Samburu friend tells me that Mathew
began vomiting at the tallying centre as the
votes being counted showed that he was
about to be trounced by Sarah Korere, the
woman he had allegedly beaten last November. Sarah is inclusive, a defender of the rule
of law, pro-education, a promoter of opportunities for women, and famous for breastfeeding her baby in parliament where there
were no facilities. The people had rejected
everything Mathew represents — and in the
presidential elections, Kenyans also rejected
Raila’s crude populism and voted instead
for Uhuru Kenyatta and his promises of
economic development. Raila contests the
result, claiming it was ‘rigged’.
For sure Kenya has a long way to go and
corruption remains a giant problem. But
I had been preparing for the very worst
under another five years of Mathew. I now
feel on top of the world about Sarah’s election and the chance for all of us to help her
rebuild Laikipia from the ashes. This is what
living in a young democracy is like. Despair
one day, the next great hope.
On his release Mathew’s followers
began building a boma, or livestock camp,
up against my farm’s northern boundary.
Let’s redo lunch
Eating al desko doesn’t have to mean a sad sandwich
s a young sub-editor on the Times
in 1926, Graham Greene, future
author of The Quiet American and
Brighton Rock, had his meals in the office
canteen. Elevenpence bought two kippers,
a pot of tea and a slice of syrup roll. Plenty to keep a man going through a long subbing shift.
Is that ‘pot’ of tea not civilised, with
its suggestion of several cups, of the ceremony of brewing and pouring? With a hot
main and a hot pudding eaten away from
one’s typewriter?
Today’s office worker eats al desko.
Quick dash to Pret, Eat, Itsu, Leon — it’s as
if we haven’t time for more than four letters
— for the same sandwich, sushi box or wrap
as yesterday. Back to wolf down bacon, lettuce and tomato before a one o’clock meeting. What should be a pleasant pause in the
working day is a bad-tempered, hiccupy
bolting of just enough calories to get you
through to the afternoon tea-run.
It’s a depressing way to eat at any time
of year, but particularly in September, after
two weeks away in la France profonde,
Porto or Tuscany. Long lunches under the
arbour. New bread, ripe tomatoes, spiced
saucisson, juicy peaches. A siesta in the heat
of the day. Then, back to lacklustre lunches
and crumbs on the keyboard.
Visiting Paris in July, the lunchtime cafés
were full of office staff ordering the prix
fixe menu over their newspapers (‘La chanteuse Rihanna “inspirée et impressionnée”
par Emmanuel Macron’). Carottes rapées
to start, then roast chicken, buttered potatoes, endive salad, coffee of your choice —
all for ten euros. The Parisienne does not
ask her neighbour at midday: ‘Shall we do
M&S now before the rush?’ She does not
go in pairs, or threes, or fours with the girls
from accounts to buy a meal deal from
Boots. She sits at her table toute seule, in
splendid Gitane-smoking isolation.
Since we are not rich in sumptuous little bistros serving steak-frites for a sou, we
must make the best of our desk lunches.
The most popular office lunch in this country, according to a 2015 survey, is the cheese
sandwich, followed by the ham sandwich,
followed by the chicken sandwich, then
some sort of salad, and in fifth place, ‘other
sandwich’. Must try harder.
Swap a sandwich for slices of quiche Lorraine; pork pies with red-onion chutney and
cherry tomatoes; cold roast chicken with
piccalilli and new potatoes saved from Sunday’s lunch; Scotch eggs and pink radishes;
quarters of egg frittata with feta, courgettes,
peas, spring onions. Love Your Lunches by
Rebecca Dickinson (Hardie Grant, £12.99)
has an autumn recipe for a caramelised
onion, mushroom and goats cheese frittata.
I’ve tried it: it’s delicious.
Don’t eat quinoa at your desk. Once it
gets in the keyboard grooves, you’ll never
get it out.
In The Home Cookbook, gardener
Monty Don confesses his modest lunches:
‘I have been known to lunch perfectly happily on half a cold baked potato spread with
homemade chutney for first course, and the
other half spread with jam for pudding.’
Frugal, filling, and very British.
There was a heated debate in the Telegraph letters pages this summer about Cornish pasties and whether they were taken
into the fields for lunch by farm workers,
filled at one end with meat and veg and at
the other — on the Monty principle — with
apple and dried fruits. But how, asked the
letter writers, would one know which was
‘Is everything OK with your meal? Your child
isn’t running wild in our restaurant.’
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
the savoury end and which the pudding end
and where to start?
Cooked fish in the office is tricky. Did
the smell of Graham Greene’s kippers ever
leave the Times corridors? Your colleagues
won’t thank you for eating mackerel, herring or microwaved kedgeree. But you can
just about get away with potted shrimp
or Gentleman’s Relish on good oatcakes:
Stockan’s Orkney or Duchy Originals.
There was a mutiny at one office I
worked in when an editor put herself on
a six-eggs-a-day diet. Those sitting nearby
learned to dread the click-clack of the Tupperware and another hard-boiler sulphurously extracted.
The most wilfully extravagant and
eccentric lunch I’ve come across belongs to
a friend who works in the City. He takes in
a tin of Clement Faugier cooked chestnuts
and eats them whole with a fork.
Susannah Otter, a books editor with a
passion for proper lunches, says: ‘My best
lunch tip is to create a condiment drawer.
Seems pretentious, makes everything better. Mine has celery salt, chilli flakes, a
small bottle of Tabasco, Dijon and English
mustard, olive oil, a pepper mill and sumac
(brilliant on pretty much everything). Then,
The Parisienne does not ask her
neighbour at midday: ‘Shall we
do M&S before the rush?’
even if you do get stuff from M&S, you can
assemble bits and bobs and season them as
you wish. I went through a very enterprising
stage of making my own dukkah.’
She recommends Georgina Hayden’s
recipe in Stirring Slowly: Recipes to Restore
and Revive (Square Peg, £20) for this Egyptian spice mix of sesame, coriander, cumin
and fennel seeds, blanched almonds, sea salt
and black pepper.
If you are stuck in a cheese toastie rut,
The Little Book of Lunch by Caroline Craig
and Sophie Missing (£16.99, Square Peg) is
full of inspiration under sensible chapter
headings, such as: ‘When you are chained
to your desk’ and ‘Bribing colleagues with
sweet treats’. Posh Toast by Emily Kydd
(Quadrille, £12.99) is a book to raid when
you can’t think of anything more exciting
than a ploughman’s sarnie. Crushed cannellini beans with sage and lemon on sourdough toast is a winner.
Tiffin tins, bento boxes and Thermos flasks
for soup make even the dreariest bloomerloaf sandwich more sybaritic. Keep a stash
of sugar in your drawer, hidden from colleagues behind the hole-punch: Mint Imperials, Medjool dates, Percy Pigs, dark chocolate
coffee beans. This is the place for the treats
you bought on holiday and have no idea
what to do with: sugared almonds, crystallised violets, amaretti biscuits and quince
membrillo. Pop a marron glacé and plan
your next holiday.
Campus censoriousness
Sir: I am so grateful to Madeleine Kearns
for having the courage to speak out
about her experiences at university when
others, including myself, remain silent
(‘Unsafe spaces’, 26 August) .
I have done the reverse of Madeleine
in that I, a young American woman,
moved from New York City to the UK for
graduate school. One of the main factors in
this decision to continue my education here
is because I feel I have more academic and
intellectual freedom.
The idea of a balanced argument at my
undergraduate university was ‘neoliberal’
versus ‘radically liberal’. We spoke of
the importance of diversity, but political
diversity was never considered. I thirsted
for a deeper understanding of why half of
Americans could hold opinions that were
only met with dismissive ridicule or barely
acknowledged. What I wanted was a wide
exposure to different ideas and arguments,
whether or not I agreed with them. Instead,
even this skewed presentation of liberal
opinions was too broad and too offensive
for my peers, meriting the need for safe
spaces and trigger warnings.
In the US, if someone disagrees with
you politically, they disengage from
you and refuse to get to know you on a
personal level. So I have often kept quiet
among my peers, only revealing my true
thoughts to those who have ‘come out’
to me in the same way that Madeleine
describes. This has been compounded by
the fact that my undergraduate degree
was in gender studies, a famously radically
liberal discipline. I am proud that I do not
conform to the stereotype of a gender
studies student.
I am grateful that in the UK I have
been free to say what I think and not
be personally judged. I wish to remain
anonymous not because I am ashamed
of my views, but because I want to be an
academic and fear assumptions might be
made about my politics. Academia is so
liberal that, though I am politically neutral
or centrist, others might regard me as being
conservative and not want to hire me.
Nevertheless, I look forward to working
towards a future where academics have
intellectual freedom in the form of open
discussion, not anonymous letters.
Anonymous American PhD student
Right or right-on
Sir: I write regarding Madeleine Kearns’s
excellent article. As an undergraduate
at Manchester Metropolitan University
and an instinctive conservative thinker,
I have found myself in a similar situation
to the one she describes — although I can
report that British universities have not
yet fully embraced the American model
of all-pervasive censorship. Nonetheless,
declaring oneself a conservative and a
believer in objectivity is often problematic.
Try arguing that Churchill was an
exemplary individual, Thatcher a great
prime minister or, heaven forbid, that
Brexit is a logical decision, and you are well
and truly outside civilised opinion. In the
wider world, however, such views constitute
a majority. Although I am reading history, I
haven’t even bothered to make the case for
the British Empire in my seminars.
Speaking with fellow students one-toone; however, there is often a clear signal
of relief when such views are privately
expressed. Don’t believe what you hear;
conservatism is alive and well on campus. It
has just become the transgressive option.
Campbell Bishop
Bradshaw, Bolton
How to repel snowflakes
Sir: As reported by Brendan O’Neill
(‘University challenge’, 26 August) and
Madeleine Kearns, some students are not
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happy with university censorship. It is
therefore surprising that none of the 145
or so universities in Britain has broken
ranks and advertised with messages
such as: ‘Snowflakes need not apply’, or
‘Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is
shocking, but we teach it without a trigger
warning’. Such a university might attract
good students, and perhaps even an able
Jonathan Coles
Great Clifton, Cumbria
Upholding free speech
Sir: Brendan O’Neill paints a picture of
UK universities that would be alarming if
correct. It is nonsense to suggest that the
views of students are ‘censored’, that they
are taught ‘not to question ideas’ or that
‘universities are factories of conformism’.
It is also factually incorrect that
students at my university ‘slapped a ban
on tabloids’. Such a ‘ban’ has never been
in place. Ironically, this inaccuracy stems
from a motion proposed and debated as
part of the democratic process followed by
our Students’ Union which was not taken
forward — an example of the type of open
debate that the article suggests does not
exist at universities.
Our universities have a deep historical
commitment and if that were not enough,
a statutory duty (1986 Education Act,
clause 43) to uphold freedom of speech
within the law. This is something we take
very seriously.
Professor Sir Paul Curran
President, City, University of London, EC1
A personal view of escorts
Sir: Julie Bindel paints an unremittingly
depressing account of the sex trade, in
particular the exploitation of vulnerable
women and girls (‘The “sex worker” myth’,
19 August). I am quite sure her descriptions
are accurate, but here in Britain they are far
from the whole story.
There is an important distinction to be
made here. It is between the circumstances
of the powerless, mostly illegal, foreign
workers (and these are not necessarily
sex workers) on the one hand, and local,
legal workers, who are not at all powerless,
on the other hand. Almost all OECD
countries now provide extensive statutory
protection for legal workers, and so a legal
worker in an OECD country does have a
genuine choice.
My own experience of ‘escorts’ is that if
a customer chooses English girls, they are
fully voluntary, independent individuals,
who have made a conscious choice to
sell sex for money. Few of the girls I have
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
met are in any sense vulnerable. In my
experience, the overwhelming majority are
normal, independent individuals fully able
to choose the way in which they earn their
living. Of those I have met, many are or
were studying for university degrees.
For what it’s worth, I would put the
average longevity in the trade of young,
educated English girls at less than a year.
But that is a year in which they can earn
£200-£250 per hour after agency fees, which
would allow them both the time and the
resources to pursue a permanent career.
Well-run English escort agencies (and
there are many of these) are assiduous in
protecting both their girls’ and their clients’
identity. It is an example of the market
working well, whatever else modern
puritans may tell us.
The failures are where criminal gangs
coerce vulnerable girls into prostitution
in the same way as they coerce vulnerable
men into low-paid work or criminality.
OECD states should pay much more
attention to this if they want to eliminate
modern slavery — but leave innocent
‘escorts’ and their clients alone.
Name and address supplied
encyclopaedic knowledge of election
results and electoral districts. I collect
things like transport timetables and
television listing magazines. And while
my main passion isn’t Antarctica, like
the show’s protagonist, I probably have a
dozen books about the continent on my
bookshelf. That said, the show is still quite
black-and-white in its depiction of autism.
For most people with autism, life happens
in shades of grey.
Mathieu Vaillancourt
Ottawa, Canada
Speaking their language
Sir: Knowledge of English may well be
adequate for helping different nationalities
travel abroad, but it is seldom sufficient
for international business success (Letters,
26 August). With trade deals becoming
increasingly important for the UK in a postBrexit world, we should remember the wise
words of the former German chancellor
Willy Brandt: ‘If I am selling to you, I speak
your language. If I am buying, dann müssen
Sie Deutsch sprechen.’
Philip Bushill-Matthews
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Men are prostitutes too
Sir: I admire Julie Bindel’s effort to
dispel the myth of prostitution being a
choice. However, her article reinforces
another myth: that sex workers are female.
Listening to BBC4’s Any Answers of 5
March 2016, the presenter pointed out
that according to the ONS, 40 per cent
of prostitutes are male. Julie’s article
is dominated by the plight of women,
and only briefly mentioned boys in
prostitution. As a feminist, I am sure she
believes men and women need equal and
proportionate protection. The media has an
important role to play in this but her article
perpetuates the myth that prostitutes are
predominately female.
Kevin Thak
Autism challenges
Sir: As someone with autism, I have enjoyed
watching Atypical, which James Walton
reviewed last week (Television, 26 August).
The show offers a positive role model for
people for autism, while also dealing with
some of the genuine challenges we face.
It’s indeed true that romantic relationships
are quite challenging. High school was
not always easy for me and I was bullied
at times. Fortunately, most students and
professors were kind.
Like the character in the show, I also
have some ‘weird’ passions. I have an
the spectator | 2 september 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 *
Hard to hear
Sir: Max Hastings is not alone in feeling
disappointment in ‘The Ferryman’, nor
in complaining of inaudibility (Diary, 26
August). I have friends who wrote to the
theatre to say they could hear about half
of the production — only to be offered
new tickets, which they were not overly
keen to take up. The problem of actors
who have not been trained to project their
voices occurs in many theatres, including
the National Theatre. I believe Dame Judi
Dench has expressed anxiety about actors
who are only experienced in television
and therefore unable to make themselves
heard in the theatre.
Maureen Green
Kew, Richmond
Vocation, vocation
Sir: The Chief Executive of the University
Alliance quotes Lord Robbins, in 1963,
saying ‘universities should offer higher
education to everyone with the aspiration
and ability to benefit’ (Letters, 26 August).
Lord Robbins’s ghost would now find
the definition of ‘higher education’ much
changed. Had the former polytechnics
emulated those in continental Europe in
providing excellent vocational training,
and thereby enhanced their status, their
graduates would now find good prospects
in the job market in the UK.
Peter Stoppard
Long Ashton, Bristol
The best pig book
Sir: I was delighted to see, in Francis
Wheen’s review of two recent pig books
(Books, 26 August) recognition of that
inestimable masterpiece ‘On the Care of
the Pig’, by Augustus Whiffle. Even after all
these years its sprightly prose and forthright
advice remain unsurpassed in the field.
Robert Bishop
St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada
The Aussie other half
Sir: Mark Mason (Diary, 12 August), seeking
an alternative to the rather inadequate
‘partner’, might like to consider the
now colloquial — but legally derived —
Antipodean phrase ‘De facto’. It covers
most bases, is fresh on the ear, and evokes
a certain classic quality.
John Pollock
Chertsey, Surrey
* At selected airports † Except Saturdays
The Spectator, 22 Old Queen Street, London
Hurricane Harvey is bigger news than
the bankers at Jackson Hole
n Houston last November I spent an
evening at the city’s industrial-scale food
bank, where I heard a presentation on
the Houstonian tradition of offering hospitality to refugees, including 200,000 displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. We were also given some positive spin
on the strength of co-operation, in time of
crisis, between the region’s major oil companies and its state and city governments. Now
Houston itself is the victim of Hurricane Harvey. With the prospect of $50 billion worth
of damage, the world is watching first to see
whether the combined response is more
humane and effective than the Katrina
shambles, in which protection of property
seemed to rank well ahead of the safety of
the poor, and secondly whether President
Trump’s visit helps or makes matters worse.
I also took a boat cruise through the Port
of Houston, passing the many oil depots
and refineries that have been disrupted by
the storm. The afflicted region accounts for
a third of US refining capacity and some
3 per cent of US gross domestic product, so
the disaster constitutes far bigger economic news than the weekend’s other major
event — the conclave of central bankers at
Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
There, neither Janet Yellen of the US Fed
nor Mario Draghi of the ECB offered any
hint as to the next phase of monetary policy — though Yellen did indicate willingness
to fight Trump’s plans for financial deregulation, at the risk of not being reappointed
by him next year. Mark Carney didn’t even
show up, sending instead his least dull deputy, Ben Broadbent, who we might assume to
be his favoured successor for 2019.
Opportunity cost
This column was early to argue that higher
education should be treated as an export
sector in which the UK has an excellent
product to exploit, and that Theresa May’s
clampdown on non-EU students entering
the UK, counting them like any other category of immigrant, was an exercise in pig28
headed economic self-harm. Now we learn
that the official estimate underpinning the
policy, for the number of foreign students
overstaying their visas, was a wild exaggeration. But the Prime Minister’s prejudice still holds sway, while Home Secretary
Amber Rudd has commissioned a belated
report on the positive economic impact of
international students — a subject on which
the higher-ed sector has been pleading for a
hearing for the past five years.
The essence of this issue is that a 42,000
drop in international student numbers at
some UK universities since 2010 represents a sacrifice of market share in a global
market that has been growing at 6 per cent
per annum. The opportunity cost, at £13 billion and counting, has been a direct gain to
competitors such as the US, Canada and
Australia. The latter, a particularly smart
operator in this game, will overtake the UK
in overseas student numbers by next year,
despite having only 40 universities to our
140, and a much smaller population.
What cannot be counted are the hightech start-ups that are now elsewhere rather than here, or (given that students coming
from India have halved) the number of Indian-born future CEOs of global companies
who speak American and think of Britain as
an unwelcoming place. What can be counted
are the jobs — up to 80,000 — that might
have been created if our international student body had continued growing at the
global rate. Those jobs have mostly been
foregone in relatively depressed towns and
suburbs that are home to lower-ranked universities, where international applications
have dropped by 50 per cent or more: Mrs
May has even added to the north-south
divide. Of all the things history might hold
against her, hostility to foreign students has
done the most insidious damage.
Au revoir
‘How do I get a doctor to come to the
house?’ I asked a French friend. ‘You phone
a doctor and ask him to come to the house,’
was her answer. And so I did, several times,
and when we had to go to the cottage hospital at Gourdon in the Lot, the nursing was
much more solicitous than most people’s
experience of the NHS, and the food good
enough to be my first restaurant tip of the
week (if you hold a European health insurance card that picks up the bill, by the way,
that really is a value-for-money suggestion).
You can put the quality of the French
health system down to public-sector spending at 56.6 per cent of GDP, which the
embattled President Macron may never
succeed in reducing. Or maybe you can put
it down to a culture of service offered and
expected that — despite my complaint last
week about not being able to find a cup of
coffee — puts ours to shame.
Likewise you could say France’s productivity advantage ($66 of GDP per hour
worked in 2015 compared to $52 for the UK,
says the OECD) is at least partly explained
by the chronic high unemployment that
results from socialist-driven labour laws
— because the lowest-skilled, least productive segment of the population doesn’t
work so isn’t in the statistics at all. Or you
could observe that the French generally run
efficient businesses, put their backs into it
and take pride in customer satisfaction.
None more so than those archetypal
hard-working restaurateur couples, husband
in the kitchen, wife front-of-house. So let me
end this summer’s gastronomic tour by praising a simple eaterie that captures everything
I love about being here. The Ferme Auberge
du Roc, in a hidden valley close to my village
of St Pompon, is the most bucolic, bargainpriced dining experience you’ll ever find, its
menu consisting almost entirely of parts of
the ducks whose cousins flap contentedly
outside as you eat. Proprietors Philippe and
Christiane Lapeyrie are also producteurs of
world-class foie gras — and you might say
that their happy ducks offer a useful Brexit metaphor, since they clearly have no idea
what’s about to happen to them. As negotiations recommence in Brussels this week,
dear reader, neither do we.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
finds Darwin’s theory of
evolution not merely flawed
but dangerous
William Cook reveals that
even Hitler was impressed
by the London Cage’s
interrogation methods
James McNamara delights
in Kamila Shamsie’s stirring
reworking of Antigone
Petroc Trelawny recalls his
Classic FM boss threatening
to fine him if he referred to
opus numbers on air
Deborah Ross is sent this
way and that by the
compelling psychological
drama Una
James Delingpole wonders
whether The State should
ever have been made
Earl Cameron in 1952, one
of the first black actors to
break the British ‘colour
Robert Gore-Langton —
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
The fruits of imperialism
Katrina Gulliver salutes the traders and innovators of the
British empire who first gave us our taste for the exotic
The Thirst for Empire: How Tea
Shaped the Modern World
by Erika Rappaport
Princeton, £32.95, pp. 549
The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s
Quest for Food Shaped the Modern
by Lizzie Collingham
Bodley Head, £20, pp. 353
Sugar: The World Corrupted
From Slavery to Obesity
by James Walvin
Robinson, £18.99, pp. 325
Imagine yourself a middle-class person in
England in the 1870s. You sit down to drink
a cup of tea while reading The Spectator. It
probably doesn’t cross your mind, but in
your hand you hold products from around
the world. Your tea is from Ceylon, the sugar
in it from Jamaica, and your porcelain cup
was made in China. Your afternoon refreshment is the culmination of global trade
developed over centuries.
In A Thirst for Empire, Erika Rappaport traces how tea became a staple of the
British diet after arriving in the 17th century, and has not lost its popularity yet. This is
a detailed work, at over 400 pages of small
print, but provides interesting explorations
of the health-giving powers attributed to tea,
and how it came to be seen as a wholesome
and vital drink.
The consumption of tea goes back more
than 2,000 years in China, but it only became
widely available in western Europe after
1600 (Samuel Pepys first tried the ‘China
drink’ in the 1660s). Its arrival, like that of
coffee, perfectly suited the emerging consumer culture. Tea shops, like coffee houses,
appeared in growing cities and tea became
obligatory at fashionable gatherings. The
practice of drinking tea with milk and sugar
was soon adopted as the British custom (tea
in China is traditionally served without milk).
Such was the British market for tea that
by the 19th century it produced a trade
imbalance with China. The Chinese jealously guarded their tea-growing expertise,
and European free marketeers resented this
monopoly. Meanwhile, the Chinese strongly resisted buying any British products,
until some bright spark started selling
Indian opium in Chinese ports. The subsequent opium wars resulted in humiliation
for China and a lingering grudge against
the West.
Meanwhile, planters in Assam attempted
to replicate Chinese tea, so that the British
market would no longer be dependent on
China. The tea industry in India and Ceylon
grew to be so successful that they supplanted
Chinese teas in world markets, and changed
the agricultural system in much of the region.
Tea created a new market where it was
produced, becoming the favoured drink in
India itself.
With the rise of print media, tea was
advertised as part of a pan-imperial national identity. The Victorian temperance movement gave tea a huge boost, and it was
supplied to soldiers throughout the empire.
A drink that helped keep people alert and
didn’t intoxicate was likewise ideal for the
army of factory workers at home. Expanding
plantations throughout the Raj meant that
tea became an affordable luxury for even the
poorest classes.
‘Tea Revives You’ was the ubiquitous
slogan, with advertisements encouraging
people to drink it morning, noon and night.
During the second world war, supplying the
troops also served as a publicity opportunity.
Tea cars travelled thousands of miles across
Europe, North Africa and Asia serving millions of cups, in so doing offering the soldiers
a reminder of home. The vans were painted
were featured in newsreels and newspapers.
The tea cars were a novelty, but building
long-distance food supply chains was something the British empire had been doing for
centuries. Over 300 years, British appetites
grew to include Newfoundland salt cod, Indian pepper, Caribbean rum, South African
citrus and New Zealand lamb. Each advance
in farming technology and shipping speed
brought more variety into Britain’s pantries.
The empire’s needs were sometimes
greater than the empire could supply. In the
mid-19th century, much of Britain’s wheat
was coming from the United States. The
efficiency of grain elevators and low shipping charges mean it cost less to transport
wheat to Liverpool from New York than
from Dublin. The pressure of cheap imports
drove a steep decline in British domestic
wheat production. However, for the consumer, food became more affordable. In 1880, a
4lb loaf cost half what it had in 1840. With
cheaper bread, working-class families could
add diversity to their table with other (often
imported) foods.
Lizzie Collingham’s The Hungry Empire
offers snapshots of meals and lifestyles at
different points through the empire. The
chapters are punctuated with excerpts from
recipe books, giving the reader the chance to
recreate these meals. The pottage of chicken
with asparagus sounds intriguing, although
I’m less convinced by the sour milk syllabub.
(Unfortunately, times being what they are,
I can’t get hold of opium to try the liquid
laudanum recipe.)
In the 1920s, the Empire Marketing
Board offered a Christmas pudding recipe
(supposedly that eaten by the Royal fam-
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
The cornucopia of food advertised by the Empire Marketing Board, 1927-1933
ily), listing all the ingredients next to their
source. Everything came from somewhere in
the empire, from Zanzibaran cloves to Australian sultanas and Jamaican rum. Reading
the list is a reminder not only of how global
our steamed pudding really is, but how far
the empire spread that even the most exotic
spices were harvested under the Union Jack.
Only the 20 eggs — this pudding must have
been the size of a canoe — came from the
Irish Free State. (Why British eggs weren’t
good enough is unclear.)
Of course, our taste for some of these
ingredients predates the British empire.
As James Walvin points out in Sugar, that
first arrived on our shores in the medieval
period, via traders in the Levant and Venice. Sugarcane is native to South Asia, and
Arab traders began cultivating it in the
Middle East from 800 AD onwards. The
crusaders brought a taste for it back to
Europe, and their sugar, or ‘candy’ (from
the Arabic qandiyy) began appearing at
the wealthier tables.
European colonial expansion would take
sugar further. The Portuguese took it to the
Azores and then to Brazil, and it was soon
adopted by other Europeans in the Caribbean. It grew easily in the tropics, and meant
huge profits for those who would sell it to
Europe’s eager consumers. But before industrialisation, cane sugar production was brutally hard work. Its success as a global trade
good depended on a large enslaved workforce. Affordable sugar came to Europe’s
tables as a result of immense human suffering. As a historian of slavery, Walvin is well-
Appetites grew for Caribbean
rum, Indian pepper and
South African citrus
versed in the triangular trade and explains
the role of sugar cane in bringing Africans to
the Caribbean.
His survey of sugar in our lives is very
readable, although the latter chapters are
largely a diatribe against super-sized soft
drinks and marketing, producing an obese
population. Today, much of the sweetness we
consume comes not from cane, or sugar beet,
but from corn syrup. High-fructose corn
syrup is extremely cheap, and has replaced
cane sugar in many products. It even sneaks
into packaged foods that we don’t think of
as sweet. What Walvin doesn’t detail is that
fructose is metabolised differently from
sucrose. For the same amount of sweetness,
fructose triggers more fat production in the
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
human body than sucrose. (Now, purists in
the US travel to Mexico to buy Coca-cola
produced there, where it is still sweetened
with cane sugar, rather than the corn-sweetened American product.).
This afternoon, when you sit down to
drink your cup of Darjeeling tea, sweetened with Madagascar sugar, you might
also eat an almond croissant, made with
French wheat, Spanish almonds and Danish marzipan (or if you are at a more
trendy café, maybe toast with Mexican
avocado). Unlike your 1870s counterpart,
you have a dizzying array of food imports
to buy, thanks to air travel and refrigeration. At dinner, you might be served a seafood salad, featuring Vietnamese prawns
and Peruvian asparagus.
It is hard to imagine our diets without
international links, while things we imagine as domestic were once new arrivals.
Nor is this unique to Britain: the Italians
once cooked without tomatoes, and the
Indians without potatoes and chilis, before
these plants were brought from the Americas. So raise a glass of Californian Chardonnay or South Australian Grenache to
the traders, the marketers and the innovators, who gave us the cornucopia of food
we have today.
mischievous muse
Alexandra Coghlan
Mozart’s Starling
by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Corsair, £14.99, pp. 288
If you were to compare Mozart to a bird it
wouldn’t be the starling. Possibly the wood
thrush or nightingale, with their beautiful,
haunting songs; or maybe the lyrebird with
its astonishing ear for imitation; or perhaps
the composer would find his match in the
exotic rarity of the ivory-billed woodpecker or giant ibis. But the common starling?
More pest than pet in its adoptive North
American home, this ‘ubiquitous, nonnative, invasive species’ seems an unlikely
fit for a singular prodigy.
So thought the ecophilosopher and
naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt, when she
started work on this book, exploring the
composer’s relationship with the bird he
bought after hearing it singing one of his
piano concertos, and kept as a pet until
its death. But, like the darting, circling
flight of the starling itself, Haupt’s narrative doesn’t quite take her in the direction
she expected. What starts as a contrast
between genius and the everyday, singularity and ubiquity, musical sophistication and raw expressive instinct, becomes
by the end a twin portrait of two equally
extraordinary creatures.
Having alighted on Mozart and his starling as a topic, Haupt quickly comes to a
rather unusual conclusion. If she is to ‘truly
understand what it meant for Mozart to
live with a starling’ she would have herself to welcome a feathery intruder into
her home and family. Enter her rescued
A Musical Joke was probably
Mozart’s playful tribute to the tiny
fellow composer who shared his home
baby starling, Carmen, heroine of the personal memoir that provides a fascinating
improvised counter-melody and descant to
Mozart’s official history.
The story of Mozart’s starling (whose
name remains unknown, but whom Haupt
here nicknames ‘Star’) might have died
with the composer had it not been for
one page in his pocket notebook. Directly beneath an entry recording the amount
paid for Star are scribbled two lines of
music. The first is a theme from Mozart’s
Piano Concerto in G major; the second is a
near variation on it — different in only two
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minor details. This second was the song the
composer overheard the bird singing in a
shop. The similarity wouldn’t be remarkable, except for the fact that the concerto wasn’t officially premiered until some
time later.
Haupt resists the urge to solve the mystery, instead offering a variety of plausible
and possible answers to the story and its
causality. What interests her much more
than a musical whodunnit is the relationship that would develop between composer and bird during their three-year
cohabitation — a period in which Mozart
composed some eight piano concertos,
three symphonies and The Marriage of
Figaro. Drawing on her own experiences
with Carmen, Haupt imagines the roles
this mischievous, curious, intensely social
creature might have fulfilled, serving as
‘companion, distraction, consolation and
muse’ to its celebrated owner.
Most striking is her analysis of Mozart’s
A Musical Joke — a four-movement divertissement conventionally dismissed by
musicologists, thought to parody the ineptitudes and infelicities of inferior composers. Haupt invites us to revisit this minor
work with new ears, to see its wild cadenza
and seemingly nonsensical flights of fancy
as, rather, the mere illusion of chaos — a
playful musical tribute to the tiny fellow
composer who shared his home.
But, whatever its influence, Mozart’s pet
could hardly sustain a whole book. Instead,
Haupt uses Star as a jumping-off point to
discuss broader questions. The influence
of philosophy on our changing attitude
towards animals; the Music of the Spheres;
Chomsky’s theories of language; ornithology: all these ideas have cameo roles, offering
thoughtful (and always readable) context
to Star and his species as a whole. Far from
being the reviled villain of the opening,
the starling is revealed by the end as an
unusually bright and characterful creature,
one whose collective menace is more than
matched by its individual attractions.
But, just as Carmen inserted herself
into the daily life and routine of Haupt’s
household, so this talkative, star-scattered, oil-slick of a bird, a mere 8.5 inches long, perches herself at the very centre
of her book. The minutiae of living with a
wild creature — the dangers (cats, radiators, drawing pins) the noises (Bluegrass,
Bach and domestic appliances are favourite sources for imitation) and, above all,
the ever-present ‘poop’ (in Haupt’s
unapologetically American style) —
make for surprisingly intriguing and
delightful reading.
Early on in Mozart’s Starling Haupt
introduces her reader to the concept of
‘gaping’ — the unique method by which
starlings explore their environment. Where
some creatures experience it by eye, others
through a sense of smell, starlings see the
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
world through their beaks —not simply
pecking, but inserting them into objects,
then opening them wide in an attempt to
unlock or excavate their secrets.
In a similar way, Haupt’s book inserts
a curious beak into this tiny episode in
Mozart’s life and uses it as a point of entry,
filling the gaps in history, philosophy, music
theory and ornithology with her curiosity
and wide-ranging intelligence in order to
tell a new and charming story.
The writer behind
the brand
Sam Byers
After Kathy Acker:
A Biography
by Chris Kraus
Allen Lane, £16.99, pp. 345
Few publishing phenomena in recent years
have been as gratifying as Chris Kraus’s
cult 1997 masterpiece I Love Dick becoming a signifier of Twitter and Instagram
chic. The ‘lonely girl phenomenology’ it
exemplified has now attained cultural
status, with first person, inventive writing
by women often enjoying centre stage.
It’s interesting, then, that just as the
wider culture has caught up with her,
Kraus has pivoted away, delivering ‘what
may or may not be a biography of Kathy
Acker’ — the underground punk novelist
who is still, even 20 years after her death,
awaiting the recognition she deserves. Penguin’s newly published modern classic edition of her most famous work, Blood and
Guts in High School, will help; but Kraus’s
book is likely to have more impact.
Acker was, and remains, an outsider’s
writer. Her work is still startlingly visceral,
poorly attuned to a literary climate as sensitised as ever to transgression and discomfort. As Kraus remarks: ‘While the use of
“the personal” by female writers has been
largely redeemed, satirical excess has been
pushed off the map.’
Kraus, who has admitted the ‘incredible frisson of feeling that often I could
write “I” instead of “she”’ in this biography of Acker, finds her way into the life
with ease. She begins, movingly, with the
funeral and then focuses on the formative
years in which Acker became the version
of herself we now recognise. The research
is painstaking, and Kraus clearly feels a
heavy responsibility to pin down the facts,
perhaps because, as she puts it, ‘Acker lied
all the time’.
She is especially good on the development of Acker’s writing — from her early
experiments cutting up the texts of others,
through to her fashioning a new literature
and self-mythology from the raw material
Kathy Acker in the late 1980s
of her emotional life. The question Acker
posed through her work — ‘How to write
fiction without moving relatable characters through an invented plot?’ — is still
pertinent today, and her solution, a break
with formal and stylistic convention, just as
In Acker’s search for a new way of
writing, form was always the key. This
approach was mirrored in her physical
life: an interest in tattoos and bodybuilding, an apparent desire literally to reshape
herself. Kraus is alert to the dangers of
this philosophy. In the later stages of her
career, Acker found her work ‘ignored at
the expense of her image’, and watched
bitterly as her more conventional peers
soaked up the critical acclaim. As Kraus
bluntly puts it: ‘No one was talking about
these writers’ tattoos.’ Acker ‘had fully
complied with the notion that branding
her image was the best way of advancing her difficult work. Had she made
a mistake?’
It’s a fascinating and uncomfortable question, especially in today’s cultural climate of
Twitter, selfies and candid interviews at the
expense of genuine interpretation, when
writers are increasingly encouraged to think
of themselves as brands.
Kraus is both present and absent in this
book, creating an intriguing tension. For
the most part, she relies on Acker’s remarkable letters, allowing her to speak for herself. Presented with a passage of text, or an
early art project, Kraus is an erudite, often
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
unconventional critic. But this emphasis on
looking has a distancing effect. When Acker
appears on the South Bank Show, Kraus
pointedly resists any intrusion into her psyche. Instead, she offers a reading of the TV
segment itself. The effect is compelling: we’re
watching Kraus watching Acker. But it is also
Kraus’s tight rein on herself becomes
even more noticeable when her own world
borders on Acker’s. Readers of I Love
Acker watched bitterly as
her more conventional peers
soaked up the critical acclaim
Dick will feel a charge of anticipation
when Dick Hebdige and Sylvère Lotringer
appear. But Kraus allows no bleed between
these texts, never directly acknowledging
the overlap.
Were the intimacy of the relationship not celebrated on the book’s back
cover, no one would fault Kraus’s hesitancy to become her own material. In the
end, her fidelity is to her project: the first
fully authorised biography of Acker, giving the writer the serious treatment unjustly denied her for so much of her life. As
Kraus says of her subject: ‘Didn’t she do
what all writers must do? Create a position
from which to write?’
Kraus has found a position from which
to regard Acker. Now we must rethink the
position from which we read her.
The art of the arabesque
Robert Irwin
By the Pen and What They Write:
Writing in Islamic Art and Culture
edited by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom
Yale, £60, pp. 395
The title of this book, By the Pen and What
They Write, is a quotation from the Qur’an
and comes from the opening of the ‘Surah
al-Qalam’ (Chapter of the Pen), in which
the authority of the cosmic scribes in heaven, whose writing determines the fate of
humanity, is invoked in order to authenticate the revelation that follows. According
to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad was illiterate (and so presumably
were most of his audience).
So it is odd to find writing featuring so prominently in this surah and
throughout the Qur’an. Prior to the revelation of the Qur’an in the seventh
century, the only texts that have survived in the Arabian Peninsula are brief,
unargumentative rock inscriptions and
many of these are in languages or scripts
other than Arabic. So, as Angelika Neuwirth, one of the distinguished scholars to
contribute to this volume, observes:
It is a striking fact then, that the Qur’an
appears — seemingly — out of the void, as
a fully fledged discursive text, extensive in
range and replete with philosophical and
theological queries.
The Bible consists of many diverse texts
by diverse hands that have been assembled over the centuries. The Qur’an is not
like that. Its message is held to be eternal, inimitable and untranslatable, and it
was revealed to just one man in a matter
of decades.
As a consequence, the Arabic language and script had and still has a special prestige among Muslims. That prestige
had been increased towards the end of
the seventh century when the Umayyad
Caliph, Abd al-Malik, decreed that Arabic should be the sole language of administration in the Muslim empire and that its
currency should bear Arabic inscriptions.
Ambitious Nabataeans, Persians, Copts
and others hastened to learn the Arabic language and script. Arabic became
the major language of international
Baghdad, a city with a population
many times that of medieval London and
Paris combined, had an unprecedentedly
large literate population. Because of this,
and because of the replacement of expensive parchment by paper, literature
flourished under the Abbasid caliphs from
the late eighth century onwards. Hugh
Kennedy concludes his chapter entitled
‘Baghdad as a Centre of Learning and
If multiple copies of a text
were required, then dictation was preferred to direct
copying from the manuscript.
There are no capital letters
in the Arabic script. On the
other hand, letters are liable
to change shape depending
on whether they appear at the
beginning, the middle or the
end of a word, and this created problems in the early days
of printing in the Ottoman
empire. In the strictest sense
the Qur’an was not a book,
for the Qur’an more properly
refers to recitation of its text.
And so on.
It is impossible to turn the
pages of By the Pen and What
They Write without registering the confidence, leisure and
playfulness of medieval Islamic literary culture, with its riddling games, literary picnics
and drinking bouts. Yet it is
also difficult to read this book
without becoming depressed
at how much has been lost. The
House of Books in Abbasid
Baghdad contained more than
10,000 manuscripts, but it was
‘Isfandiyar Slays Arjasp and Takes the Brazen Hold’ .
burnt down during the Seljuk
From Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnama (Tabriz, 1520s-1530s)
invasion and only a few volumes survived. The Fatimid
Book Production’, with these resound- library in Cairo contained tens of thousands
ing words:
of volumes, yet only two manuscripts from
I should like to argue that Abbasid Bagh- that library are known to be extant. Ibn
dad was probably the first place on the plan- Muqla (d. 940) was the most famous and
et where an author could make a living, not influential of all Arabic calligraphers and
by being independently wealthy or having a yet not one single manuscript by his hand
wealthy patron, or even being part of an insti- seems to have survived. But what has surtution like a monastery that subsidised his vived is marvellous and it seems appropriactivities, but by writing books to be sold in
ate that a book devoted to the arts of the
the market to a literate public.
book should be a ravishing work of art in its
‘The past is a foreign country: they do own right. Tributes are due to Yale’s designthings differently there.’ What was true of er, Gillian Malpass.
L.P. Hartley’s presentation of Victorian England was even more the case for the medieval
Arab book world. There almost everything
was done differently. Arabic script runs from
right to left and this had consequences for
the ‘reading’ of the visual arts. In cases where
a narrative sequence of actions was present- The Last London
ed in a single miniature painting (and this by Iain Sinclair
was often the case with Persian miniatures) Oneworld, £8.99, pp. 306
one ‘read’ the visual story from right to left.
Similarly the elaborately carved iconog- Iain Sinclair is leaving London — like the
raphy on the exterior of an ivory casket croakiest of the ravens taking flight from the
would be read by turning the object anti- Tower. It is a proper blow: across five decclockwise. Books were shelved horizontally ades, he has been prowling the streets, part
one on top of another, rather than vertical- poet, part satirist, part prophet. Very few
ly. They were not bound in such a way as to authors have fashioned a London more real
open flat on a table, without damaging the than the one we see: Dickens, Conan Doyle,
spine at least, and hence a rahl, an x-shaped Patrick Hamilton, Angela Carter. Sinclair is
piece of furniture was used to support a firmly among them. While his contemporary
large book in use, rather than the Peter Ackroyd understands London as a city
of eternally recurring patterns and echoes,
western lectern.
Finally tired of London
Sinclair McKay
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Sinclair sees something more malign and
gangrenous: forces that endlessly conspire
to bend perception and bleach the streets of
their real meaning.
Oh: and he is also extremely funny. Here
in this brilliant, crackling series of final walks
through the London landscape, he finds the
dissolving identity of the city increasingly
disconcerting. Visitors to the boutiques of
once-sparse Shoreditch, arriving by London
Overground, are observed flintily. ‘It was
party time for cross-town transients, intersex
retail vamps delivered by the Ginger Line,’
writes Sinclair. ‘High end schmutter pits
offered unticketed minimalist stock — two
shirts, one cardigan — on naked tables for a
business-class customs inspection.’
His account of a swim in an exquisite
blue infinity pool in a hotel high up in the
Shard, looking down on the city, is wonderfully uneasy (uncalled-for flashbacks to 1950s
council bath ‘floating impurities’ — now he is
the impurity). He is certainly not curmudgeonly about it — ‘this is the place to sell your
soul’ — but the invasive nature of this building on the skyline is seriously aggressive. ‘The
Shard is an implanted flaw in the eye. It moves
as we move, available to dominate every London entry point.’ More, this ‘ice dagger’ is ‘the
latest clone, pushed to the point of absurdity’ of the white stone pyramid in the churchyard of Hawksmoor’s St Anne’s. Devotees
of Sinclair know that long before Peter Ackroyd, he had marked out sinister lines of
occult energy — maps festooned with pentangles — between the Hawksmoor churches
in the east.
In terms of other recent distorting developments warping old spiritual alignments,
no one has been consistently ruder about
Canary Wharf than Sinclair (‘Rubik cube
towers…rising on the toxic compost of deregulated financial markets’). Or indeed about
the Olympic Park (‘Everything is pop-up.
Nothing is true… a curtain of fog on to which
anything could be projected’).
By contrast to the Shard’s infinity effort,
Haggerston Baths, a long-closed Edwardian
landmark close to Sinclair’s Hackney home,
is a quieter tale of the sharp extinction of
soulful local oases, focuses of warm community memory. Sinclair looks around the
empty building and recalls the 1970s when
he swam ‘as through a flooded cathedral’.
Now, ‘shivering phantoms stand before
empty mirrors in tiled washrooms where
thick taps leak coal dust’.
He delves deep into the earth too, catching
up on the amateur tunnels of the late William
Lyttle, the ‘Hackney mole man’ who some
years ago dug an illegal and inexplicable and
frightening labyrinth beneath his house in De
Beauvoir Town; the oligarchs of Kensington,
burrowing down to create velvet-lined cinemas, have followed the same impulse. The
craze, Sinclair notes, has spread to Finsbury
Park, with attendant local protests against
basement conversions. But since the ‘epider-
mis of the city is so heavily policed,’ so too
will spread the urge to explore ‘forbidden
depths. A Wellsian subtopia without maps or
And on the day that Donald Trump is
elected, Sinclair walks to Barking. It is the
‘where-next for the dispossessed of Hackney’.
It should really be, says Sinclair, ‘a great location for mystics and desert saints’. Not much
Might Sinclair himself be a little bit
to blame for the disappearance of old
Limehouse and Bethnal Green?
use to luxury flat developers though. The
River Roding will need ‘electro-convulsion
resurrection not regeneration’. In the darkness of that November afternoon, he negotiates an elusive path through Little Ilford past
a gasholder, a pylon, a miserable grey-grassed
field, leading to a slender pedestrian bridge
over the six-laned roar of the North Circular
which delivers him to un-regenerated Barking. ‘I love it,’ he declares.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
But the formerly entropic streets of
Limehouse and Bethnal Green, which
once snarled with devil dogs and were garnished with ‘George Davis is Innocent’
graffiti: might Sinclair himself be a little
bit to blame for their vanishing? After all,
from White Chapell, Scarlet Tracings (1987)
to Downriver (1991), he has been the one
making the east sound so gothically juicy,
drawing in crowds of young acolyte psychogeographers. Sinclair once noted wryly that
anywhere he ‘nominated’ soon became an
estate agent vision of luxury lifestyle.
His transposition to Hastings — here on
a joyously bizarre group walk with musicians and poets pretending to be peasants retracing King Harold’s march from
London to the coast — is a dizzying evocation of a Brexit-drunk landscape, from
Thomas Becket to Doctor Who. A possibility seems held out: new post-London
visions to be explored. In the meantime, he
quotes John Evelyn: ‘London was, but is no
more.’ Should the rest of us Londoners pack
up too?
Up then down the dirty concrete steps
with Friday’s homeward travellers
he’s not going home.
He’s met her on an unfamiliar platform;
in the dark a silver taxi
waits to take them to a seafront
where for three whole nights the breaking waves
can wash away his fear she wouldn’t come.
An out-of-season coast weekend
redeems the alternating tedium
and tension of their office.
The sixty hours for them to be
reciprocally self-absorbed
begin among the scuff of shoes
and smells of grease and unused volts
from all the trains he’s missed.
Commuters in damp overcoats,
by merely being ordinary,
emphasise the special velvet tingle
as his heartbeat snuggles down
inside its ribcage presentation case.
The minutes of their small adventure start
to tick away as they approach the exit.
He’s fifty but he feels eighteen
and clasps anticipation tightly as his ticket.
— Michael Bartholomew Biggs
Darwin was a martyr to ill-health all his life, and was patiently
nursed by his wife Emma, whom he called ‘Mammy’
A flawed and
dangerous theory
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
Charles Darwin:
Victorian Mythmaker
by A.N. Wilson
John Murray, £25, pp. 438
If there were a prize awarded to the book
with the best opening line, A. N. Wilson
would be clearing a space on his mantelpiece. ‘Darwin was wrong’, he announces at
the start of this hugely enjoyable revisionist biography, which will be read in certain
scientific circles to the background noise
of teeth being ground and knives being
sharpened. A brilliant Victorian naturalist,
certainly, and still an inescapable cultural presence — think of Darwin staring out
benignly from the £10 note — but according to Wilson, also a passive aggressive racist whose evolutionary theories no longer
stand up to scrutiny. If that doesn’t put the
felis catus among the columbidae it’s hard to
know what will.
These days probably fewer people
encounter Darwin through his writings than
they do through his statue in the entrance
hall of Kensington’s Natural History Museum. Thickly bearded, with one leg carelessly
crossed over the other, he looks both grandly imposing and surprisingly down-to-earth,
like an Old Testament prophet waiting for
the bus. In many ways that is also how his
theory of evolution has come to be thought
of in the wider culture. Though built upon
minute observations of the natural world —
nobody was better than Darwin at spotting
tiny deviations in the curve of a bird’s beak,
or in the delicate folds of a mollusc’s shell —
the theory quickly outstripped his scientific
data, and instead became a grand narrative
seemingly capable of explaining the entire
history of life on earth.
Seen through Darwin’s eyes, suddenly
the world looked very different. Birdsong
was no longer an innocent celebration, but a
set of warnings and sexual invitations; flowers were no longer cheerful splashes of colour in the landscape, but hostile organisms
engaged in a turf war. Wherever you looked,
different life forms were part of an endless
struggle for survival. The only problem,
Wilson points out, is that this was a myth.
The fossil record and recent DNA discoveries indicate that evolution does not
proceed through infinitely small gradations;
rather nature makes sudden leaps. Nor does
progress depend only upon selfishness and
struggle. Collaboration is just as important
as competition: ‘Ants don’t build anthills by
fighting one another; nor bees hives.’ And it
turns out that the same is true of evolutionary theory itself, for although Darwin’s was
the name that became attached to the idea
of species evolving through their adaptation to environment, this was the result of
co-operative scientific efforts that could be
traced back to his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and beyond.
This is a story that has often been told,
including the carefully stage-managed meeting of the Linnean Society in 1858 when
Darwin’s theory was announced alongside
that of Alfred Russel Wallace, who had independently come up with a very similar idea
and effectively bounced Darwin into claiming it for himself. What Wilson brings to this
sequence is a clear-eyed understanding of
the ruthless ambition behind Darwin’s gentlemanly pose. For whether or not other living creatures sought personal advantage,
Darwin certainly did everything he could to
ensure that his theory would elbow its way
to the top: a theory that allowed the growing Victorian middle class to convince themselves that their success in life was simply
part of the natural order, as inevitable as a
dog’s urge to rip apart a nest of rats.
The picture of Darwin that emerges from
this biography is a mixed one. On the one
hand, he spent most of his adult life as a martyr to symptoms that ranged from eczema
to flatulence, and he was patiently looked
after by his wife Emma, or ‘Mammy’ as he
liked to call her, as if she hadn’t so much
married him as adopted him. On the other
hand, he assumed that men like him were
naturally superior, not only because of their
wealth (an immensely rich father and marriage into the Wedgwood family meant
that Darwin never had to earn a living)
but also because of their race, expressing
his relief that ‘civilised nations are everywhere supplanting barbarous nations’. He
was an unsentimental believer in Malthus’s
theory of populations regulating themselves
through famine and disease, but was devastated when his ten-year old daughter Annie
died of tuberculosis. And as his religious
faith slowly slipped away, so he developed a
theory that would later become a substitute
religion for many.
Wilson unpicks these contradictions with
a scientist’s forensic skill and a novelist’s
imaginative touch, whether he is describing the ‘routine of comforting dullness’ that
characterised Darwin’s married life, or the
‘patient, slow decade’ of the 1850s in which
his notebook jottings finally took shape. He
has a pouncing eye for the eccentricities not
only of Darwin himself, whose study at his
family home in Kent included a curtainedoff chamber pot for gastric emergencies, but
also characters like his daughter Etty. Her
long-suffering servants had to place a silk
handkerchief over her left foot to prevent it
from getting cold, and she protected herself
against germs by wearing ‘a sort of gas mask
of her own invention, a wire kitchen-strainer
stuffed with antiseptic cotton-wool and tied
on like a snout with elastic round her ears’.
Wilson also does a superb job of sketching out how Darwin’s ‘consolation myth’
slowly took on an unstoppable cultural
momentum. To adopt W.H. Auden’s account
of psychoanalysis in his poem ‘In Memory of
Sigmund Freud’, by the time of his death in
1882 Darwin had created ‘a whole climate
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
of opinion / Under whom we conduct our
different lives’.
It was an atmosphere that quickly soured,
as loose notions of ‘the survival of the fittest’ (Herbert Spencer’s phrase) were used
to justify eugenics and worse. Just as ‘The fly
is snapped up by a dragon-fly, which is itself
swallowed by a bird,’ one writer observed,
so ‘Necessity will force us to be always at
the head of progress’. That could be any of
Darwin’s contemporaries talking. In fact it
is Hitler calmly explaining in his Table Talk
why ‘All life is paid for in blood’.
Well of sorrows
Caroline Moore
The Red-haired Woman
by Orhan Pamuk
Faber, £16.99, pp. 272
The Red-haired Woman is shorter than
Orhan Pamuk’s best-known novels, and is,
in comparison, pared down, written with
deliberate simplicity — ostensibly by a narrator who knows that he is not a writer, but
only a building contractor. Polyphonic narratives are replaced by a powerful, engaging
clarity. This simplicity is the novel’s greatest
strength, yet at certain points seems as if it
might become a weakness.
Part one, which takes up the first half
of the book, is superbly concentrated. It
describes one summer in 1986 in the life of
Cem, a middle-class 16-year-old boy who
takes on a summer job 30 miles outside
Istanbul to earn money before cramming
for university entrance exams. Ignoring his
mother’s misgivings — his father, a pharmacist and political dissident, has gone missing — he joins a master well-digger as his
The episode evokes the disturbing
intensity of adolescent experience. Cem’s
unformed character shimmers in the
disorientating heat: he is capable of being
both frightened and foolhardy, both meek
and rebellious.
Master Mahmut has his own mystique.
In Turkey, where water is priceless, a digger
of wells is traditionally revered. Mahmut,
using his ancient skills, stubbornly insists
upon digging down in an unpromising barren plateau. As Mahmut and Cem excavate, metre by hard-won metre, the bond
between them becomes central. Mahmut,
it is made clear, becomes a father-figure to
fatherless Cem. But his tender attentions
are edged with domineering brutality:
Cem, in return, responds to the evening
fables recounted, father-fashion, by Mahmut by telling the tale of Oedipus, with its
implicit threat.
The well itself casts a dark gravitational
pull. Wells are always both sinister and lifegiving: it is no accident that in Japan they
are seen as gateways to the underworld. In
Pamuk’s earlier novel, My Name is Red, the
murdered body of the miniaturist is thrown
down a well. In The Red-haired Woman,
Cem’s panic when, against his mother’s
orders, he is sent down the well is vividly
rendered: terror somewhere between claustrophobia and inverted vertigo, compounded by the dread of abandonment.
The eponymous red-haired woman is
the older woman needed in this impending tragedy. On a trip into the nearest town
for supplies, Cem catches a glimpse of her,
and is instantly obsessed. She is a travelling
player, and her troupe performs scenes —
of Sohrab and Rostam, and Abraham and
Isaac — with a theme of filicide.
At times, this mythic mix threatens to
become heavy-handed. This is particularly true in part two, which traces Cem’s life
after the violent episode which ends that
all-changing summer. He becomes obsessed
by the twinned tales of Oedipus and Sohrab, and points out, unnecessarily, that both
share a ‘quest’ for an unknown father, and
When helping me to bathe, Master Mahmut,
half out of concern and half to tease, would
press his thick coarse fingers into any bruises
he spotted on my back; and when I shuddered
and groaned ‘Ow’ in response, he would laugh
and tell me tenderly to ‘be more careful next
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
that ‘when my father left me (as Rostam
did Sohrab) … I sought out father figures
to replace him and guide me.’ Nice stuff for
A-level students, who like their themes signalled loud and clear.
But the final section, which changes narrators and shows the narrative clarity to be
illusory, escapes from this expository oversimplification. The themes of parricide and
filicide resonate beyond acts of accidental
or mindless murder: they explore the loss of
connection between generations — which is
tragic, yet also necessary. The shifts between
generations is beautifully shown through
the often hideous changes wrought in
Istanbul itself by modernisation. We learn
that Cem, reacting against both his father’s
idealism and the old-fashioned values of
Master Mahmut — rejecting, too, his boyhood dreams of being a writer, which had
been fostered by another father-figure, a
bookseller — became a property developer. His marriage (excellently drawn) was
childless; his company, named ‘Sohrab’, was
a surrogate child.
Yet what will the next generation make
of his capitalism? The ever-growing suburbs
of Istanbul reach out to engulf the town
where Cem once spent a hot and mindaltering summer. The fateful well still lies
there, hidden; and the elements of another
inter-generational tragedy are present.
Pre Order Now. Visit
City of dreadful dusk
Andrew McKie
A Man of Shadows
by Jeff Noon
Angry Robot, £8.99, pp. 394
Fantastic fiction loves contrasts made
explicit: Eloi and Morlocks, orcs and elves,
and above all humans battling vampires,
Martians or robots. Small wonder that
Claude Lévi-Strauss specifically invoked
science fiction for his theory of ‘binary
Sometimes these tensions are in the miseen-scene — not just Earth vs. outer space, but
settings — Lilliput and Brobdingnag, say —
which try to make themes concrete. Classics
of that sort are Edwin Abbott’s Flatland (set
in two dimensions) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice
books. But cases where the artificial contrasts that have been in some way codified
and based on abstract notions such as age
(Logan’s Run), temperament (the Divergent
series) or even days of the week (Dayworld)
can seem too contrived, even for speculative
fiction. (Anyone who thinks that complaints
of artificiality in genre are a bit rich has never
encountered Game of Thrones or Star Trek
fans when they think something’s improbable within their universes.)
A Man of Shadows makes those artificial distinctions as clear as night and day.
Goodness knows why an author called
Noon seized for his contrasts upon worlds
called Dayzone and Nocturna, one all day
— if a neon, Vegas kind of day — and the
other all night, with a No Man’s Land called
Dusk between.
But Jeff Noon is not an ordinary kind of
writer, and he doesn’t really write science fiction, or fantasy, or indeed any kind of thing
you would normally have a name for. The
books that made his name, Vurt and Pollen, were genuinely hallucinatory — though
the alternative realities they conjured up
were the product not of drugs, but of placing brightly coloured feathers in the mouth.
He’s obsessed by Carroll’s Alice, and
wrote a kind of tribute called Automated
Alice. He produces microfictions on Twitter.
He frequently threatens to give up writing
fiction for music or painting.
This book should make us happy that
he never quite can. It’s a deliberate attempt
to stitch together Dashiell Hammett and
Philip K. Dick; it has the noir atmosphere
of Blade Runner rather than the book
that inspired it. It is, too, for all its dream-
A Kind of Love
We loved luxury and ate like pigs,
but our room, unborn as yet,
was bare; it was a new building,
and when we moved in, the landlord
looked us over and said, ‘No noise
after eleven, please.’ Obediently,
for the most part, we adhered,
and kept the ancient record player
(among the only things of mine
to survive the neglect and the moths)
at its lowest; although money
was scarce, vinyl records were cheap
and we took advantage.
Halfway through the tenancy,
I got your name mixed up with
another woman’s and, quite rightly,
without a word, you left me there,
taking little else except the needle
you knew full well was irreplaceable,
unlike our short-lived kind of love.
— André Naffis-Sahely
like aspects, a genuine detective story. John
Henry Nyquist is a worn-out private eye
searching for a missing girl and on the trail
of a serial killer called Quicksilver.
That these seem like stock dime novel
characters, however, must be a deliberate
choice; Noon’s interest is in playing with
the form, rather than presenting believable people. The addendum ‘A Nyquist Mystery’ beneath the title suggests there may be
sequels, but it’s the environment which has
the personality, not the detective.
The book’s prevailing atmosphere is
weariness. This is perhaps not surprising
in a world which has numerous competing
chronologies, with every corporation trying
to sell you things on a different timescale,
and where Nyquist is constantly adjusting
his watch.
A Man of Shadows substitutes monochrome for Vurt’s technicolor nightmares,
but is, in its own way, as eerie and unsettling. It reminded me of another subversion
of the policier, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Les
Gommes, with its vague, underwater atmosphere. There are, too, explicit nods to Chinatown. It’s a stylish and distinctive vision of a
world that remains morally grey and foggy,
even when under Dayzone’s bright artificial
lights. Weirdly compelling.
Stage fright
Leyla Sanai
The Wardrobe Mistress
by Patrick McGrath
Hutchinson, £14.99, pp. 320
Patrick McGrath is a master of novels about
post-traumatic fragmentation and dissolution, set amid gothic gloom. His childhood
years spent at Broadmoor, where his father
was medical superintendent, have given him
a solid grounding in psychiatric illness for
these disquieting dramas.
His ninth novel is set in London’s
theatreland in 1947, and the grey, skeletal
remains of the bombed East End. As usual
with McGrath, the narrator is far from
straightforward; in this case it is the ladies
of the local theatre-world chorus, who
are omniscient, knowing each character’s
thoughts. In the absence of an obviously
unreliable narrator (such as the possessive
Dr Cleave of Asylum or the deluded eponymous doctor of Dr Haggard’s Disease),
these disembodied voices resemble a classical Greek chorus, describing and passing
judgment on the drama as it unfolds.
And judgmental they certainly are. In the
opening scene — the funeral of a great actor
named Charlie Grice — they bitchily sneer
at his widow, the eponymous wardrobe mistress Joan, letting us know that although she
appears striking, she has terrible teeth and a
sour personality. One might be listening to
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Mysticism and
Emily Rhodes
Forest Dark
by Nicole Krauss
Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp. 290
‘I frankly hate Descartes,’ states a character
in Nicole Krauss’s new novel, Forest Dark:
‘The more he talks about following a straight
line out of the forest, the more appealing it
sounds to me to get lost in that forest …’ Like
the author, this character is called Nicole,
lives in Brooklyn, and is a writer and mother.
Struggling with her work and her marriage,
life is indeed a ‘forest dark’, and we follow
her through the tangle of it. Interleaved with
Nicole’s half of the novel, is Jules Epstein’s
— a bombastic, wealthy, older New York
Jew, who we meet when the ‘strong weather
of being Epstein no longer gusted outward’
but has turned inward as, Lear-like, he sheds
himself of worldly possessions in an effort to
gain spiritual understanding.
The novel’s two strands don’t overlap, but
they do have a great deal in common. Both
Epstein and Nicole are New York Jews, who
cut loose from family and go to Israel (where
‘jaws, postures, building, trees’ all share ‘the
hard, determined form of that which lives
and grows in opposition’). There, each one is
guided through his/her personal ‘forest dark’
by a mysterious character — Rabbi and ex-
the witches in Macbeth — and the fact that
they know everything that’s going on adds
to the creepiness.
Joan and her promising actress daughter
Vera both mourn Grice’s death. Vera thinks
her husband Julius is having an affair. Is he
— or is he up to something else? Does Vera
really suffer episodes of psychosis, with
delusions and hallucinations? McGrath is
so adept at creating a sense of foreboding
that one is never sure whether there will be
a rational, a psychiatric or a supernatural
explanation for feverish convictions.
Joan, seeing a young actor playing the
role that Grice previously played (of Malvolio in Twelfth Night) becomes convinced
that her late husband has returned to her
in a different body — a delusion that
will be familiar to readers of Dr Haggard’s
The likening of Joan’s sewing machine
needle’s tapping to that of a fingernail
against the inside of a coffin is wonderfully sinister. And it’s a delight to read of
a cry leaping from a throat ‘like a fish’, or
of ‘ponderous grey clouds that trampled
across the sky like elephants’. Throw in
a terrible secret about Grice that undoes
Joan completely, and you’re in for a
thrilling ride.
Master of the dark art of interrogation: Alexander Scotland in 1945
Mossad agent, respectively — and end up in
the desert in bizarre circumstances: Epstein
enacting the dying Biblical King David in a
film, and Nicole feverish in a bed that was
possibly Kafka’s.
So the novel is filled with doubleness,
and gestures towards different paths, alternative truths; it celebrates getting lost in
Descartes’s forest rather than traipsing
through it, blinkered, along a single straight
line. Krauss wanders from the depths of her
characters’ neuroses to intricacies of Jewish
theology in a text that is heavy with mysticism, philosophy and psychoanalytical
theory. At times, one resents being forcefed digests of complex concepts like
Freud’s unheimlich, multiverses, or chronos
versus kairos, especially as the essayistic insertions jostle with some beautifully
nuanced observations.
The glimpses of Nicole’s failing marriage,
for instance, are painfully acute:
The helpfulness of our shared love for the
children had reached a kind of apex, and then
began to decline until it was no longer helpful
to our relationship at all, because it only shone
a light on how alone each of us was, and, compared to our children, how unloved.
For all the ambitious scope of spiritual
adventure and intellectual rumination, Forest
Dark is most affecting in its quiet moments
of domestic reflection.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
A grand inquisitor
William Cook
The London Cage: The Secret
History of Britain’s World War II
Interrogation Centre
by Helen Fry
Yale, £18.99, pp. 256
Hidden behind Kensington Palace, in one of
London’s smartest streets, there is a grand
old house which played a leading role in
Britain’s victory over Nazi Germany. Today
it’s owned by Roman Abramovich, apparently — it seems he paid £90 million for it.
But during the second world war, and for a
few years thereafter, 8 Kensington Palace
Gardens was a secret interrogation centre
known as the London Cage. This is where
suspected spies (and, later, suspected war
criminals) were broken down. Between 1940
and 1948, thousands of German servicemen
passed through here, on their way to POW
camps (if they were deemed innocent) or
prison (if they were guilty). The information
that was squeezed out of them in this secluded mansion saved the lives of countless Britons, and avenged the deaths of many more.
The interrogators all spoke fluent German, but that was just about all they had in
common. There were lawyers and academics, journalists and businessmen (there were
no women here). A few were refugees from
Nazi Germany, but most of them were British. These Brits were an odd bunch, and the
oddest of the lot was their boss, Colonel
Alexander Scotland.
Alexander Scotland is the flawed hero
of this grim but gripping saga. As a young
man he’d sailed to southern Africa to seek
his fortune and ended up serving in the Kaiser’s army before the first world war. During the Great War he was imprisoned by the
Germans, for a while in solitary confinement.
They suspected him (with good cause) of
being a secret agent.
After the war he went to Argentina —
ostensibly as a businessman, but probably
also as a spy. Through his German contacts,
he enabled several hundred German Jewish families to flee to South America, rescuing them from the impending Holocaust.
He made several visits to Germany, and
had a brief meeting with Hitler. ‘You are an
ingenious man, Schottland,’ said the Führer. ‘Now I understand the reports we have
on our files about you.’ His unique knowledge of German espionage, the German
military and German interrogation methods
made him an invaluable commander of the
London Cage.
In 1954 Scotland wrote his memoirs, but
Special Branch raided his publishers and
seized the manuscript. They told him he
couldn’t publish. He told them he’d publish
in the United States. Eventually, in 1957, he
was allowed to publish a heavily censored
version, which spawned a fanciful film called
The Two Headed Spy, starring Jack Hawkins
as a special agent called ‘Alex Schottland’.
Now, finally, the original manuscript has
been released by the National Archives. This
uncensored version is the backbone of Fry’s
absorbing book, and Scotland’s powerful
personality dominates virtually every page.
‘Interrogation is an art,’ said Scotland,
and he proved himself a master of this dark
art form, finding a different way to wear
down each suspect. Sometimes he adopted
the softly-softly approach. Often, he could
be brutal. ‘Not only is it the firm rule of the
British Services that no physical force may
be used to induce a prisoner to talk, but I
have always considered it to be useless as
well as unnecessary,’ he declared. This was
not always the case. Prisoners were rarely
beaten, but they were deprived of sleep for
days on end, threatened with execution and
forced to perform exhausting and humiliating tasks (marching for hours until they
collapsed, scrubbing their cells with toothbrushes) which echoed the pettier punishments of the Gestapo.
Were Scotland’s men really as bad as the
Gestapo? Of course not; but some of their
methods were uncomfortably similar (truth
drugs and electric shocks; forcing inmates to
stand naked for eight hours or huddle in cold
baths for four). Some inmates were SS men
who’d slaughtered British POWs and Jewish
civilians, but others were simply regular soldiers who refused to reveal any more than
their name, rank and serial number. Some of
them were hospitalised. Several committed
suicide. Was this torture? Maybe not; but it
was certainly a clear breach of the Geneva
Convention. ‘We cannot have this sort of
thing going on,’ wrote Guy Liddell, director of counter-espionage at MI5, in his diary.
‘Apart from the moral aspect, I am quite convinced that these Gestapo methods do not
pay in the long run.’ Ironically, it was often
more productive to leave the prisoners to
their own devices, put a few of them in a cell
together and simply eavesdrop on what they
told each other.
Whatever the rights and wrongs, the
London Cage played a crucial role in the
war effort; but some of its most valuable
work came after VE Day. From 1945 to
1948, Scotland’s men tracked down and
interrogated many of Germany’s most brutal war criminals. Despite seeing the worst
of Deutschland, however, Colonel Scotland
was no Teutonophobe. He befriended Field
Marshal Kesselring, whom he interrogated
in the London Cage, and became convinced
of his good character. When Kesselring was
sentenced to death for war crimes (German soldiers under his command had killed
hundreds of Italian civilians), Scotland even
wrote a book in his defence. Kesselring’s sentence was commuted, and he was eventually
released. Scotland was awarded the OBE
and died in 1965, aged 82. In 1958, after the
publication of his censored memoir, he asked
the Home Office to return his confiscated
manuscript. They refused.
A clash of loyalties
James McNamara
Home Fire
by Kamila Shamsie
Bloomsbury, £14.99, pp. 264
If someone was to lob the name Antigone about, many of us would smile and
nod while trying to remember if this is the
one about the guy who shagged his mum
or the parent who offed their kids. (Bit of
both.). or those whose Sophocles is hazy, let
me summarise. After a civil war in Thebes
that sees two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, dead, the new king Creon rules that
Eteocles is to be buried with honour, while
Polyneices will be left outside the city gates
to rot. Their sisters, Ismene and Antigone,
have different views. Ismene — concerned
that their social position is a bit shaky, given
a family history of incest and rebellion —
obeys Creon. Antigone, who thinks Creon’s
decree offends natural and divine law, says
whatever the Ancient Greek is for ‘sod that’,
then buries her brother. Creon responds
by burying Antigone alive, which sets off
a chain of events that sees everyone he
loves die.
I remind you of this because it’s relevant to one of the best novels of the year.
Kamila Shamsie’s magnificent Home Fire
retells Antigone as the story of two BritishPakistani families, divided over a rebel
brother’s fate. Drawing on the play’s messy
moral conflicts — between family and country, love and duty, divine justice and manmade law — Shamsie crafts a multifaceted
tragedy about cultural tensions and radicalisation in modern London. Isma (Ismene)
and Aneeka (Antigone) are Wembley sisters living with the fear and stain of their
father’s jihadi past, something rekindled
when their brother, Parvaiz (Polyneices),
joins Isis in Syria.
Meanwhile, Karamat (Creon) is the
first British-Pakistani to become home
secretary. Via Karamat’s charming, loafer
son Eamonn (Haemon) — who befriends
Isma, then falls for Aneeka — the families are drawn together as Aneeka seeks
relentlessly to bring her brother home, to
help him ‘shake free of the demons he had
attached to his own heels’. Isma opposes
her — ‘We’re in no position to let the state
question our loyalties’ — and Karamat
forbids Parvaiz’s return by stripping him
of his British citizenship, metaphorically
leaving him outside the gates to rot. As the
home secretary’s own son becomes entangled in Aneeka’s illegal quest, Parvaiz’s
repatriation forms the novel’s potent central question.
Shamsie’s great achievement is to
humanise a political story, seeking empathy
for every side of the argument surrounding Parvaiz’s return without ever showing
sympathy for the evil of jihad. She does this
by deftly embodying various points of view
about Parvaiz (and Britain) in her lead characters, and challenging them via conflicts
with their dearest loves. By structuring the
narrative in segments that follow the main
characters’ subjectivities, Shamsie prompts
the reader to see through each character’s
eyes, presenting all the flawed and different
ways that love and national loyalty can blur.
In this way, Home Fire is insistently intelligent without becoming didactic — a novel
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
The last great adventure
Peter Carty
Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa
by Joseph Farrell
Maclehose, £20, pp. 352
Towards the end of his life, Robert Louis
Stevenson travelled widely in the central
and southern Pacific Ocean. As well as the
region’s exotic reputation, he was drawn by
hopes that its benign climate would alleviate
his chronic bronchial problems. In 1889 he
arrived in Samoa and decided to settle there.
He was a hit with the locals. Unlike so
many of his peers, he declined to dismiss
them as savages. Certainly, he was scathing
about their disregard for property rights,
which he labelled communism, and he found
some of the women’s dancing obscene. But
Joseph Farrell tells us that Stevenson was
relaxed about extensive tattoos and scanty
attire, and that he was a willing participant
in kava drinking (kava is a narcotic plant
extract, recently banned in the UK).
Stevenson’s arrival coincided with an
imperial scramble for territory in the Pacific. Germany, Britain and the US all wrangled over Samoa, lured by the profits to be
made from coffee, cocoa and copra (dried
coconut flesh). The interlopers’ greed contrasted with the Samoans’ indifference to
material concerns. An abundance of natural resources meant that personal possessions and gainful employment were alien
concepts to them.
They were woefully ill-prepared for
foreign incursions. There was a Samoan
king but his powers were largely nominal,
and internecine conflict was rife — a gift
for colonial powers primed to divide and
rule. Stevenson led a busy life on Samoa.
Nevertheless, along with building a house
and managing his extended family, he
edges more than once that its
quality is uneven, but is sometimes overly generous in his
The finest chapter in A
Footnote to History describes
a hurricane devastating the
colonialists’ warships in the
islands’ main harbour. Elsewhere, despite comic leavenings, Stevenson’s denunciations
of colonial misconduct make
hard going. Farrell tells us,
unsurprisingly, that this is
the least read of Stevenson’s
books. More rewarding is In
the South Seas, an enthralling
account of his travels in Oceania, cannibalism and all. We are
told that a Marquesan islander
he encountered was partial to
eating hands, though recipes go
The picture is mixed, too, in
respect of those novels written
during his stay which are set in
Scotland. Catriona will always
be outshone by Kidnapped,
while the unfinished Weir of
Hermiston continues to divide
critics. In this period Stevenson was trying to move away
from romance and adventure,
and towards realism and modernism. His efforts had limited
success. Even so, of the fiction
Robert Louis Stevenson, photographed in
which draws on his South Seas
Samoa shortly before his death
experiences two novellas stand
out. The Beach of Falesá preinvolved himself heavily in the Samoans’ sents white incomers as barbarians, while
travails. He despatched letters to the Times The Ebb-Tide (co-written with Lloyd
on their behalf and wrote a lengthy tract Osbourne) goes rather further and is, as
about the injustices perpetrated upon them, Farrell puts it, a ‘strangely haunting’ work.
entitled A Footnote to History: Eight Years Joseph Conrad read Stevenson’s works
of Trouble in Samoa.
assiduously and The Ebb-Tide’s evil magus
Unfortunately, Stevenson’s interven- Attwater appears distinctly Kurtzian.
tions, like so much else in his life, were as
Recently academia, in its own erratic
erratic as they were dramatic. He asserted fashion, has reclaimed Stevenson. As well
that the Samoans’ overriding need was to as finding favour, inevitably, with postbe let alone. He argued for the incorpora- colonialists, the postmodern equation of
tion of Samoa into the British empire. And high and low culture means that the endurhe proposed himself as the islands’ con- ing popular fiction from earlier in his career
sul, even as he was being threatened with — Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr
deportation. None of it made much differ- Hyde, as well as Kidnapped, as if you need
ence, although he remains a national hero in reminders — has prompted renewed attenSamoa to this day.
tion. Such studies mostly neglect StevenA Times leader wondered, perhaps son’s mastery of prose. As G.K. Chesterton
understandably, whether Stevenson’s judg- said of Stevenson’s style, ‘he seemed to pick
ment was warped and suggested that he the right word up on the point of his pen,
should return to writing romances. Fortu- like a man playing spillikins’.
nately, his involvement in Samoan politics
The other key to Stevenson’s genius is
had not stopped him writing. Far from it: that so much of his writing was fuelled by
during Stevenson’s stay, Farrell notes, he his lifelong wanderlust. He saw more of the
produced some 700,000 words, right up world than most people of his time — of
until his tragically early death in 1894 at ours too, for that matter. Farrell provides a
the age of 44. In later parts of his book welcome service by offering us the fascinatFarrell diligently analyses this mass of fic- ing story of Stevenson’s last great roll of the
tion, non-fiction and poetry. He acknowl- dice, his adventure among the Samoans.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
that poses weighty questions about British
politics and society through their impact on
the most elemental levels of the state: the
family and the human heart.
With a story architecture as tight as any
HBO drama, conveyed in prose of stunning
suppleness and economy, Home Fire not
only discourses with Sophocles’ work on a
moral and structural level, but with modern translations of Antigone by Anne Carson and Seamus Heaney. Through wisps of
shared phrasing, Shamsie stitches this contemporary story back into its Greek precedent, reinforcing, at every level of her text,
that great human concerns — justice, family,
country, love — are shared across cultures
and millennia. Home Fire is everything literary fiction should be — an exciting, beautiful, profound novel of lasting value that
deserves laurels. I hope the Booker judges
will agree.
Enjoy a unique encounter with rarely seen
works from the Royal Academy collection
Join us for an evening of privileged access to masterpieces of British art
from the Royal Academy collection, many of which cannot usually be
seen by the public.
Annette Wickham, the RA’s Curator of Works on Paper, has selected
exceptional prints, drawings and watercolours by some of our greatest
artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Stubbs, and J.M.W. Turner,
for an exclusive viewing – giving you the chance to study these exquisite
works at close quarters.
The evening will begin with a drinks reception in the Academician’s
Room, and includes a private visit to the John Madejski Fine Rooms,
the original 18th-century town-palace of Burlington House.
Spectator readers will also receive two complimentary tickets to the
Royal Academy’s ‘Matisse in the Studio’ exhibition on booking.
20 September 2017
Places strictly limited. Book now at
Image: Theory (1779–80), Sir Joshua Reynolds. © Royal Academy of Arts, London
Moor and more
Robert Gore-Langton celebrates Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello
Ira Aldridge as Othello, painted in 1826 by James Northcote
n 1824 an ambitious teenage actor fled
to England from his native New York
where he had been beaten up once too
often. He built a career here, being billed
as ‘a Most Extraordinary Novelty, a Man of
Colour’. What audiences encountered, however, was not the expected comedy of a simpleton mangling the Bard. They got instead
an actor of thrilling charisma and deep natural ability.
Ira Aldridge soon became the first black
actor to play Othello, taking over the part
from the brandy-sodden genius Edmund
Kean, who died mid-run due to what one
obituary called his ‘vortex of dissipation’.
Thanks to a slew of highly prejudiced reviews
in London, Ira became a classic example of a
tour de force who was forced to tour.
He expanded his repertoire with Shylock, Richard III, Aaron the Moor, Macbeth,
and the wonderful Oroonoko — a dramatisation of Aphra Behn’s 1688 novel about
an enslaved African prince. He was soon
dubbed ‘the African Roscius’ after the leg-
Ira played Lear in white face with
white beard, but left his hands
defiantly black
endary Roman actor, although Roscius was
born a slave, Aldridge a poor but free man.
Coventry, a proudly anti-slavery city,
embraced him and gave the 20-year-old
actor the keys to the theatre, which he ran
brilliantly for a few months. Last month, 150
years after his death, a memorial plaque was
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
put up where the city’s blitzed theatre once
stood. The guest of honour at the ceremony was the Bermudan actor Earl Cameron,
CBE, 100 years old. Far from drooling in a
care home, Cameron is hot property and
regularly on the phone to his agent, having
made a recent and triumphant Hollywood
comeback in the blockbuster films Inception
and The Interpreter.
His screen debut was in the 1951 Docklands heist film Pool of London. It was the
first British film to depict interracial love
and one of a series of fascinating pictures
that Cameron featured in and that shone
a light on the murky new subject of racial
‘The difference between me and Ira is
that I didn’t come here wanting to be an
actor,’ he says down the phone in a rich Bermudan voice. Cameron arrived in England
in 1939 as a merchant seaman and by fluke
got a job in the chorus of Chu Chin Chow.
A stage director complained that his diction
was terrible and he was referred to a speech
trainer. ‘I wanted to improve my diction, not
change my accent. That I wasn’t going to
do,’ he chuckles. Incredibly, the speech lady
turned out to be Aldridge’s ancient daughter
Amanda. She told him stories of her father’s
struggles and triumphs.
Ira, it seems, played Lear in white face
with white beard, but left his hands defiantly
black. His Shylock was a wronged businessman, not the usual red-wigged Jew of stage
tradition; he made the villainous Aaron the
Moor in Titus Andronicus (‘If one good
deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from
my very soul’) more sympathetic by rearranging the text.
Aldridge was a staunch abolitionist and
by all accounts a brilliant self-publicist,
claiming he was of African royal blood,
which was tosh. His reputation grew and he
travelled widely on the Continent. He had
honours heaped on him by the crowned
on, the dearth of good parts was his initial
problem. ‘It was not so much prejudice but a
failure of imagination by writers and directors. But I am not complaining, not at all.
I’ve had a good career, mostly in supporting
roles, and enjoyed it.’
Earl never played Othello, to his lasting regret. However, he doesn’t mention
that when he was in Coventry for the recent
ceremony he went to a Costa Coffee with
his hosts. There he stood up and gave an
impromptu rendition of Othello’s ‘I have
done the state some service’ speech. Apparently, you could have heard a pin drop.
‘The point was not that Aldridge was
the first black Othello but that he was
such a great Othello’
Three weeks before Classic FM launched, I
was on the radio in Hong Kong, introducing
hits by Rick Astley and Wet Wet Wet. I’d just
turned 21, and was working as a presenter
for British Forces Radio.
A phone call came from London. ‘My
name is Michael Bukht. I’m setting up a new
radio station and have heard good things
about you. We’d like you to present our
afternoon show. By the way, do you know
anything about classical music?’
Michael Bukht would not have fared
well in today’s consensual media world,
where respect is the watchword. He was a
bit of a bully, capable of exploding at anyone promoting views not aligned with his
own. But he had absolute belief in what he
was doing. The successful pop station Capital Radio, which he had set up in the early
1970s, was his model.‘Same sound and style,
just different music,’ he announced. Bukht
saw the classical masterworks as pleasureproviding commodities, not cultural treas-
heads of Europe and was lionised everywhere he went, performing in English even
when the rest of the cast didn’t. He married twice (to an English woman and then a
Swede) and died in Poland in 1867.
His Othello must have been quite something — the more perceptive reviews suggested he was both tender and brutal, and
always utterly human. Shakespeare’s depiction of a happy and very sexual marriage
between a black man and his white bride
was revolutionary. It sounds as if Aldridge
— a ladies’ man, by all accounts — also
brought out this aspect in full.
‘The point was not that he was the first
black Othello but that he was such a great
Othello,’ says Earl, who must surely have
had his own troubles working in Britain in
a very different age. ‘Actually, you know,
racial prejudice never really bothered me.
Sure, I had one or two doors slammed in
my face while on tour. But I always laughed
it off and it never stopped me doing what
I wanted to do.’ If you wore a smart suit
and were polite, British people were generally accepting, he found. Ira went further.
He once declared: ‘Being a foreigner and a
stranger are universal passports to British
sympathy.’ That proved only half true. The
London press gave him utter hell for his colour and his presumption. It was the public
who loved him.
Aldridge’s story has been told in a number of recent plays. Black stage actors today
know about and feel very protective of his
forgotten achievement. As for Earl Camer44
The drama-documentary Against
Prejudice: A Celebration of Ira Aldridge
is to be performed at the Sam Wanamaker
Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe on 19
‘Smile, segue and shut up’
Petroc Trelawny
ure to be treated with devout respect.
Thanks to my organ-playing mother, and
Mrs Siday, my long-suffering piano teacher, I did know a little about classical music.
When we first met and I announced this fact
to Bukht, he looked uncomfortable. ‘Sunshine,’ — a term of endearment he used
when dealing with anyone younger than
himself — ‘I don’t want you getting carried
away. I’m going to fine anyone who refers
to an opus number on air. And if you dare
mention a Köchel number [the system by
which Mozart’s works are catalogued] there
will be trouble.’
A week before launch, the Financial
Times ran a story challenging Classic FM’s
financial position. At the last minute, one
presenter got cold feet and decided to stay
at the BBC. But we got on air.
In the early hours of 7 September 1992,
staff gathered at the Classic FM studios in
Camden Town. Presenters and producers
hung around eyeing up the leftovers from
a vast breakfast buffet the advertising team
had laid on for their clients. At six o’clock
the red light lit up and the station’s breakfast host made the first announcement.
‘Good morning and welcome to Britain’s
first national commercial radio station. This
is Classic FM. I’m Nick Bailey and this is
George Frideric Handel.’ Zadok the Priest
rang out, accompanied by popping corks
and the clicking of cameras.
The night before, the Prince of Wales and
the prime minister, John Major, had been
Bukht saw the classical masterworks
as pleasure-providing commodities,
not cultural treasure
guests at the Proms, attending a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. For
the BBC’s mandarins, it should have been
a time of celebration. But the corporation
was deeply worried about Classic FM. Senior figures feared it would destroy Radio 3,
decimating its audience and thus weakening
its justification for licence-fee funding for its
orchestras, the Proms, and its ambitious and
expensive programming.
In fact, Michael Bukht had no interest
in Radio 3 whatsoever. His music policy
was clear — ‘nothing you’d want to switch
off’. Mozart was king, Beethoven, Brahms,
Dvorak — yes, please. Bartok, Stravinsky
and Britten were to be treated with suspicion. And absolutely nothing contemporary, thanks very much. He saw his audience
coming from Radio 4, and recruited familiar presenters including Margaret Howard
and Susannah Simons to ensure they felt at
home. He considered the audacious signing
of half the BBC Gardeners’ Question Time
team to Classic FM as his greatest coup.
Bukht didn’t care if we messed up composers’ names or misattributed repertoire.
‘Just do it with confidence,’ he said. But
the complaints soon became too much, and
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Classic FM made its first hiring from Radio
3, the veteran announcer Tony Scotland,
who’d been made redundant as a result of
the BBC station’s attempts to find a more
modern sound.
‘There’s no way I’m having your voice on
my station,’ Bukht told Scotland on his first
day, before allocating him a corner of the
office where he was to knock us into shape,
drilling us in Italian arias, French vowels and
Hungarian accents. In the end, he did find
himself broadcasting, when the advertising
team engaged him to read a daily Shakespeare sonnet — to promote Parker Pens.
‘Smile, Segue and Shut up’ was Bukht’s
mantra when it came to training us. He
installed a bright flashing light in the studio,
linked to a phone number only he had. Talk
too long and you’d be dazzled mid-link. And
he always seemed to be listening, despite his
commitments running the station — and
cooking under his other identity as television chef Michael Barry.
A few months after the launch, we gathered nervously waiting for the fax contain-
Mozart was king, Beethoven,
Brahms, Dvorak – yes, please
ing the first listening figures. Fewer than 2.7
million and we would have to pay money
back to the advertisers. A cheer went up
when the figure was announced — 4.3 million. ‘We’ll be burying cash under the floorboards,’ proclaimed Bukht.
I left after two years; this summer I am
privately raising a glass to two decades at
Radio 3. But I’ll be toasting Classic FM too.
On air the biggest change is heard in the
adverts. At the start they were aspirational
— John Lewis, Volvo, Singapore Airlines.
Now it’s dental implants and insurancechasing lawyers. But the core product, the
music, has not changed much.
There was an important coda to that first
set of audience figures. Despite Classic FM’s
success, Radio 3 held steady. Even when the
commercial station hit a record high of nearly seven million, Radio 3 kept its two million
listeners, and has done so ever since.
Most of the critics were distinctly sniffy
when Classic FM launched. But musicians
were more open-minded, foreseeing a legion
of potential new consumers for their work,
ones who might only become occasional
purchasers of recordings and concert tickets
but consumers nonetheless. Britain’s middle
classes had provided a brand-new audience
for classical music, happy to be seduced by
the station’s unthreatening musical selections and cheery introductions.
The mission statement, read on air every
15 minutes, is still going down well: ‘Classic
FM — the world’s most beautiful music’.
Petroc Trelawny presented Drivetime on
Classic FM for the station’s first two years.
He has broadcast for Radio 3 since 1997.
Girl, interrupted: Rooney Mara as Una
Moral maze
Deborah Ross
12A, Nationwide
Una is a psychological drama about a
woman who was abused by a man when
she was 12, and who confronts him 15 years
later, and it’s a hoot. I’m toying with you. Of
course it isn’t. It’s disquieting. It’s disturbing.
It’s difficult. It’s 90 minutes of uncomfortably shifting in your chair and wishing you
were at the latest heist caper that doesn’t
make sense. But it is also compelling, up to
a point, and your responses will be so complicated that you won’t know where to start
unpicking them. Or how.
The film is based on the play Blackbird by the Scottish playwright David Har-
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
rower, which has won multiple awards and
starred Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams
on Broadway. A two-hander originally, here
the cast has been expanded to include other
characters, while the external world has
been expanded beyond one room, as would
Your responses will be so complicated
that you won’t know where to start
unpicking them. Or how
have to happen if you’re not simply going
to plonk a camera in front of the play and
call it a day. (Although, in some respects, one
wishes they had.)
Directed by Benedict Andrews, the theatre director who staged Blackbird in Berlin, and for whom this is a first film, it opens
with a wordless sequence which tells us that
27-year-old Una (Rooney Mara) is not in a
happy place. We see her clubbing. We see
her have sex in a toilet with some stranger.
We see her cut a lonely figure as she returns
home in the early hours. Home is suburban
Surrey, where she lives with her mother (a
throaty Tara Fitzgerald). Mara is American,
of course, but plays English here, which is
jarring initially, if not plain weird, but this
will prove the least of your worries.
Next, we see Una drive to a manufacturing plant, where she asks for ‘Ray’. But
there is no ‘Ray’ because he’s now calling
himself ‘Peter’. Ray/Peter (Ben Mendelsohn) is some kind of middle manager and
he ushers her into the break room. She saw
his picture in a trade magazine. She tracked
him down. What does she want? Answers?
Closure? Revenge? You seriously want to
know. Their story unspools via flashbacks,
with Ruby Stokes playing Una brilliantly as
the 12-year-old who is both knowing and
innocent, in so far as a 12-year-old can be
knowing. Or consensual.
Ray lived next door. Ray was 40. He
was a friend of her father. It’s not what you
want to watch, a 40-year-old man getting it
on with a child. And presumably, with the
play, you never had to. See it, that is. It’s
never explicit, but even so. Ray and Una
had planned to run away together, but
their relationship was exposed and he was
imprisoned for four years. So what does
Una want? Answers? Closure? Revenge?
Or did she love him? Does she still love
him? What is this need in her? Does he love
her? (See? See how difficult this all is?)
Morally, it sends you this way and also
that way. He is in the wrong, no question,
but Una, you sense, has never been able
to move on, so is still looking at everything through a child’s eyes, with a child’s
sense of abandonment. This plays with your
head. You may have noted that I’ve yet to
use the word ‘paedophilia’, and while you
may not be wondering why, I am. It just
doesn’t feel like that’s what was going on,
even though it’s exactly what was going
on. Crazy. Meanwhile, the actors give their
all fearlessly. Mara is intense. Mendelsohn
is intense. There is a toxic chemistry. But
whenever they are not squaring up to each
other in that break room, the tension utterly falls away, as does the film.
Alas, you can clearly see where the play
is and where it isn’t. And it isn’t in the underwritten role for Riz Ahmed as Ray’s work
colleague, and it isn’t in the underwritten
role for Natasha Little as Ray’s wife. And
neither is it in the business subplot that
keeps calling Ray away, or else has him hiding in various parts of the building. These
feel like the embellishments they are, and
they don’t just distract from the business at
hand, but interrupt it. This is not what we’re
here for, and it interferes with the pacing;
dilutes the tension.
But you are provoked to think about an
issue that usually elicits the one knee-jerk
reaction, and you will be unpicking it long
after the event, if you can work out how. Still
not a hoot, though.
Snap, crackle and op
Martin Gayford
Seurat to Riley: The Art of Percepton
Compton Verney, until 1 October
Stand in front of ‘Fall’, a painting by Bridget Riley from 1963, and the world begins to
quiver and dissolve. Something you normally expect to be static and stable — a panel
covered with painted lines — undulates and
pulses. In addition to just black and white,
the pigments actually present, other hues
appear and disappear: faintly luminous
pinks and greens.
To her irritation, the artist was once told,
‘as though it were some sort of compliment’,
that ‘it was the greatest kick’ to smoke dope
while looking at this painting. The remark,
much though it affronted Riley, is wonderfully characteristic of its epoch, the mid1960s. We usually think of op art itself as
dating from the era of Mary Quant, the Beatles and LSD.
Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception, a
jolly and entertaining exhibition at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, takes issue with
Half the grandes dames of
Manhattan culture were clad in
rip-offs of Riley’s paintings
that view. Op, it argues, has a much longer
history. The exhibition begins, as its title suggests, with a landscape by Seurat from the
mid-1880s, and it ends with a room — an
18th-century one, since Compton Verney
is a Georgian mansion — enlivened with
a jazzy wall painting by the contemporary
artist Lothar Götz. The idea is to embed op
more deeply in art history.
The term, short for ‘optical art’, originated in the autumn of 1964. It was a neat pun,
originally invented by the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, and recycled by a writer
for Time magazine: remove the initial ‘P’
from ‘pop art’, and you are left with op. The
name, and what it stood for, quickly swept
not just the art world, but also the places
where people lived and shopped.
It appeared on dresses, wallpaper,
handbags and knick-knacks. When Riley
turned up for the opening reception of The
Responsive Eye, a mammoth global survey
of op-type art at the Museum of Modern
Art the following spring, she was appalled
to find that half the grandes dames of Manhattan culture were clad in rip-offs of her
The Responsive Eye included dozens
of artists, including Victor Vasarely, the
French-Hungarian painter usually credited
with being the father of op, and many from
Latin America. For a year or two, op was
everywhere. It seemed to catch the atmos-
phere of the times: futuristic, imbued with
the spirit of Harold Wilson’s technological
white heat and yet simultaneously fun, not
to say a bit trippy.
But what actually is op art? Considering that question is rather like looking at
Riley’s ‘Fall’. The more you think about
it, the more everything that seemed solid
and straightforward starts to shimmer and
Right from the beginning Riley herself disputed the idea that she intended to
make ‘optical art’. Her individual style had
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Vasarely’s pictures, in comparison, do look
a bit like designs for handbags.
Josef Albers’s ‘Homage to the Square’
is pleasant, but dull: three squares arranged
inside one another in differing shades of
red. Or rather, one ‘Homage to the Square’
would be fine; but Albers produced hundreds, collectively amounting to one of the
most numbingly repetitive series in art history (a title hotly contested by Damien Hirst’s
endless dots, which are not in the exhibition
but are a bit op).
The most striking non-Rileys on display
are by Peter Sedgley. His ‘Corona’ (1970),
concentric circles of bright but blurred colour, does give the feeling of staring at an
electric light (if not actually the Sun). But
nothing else quite has Riley’s impact, precision and fastidious elegance.
After the 1960s, her work became calmer. The later pictures no longer ripple and
swirl, but they continue to provide a frisson unique in art: a sensation of glitter, brilliant light and movement. Perhaps it’s best
to think of her as one of those one-off individualists in whom Britain seems to specialise. After all, painting is always an art
of perception.
Straight to hell
James Delingpole
No, The State (Channel 4) wasn’t a recruiting manual for the Islamic State, though I
did feel uneasy about it throughout the four
episodes. The fundamental problem is this:
if you’re going to make a watchable drama
about bad people doing terrible things, you
inevitably have to humanise them. And from
there it’s just a short step to making them
Peter Kosminsky’s drama followed four
British Muslims to Syria to join IS. Shakira, a
black convert with a nearly-ten-year-old son,
wanted to apply her skills as a doctor; Ushna
Moving pictures: ‘Achaean’, 1981, by Bridget Riley
emerged from studying Seurat, the French
post-impressionist who broke down the
forms of his pictures into dots of pure colour. Riley’s breakthrough came from apply-
If you take Riley out of the mix, there
isn’t much left of op
ing the lessons she had learnt from Seurat’s
pointillism, and applying them to abstract
painting. The result was abstraction with
heightened wattage: snap, crackle and op.
Riley, however, was adamant that her
work was not derived from psychological
research into ‘optical illusions’, nor was it
— as many at the time assumed — anything
to do with mathematics or science. She had
been influenced by Paul Klee, Mondrian and
Seurat, not by Vasarely.
If you take Riley out of the mix, there
isn’t much left of op. That is one of the
conclusions prompted by the exhibition at
Compton Verney. Riley is the unquestioned
star of the show. Her works dominate most
of the galleries; in the ones where there
isn’t a Riley you feel something is missing.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
The State’s insights into the bizarre,
grotesque upside-down hell of life
under IS came at a moral cost
was a teenager seeking to be a ‘lioness for
lions’; Ziyaad was an amiable lunk looking for adventure; and his mate Jalal was a
‘hafiz’ — someone who has memorised the
entire Koran — who wanted to follow in the
footsteps of his dead brother and witness the
Sharia in its purest form.
Needless to say, each was horribly, brutally disabused. But already you see the
problem: here were some quite likeable
characters — kind, sensitive Jalal, especially — a million miles from the hopped-up,
insensate, savage killers we now see roughly
once a fortnight bombing, shooting, slash47
the good news: you really won’t notice any
difference. Prue Leith is just as firm but fair
as Mary; Noel Fielding (looking a bit lost but
he’ll get the hang of it) and Sandi Toksvig
exude much the same gadfly silliness as Mel
and Sue; Paul Hollywood remains the scary
silver fox whose rare, coveted handshakes
are worth hundreds and thousands.
What you very quickly realise, though,
is that the people at Channel 4 who squandered millions transferring it from the BBC
Channel 4 was right: the main players
on Bake Off – even the mighty Mary
– were expendable
were right: all of the main players — even
the mighty Mary herself — were expendable
because it’s all about the brand and the idea
(and the big white tent on that lovely lawn),
not the celebs. No matter how many seasons
go by, it seems that we’ll never tire of seeing
ordinary members of the public — soon to
become characters and our friends — pushing their baking skills to the very limit on
impossible challenges and either triumphing unexpectedly or failing spectacularly.
And, bloody hell, did you see the cake like a
watermelon and the one like a bacon sandwich? Amazing!
Beyond belief: Sam Otto as Jalal in Peter Kosminsky’s The State
ing, van-murdering innocents for the crime
of living a normal western life.
Ushna became a revolving bride/
brood mare for a succession of martyrs in
whose deaths she was supposed to rejoice.
Shakira was first forbidden from working (being a mere woman), then asked to
do hideous things like remove both kidneys from wounded enemy soldiers for
use in transplants, and also had her son
snatched for training by IS’s youth terror
division, where he and his mates played
football with severed heads. Ziyaad,
never quite sure what he was doing
there in the first place, ended up driving a
suicide truck.
Jalal, however, had perhaps the biggest
awakening — trying and failing to reconcile
the noble, merciful religion he thought he
knew with the hellish one before him that
endorsed the beheading of captives and the
enslavement and rape of Yazidi women. He
did his best: buying a mother and daughter from the slave market so as to rescue
them from yet more gang rape and beating; befriending the nice local man in the
chemist. But it wasn’t enough. The merciless
death cult of IS and its implacable law overwhelmed and destroyed him.
So the cautionary-tale trajectory was
there, all right, and it made for gripping,
moving, effective drama with many shocking moments. It was also superbly acted,
obviously well researched and shot, and all
the details looked and felt right: the hotchpotch of fighters (Chechens, chubby blond
Danes, a Scots ex-army guy, Arabs looking
askance) working themselves into a prematch martyrdom frenzy with their Allahu
Akbars; the unmarried women’s quarters,
like some hideous 1970s commune, with a
passive-aggressive fat American convert
enforcing petty rules; some typical dickhead product of the British state education
system expounding that, actually, enslaving
Yazidis really wasn’t much worse than ‘zero
hours contracts’; the bizarre mix of squalor
and — in the sheikhs’ and fighters’ quarters
— Arabian Nights bling.
Still, though, I’d argue that its insights
into this bizarre, grotesque, upside-down
hell-world came at a moral cost. Why did
we not see Yazidi girls being raped, over
and over again, to the point where their
only escape is suicide? Where were the crucifixions? How, given his thorough familiarity with the Koran, could a character as
decent and intelligent as Jalal ever have
nurtured cosy illusions about a state that
takes its every detail literally? Well, the
answers are obvious and The State inevitably couldn’t resolve them. Perhaps it
shouldn’t have been made.
Bake Off is back (Channel 4, Tuesdays)
— did you see that effortless segue I just did
there from horror to jollity? — and here’s
Animal or vegetable?
Lloyd Evans
Almeida, until 30 September
The Majority
Against by Christopher Shinn sets out to
unlock the secrets of America’s spiritual
malaise. Two main settings represent the
wealthy and the dispossessed. At a university campus, an inquisitive Jesus-freak
named Luke interrogates people about
their experiences of violence. At an online
retailer, oppressed wage slaves toil for hours
and mate fleetingly during their tea breaks.
Shinn’s characters also fall into two categories. The rich are eloquent, idealistic and disingenuous. The poor are earthy, impulsive
and honest. The play is built around a series
of formalised conversations, recorded interviews, writing tutorials, a Q&A session at a
town hall, a stilted reunion between two old
school-friends, and so on.
In ritualised dialogues like these, the
characters must subordinate their real
selves to the social conventions rather than
expressing their true natures. And that, of
course, is the opposite of a proper drama
where transgression, jeopardy, unpredictability and impropriety are the key ele-
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
ments. So Shinn has accidentally written
a script where the dramatic potential has
been sucked out in advance. At the climax,
a crazed gunman shows up at a warehouse
but nearly all the characters avoid him by
watching him over the internet. The characters, again, are being moved away from
the source of conflict when they ought
to be thrust towards it. Another blunder. Odder still, Shinn teaches playwriting at the New School. Perhaps he needs a
refresher course.
But the real difficulty here is the protagonist, Luke. It’s hard to imagine a character farther removed from the life of
the ordinary play-goer. Luke is a famous
young tech billionaire with a lot of time on
his hands, who claims that God has commanded him to ‘go where there’s violence’.
So he sets out to explore the causes of a
recent massacre and a rape epidemic. Fair
enough. But would Mr Average ever find
himself in that position? The more we learn
about Luke, the creepier he becomes. He
coldly listens as the beautiful Sheila tries
to seduce him and he describes to her his
preferred lovemaking technique. ‘I jerk off
to you. I imagine you.’ She exits the room
leaving him to thrash about on the pillows
with one hand inside his Y-fronts and the
other on the Bible. Very peculiar. When
a distressed mother begs him to speak by
phone to her hospitalised son, he says it’s
not his ‘policy’ to chat with fans. Even if
they’re dying, apparently.
What on earth attracted Ben Whishaw
to this priggish tosspot? He tries to make
Luke engaging but he has very little to
work with and he’s outclassed for warmth
and humour by Kevin Harvey, the show’s
only asset, who plays a camp English professor. Whishaw is a rum property. He’s
built up an amazing career from a handful
of excellent qualities. His face is striking
and mysterious, his voice is good but not
exceptional, his physique is disappointing.
The National Theatre is employing
a man who is either a fascist
or a fantasist
On stage, there’s a stillness about him that
divides opinion. Some call it ‘animal’. Others find it more ‘vegetable’. His best feature
is his luxuriant black coiffure which, when
mussed up, resembles the storm-tormented
North Sea at midnight. He’s landed himself in a dreadful pool of stagnant chatter
here. Avoid it. You’d have more fun watching jelly set.
The Majority isn’t a drama but a baffling
one-man show by Scottish playwright Rob
Drummond. He poses questions to audience members who are asked to vote Yes or
No with electronic gadgetry. For adults this
is rather old hat, but school kids might find
the dilemmas interesting: would you kill an
innocent bystander to save the lives of five
railway workers?
Drummond became fascinated by public opinion during the Scottish referendum
election in which he failed to vote. Then
he tells us more. He travelled to a remote
northern village at the behest of a friendly
drug addict who persuaded him to chalk
‘Nazi Scum’ outside the home of a local
councillor. Drummond knew nothing of the
councillor and lived in a different constituency. Another time he got drunk at a rally
in Glasgow and assaulted one of his opponents. He was convicted and given a suspended sentence.
But is this true? Or is it part of the act? He
won’t tell us. (And the press office at the NT
refused to clarify matters either.) To judge
from Drummond’s twitchy body language
and his casually violent rhetoric — he talks
frequently of ‘punching’ those who challenge
his views — he seems a genuinely ugly and
aggressive character. Then again, if his criminal past is fictional what does he gain by posing as a thug on the stage of the National
Theatre? There are two possibilities. Neither
is very palatable. The NT has decided to give
several months’ employment to a man who
is either a fantasist or a fascist.
10 years on
from the crash:
Andrew Neil in conversation with George Osborne
Thursday 12 October 2017 | 6 p.m. | Cadogan Hall, Belgravia, London
Ten years ago this autumn, Northern Rock experienced the first
run on a British bank for 150 years. It was just one symptom of a
crisis that was soon to engulf the entire global financial system.
We’re still feeling the effects: not just austerity, but the rise of
Trump and Corbyn – arguably even Brexit. Join Andrew Neil in
conversation with George Osborne to discuss all this and more.
Spectator subscriber rate: £30
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the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Greater Oxbridge
By Hugh Pearman
xbridge is an ivory-tower state
of mind, perhaps, or at least two
ancient rival universities, but how
about this: in the future the word could
describe a fully connected English economic
region, a rival both to London and to the
great midlands and northern cities.
This is the aim of the National Infrastructure Commission, headed by Lord
Adonis. This advisory body, a legacy of the
Osborne chancellorship, wants to create
a 130-mile economic corridor linking the
two varsity towns and their hinterlands just
beyond the Chilterns. It is running a competition to glean ideas as how to best make the
new places in it. A fast cross-country road is
planned, while the long-abandoned ‘varsity
line’ railway from Oxford to Cambridge is
being re-established bit-by-bit.
It brings into the mix less glamorous
towns along the way. Milton Keynes, Bedford, Bicester and Buckingham lie along
the main corridor: Northampton marks its
northern boundary, with Aylesbury to the
south. Consider them all together as part of
the same thing, and what do you get? Well,
a lot more high-tech industry and a lot more
housing, for a start; two serviceable existing airports at Cambridge and Kidlington
(plus Luton lurking nearby), and no need
to go from one part to another via London.
Oxford’s spires mark a new beginning
That’s the thing about southern England —
its towns and cities are on strings leading
out of London, not on strings connecting
each other. Greater Oxbridge (my term, not
theirs) aims to put that right. If it sounds
like a variant of Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, that’s because it kind of is.
We don’t talk much about ‘new towns’
any more, but they exist, usually hidden
under the names of existing ones. Cambridge and Northampton are expanding
like mad, Oxford less so, but the towns
in between offer the greatest potential.
Greater Oxbridge (which the NIC drily
calls the ‘Cambridge, Milton Keynes and
Oxford Corridor’) will be not so much a new
town as a densified region. It’s the knowledge economy writ large. You could see it
more prosaically as Milton Keynes spreading its tentacles across the region. (Actually
its western end is fast-growing Didcot,
where a ‘garden town’ is planned, but the
Oxford-Cambridge thing sounds better.)
Hence the architecture and planning
competition. Densification means building, but when builders are allowed to build
randomly you end up with endless dormitory suburbs. Greater Oxbridge needs
ultra-sensitive planning, not least because
this is an often beautiful part of the country
still quivering from having the HS2 railway
line shot across its western end.
Adonis talks of the ‘potential to build
afresh in a sensitive manner, safeguarding
the beauty and character of the natural
and built environment’. But the region has
a housing crisis. They want to build up to
twice as many houses as the current rate,
nearly doubling the region’s population
by 2050. The competition (results to be
declared this autumn) will, hopes Adonis,
show how this can be done. Expect screams
of protest nonetheless.
England’s economic powerhouses used
to be divided into three lumps: LondonBristol, the Midlands, and the North. Greater Oxbridge (or whatever its name is) is not
yet on our mental map as a fourth lump.
But it will be, sooner than you think.
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‘So many celebrities, and now so many
Ivys to put them in. The age of
narcissism has many tentacles’
— Tanya Gold, p62
High life
I was appalled. She had asked Lord John
Somerset to ask me to join her, and I rose
rather unsteadily to do so. This was during
a Jimmy Goldsmith ball, and I was writing
the Atticus column in the Sunday Times, as
well as High life. A German girlfriend of
mine at the time warned me about going
over. ‘If you go to her, that’s it,’ she told
me. ‘Auf Wiedersehen,’ I answered. The
princess signalled for me to sit, and that’s
where the appalling part comes in. I missed
the chair and ended up under the table.
Without missing a beat, she stuck her head
underneath and asked me: ‘Do you really
think I’m crazy?’ ‘All I know is that I’m
nuts about you,’ said I.
That’s how my friendship with Princess
Di began, and I think this is the last time I
will write about her (it seems that everyone
else has, so I might as well put in my two
cents). The reason she wanted to meet me is
that I had hinted that she was a nutcase trying to bring down the monarchy. After our
rather inauspicious beginning — me under
the table, and her bending down discussing
her mental state — she quickly turned me
into a believer. Mind you, she never talked
badly about her husband, nor anyone else
in the royal family. And I didn’t pry. I’m
not exactly a pro when it comes to prying.
Just because I became a journalist doesn’t
mean I had to forget my manners. What
Diana wanted was for me to give a dinner
and invite editors of major newspapers.
She never put it like that exactly, but had a
female friend hint that it would really make
her happy if I did.
So I did. If memory serves, Charles
Moore, Alexander Chancellor and Dominic
Lawson came, along with a few other hacks.
It was at my place in Cadogan Square, and
I pulled out all the stops: great wines and
enough food to feed a German division in
Stalingrad. The trouble was that she didn’t
touch the booze and only picked at her food.
The rest of us got quite tipsy. Word of the
dinner had got out, and a couple of friends
rang the bell during dinner. I had a flunkey
tell them to wait outside until dinner was
over. It was a joke, but one in particular took
it rather badly.
What followed were more dinners at my
house, and a lunch at Kensington Palace,
where I read out the end of a short story by
Jay McInerney. In it the grandchildren discover, during a Thanksgiving dinner, that
granny gave grandfather a blowjob the first
I missed the chair and ended up under
the table. That’s how my friendship
with Princess Di began
time they met. No one at the table laughed,
except the footmen standing over us. Not
many invites to KP followed.
One thing I remember vividly was the
last time I spoke to her. Until recently, I
thought that I had been the last journalist
to speak to the icon of our time until I read
that Richard Kay claimed that it was him. I
believe him.
On the day in question, I was in my garden in Gstaad and Nigel Dempster was staying with me. In order to impress him and
get on his nerves, I told him I had Diana’s
private number on my mobile. He didn’t
believe me so I called her, having made him
promise that he wouldn’t make it obvious he
was listening in. ‘Hello, stranger,’ she said.
This is a professional call, said I in a stentorian voice, and she giggled. ‘Will you be
wearing a towel over your head soon?’ ‘You
gotta be kidding,’ she said in an exaggerated
American accent.
She was killed that evening. Is there anything to say about her that has not already
been written, discussed ad nauseam, and
commented upon by the world’s media? Of
course not. Someone once told me that she
only asked to meet me in order to use me. I
sure hope so, I told them. Most of the Diana
‘experts’ who have written about her, and
appear on TV pontificating, hardly knew
her. Tina Brown comes to mind. According to many, Di tried to shape media coverage by making herself selectively available.
That she did. Although completely uneducated, she was smart and knew how to handle men — except, of course, those who
really mattered to her. In the romantic way,
that is.
Needless to say, Diana’s ability to sell is
still going like gangbusters, and a new novel
by an American woman speculates what
would have happened if she had survived
the Paris accident. The author says that she
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
wasn’t interested in writing something tawdry or shoddy. Heaven forbid. I think it’s
time to let go. I feel embarrassed even writing this bit about her. The irony of it is that
on that fateful night, a Diana hater and I had
an argument about her and the royal family. When the news came in, the hater broke
down in tears.
Diana was a young attractive woman
who decided to fight back on her own terms.
End of story.
Low life
Jeremy Clarke
I arrived for lunch a bit late and was led
to the dining table. Our hostess disappeared back into the house to bring out
the food, leaving me to acquaint myself
with the other guests, an Englishwoman
and an American. The Englishwoman said
that yesterday she had fallen off the wagon
after eight weeks and today she was terribly hung over. She didn’t feel guilty, however, because she had enjoyed herself very
much. The American man’s eyes were hidden behind sunglasses but he had a warm
smile and great teeth and an easy, open
manner. He introduced himself by saying
that this was his first time in France, and
that he was checking out Italy and France
as possible places of refuge in the not-sofar-fetched event that he had to flee America. ‘Trump?’ I said. He nodded ruefully, as
one of the faithful to another.
My heart sank. This summer I have met
several of his compatriots at the lunch or
dinner table, and at the first opportunity
they have cast a virtue-signalling aspersion
on their president. It is a ploy to separate
the sheep from the goats, the elect from the
damned. It’s a bit like an evangelical chapel Christian asking, ‘And are you saved,
brother?’ and noting whether you shrivel
or bloom.
Over the summer I have learned to keep
my mouth shut and my face expressionless
when the subject of the Beloved Leader
comes up. If pressed, I might test the bound53
Mounted and framed, a Spectator
cartoon makes a wonderful present
18 june 2016 [ £4.00 [ est. 1828
and into the world
Go to
or call 020 7961 0015
aries of their hatred by wondering whether,
if President Trump is as evil as all that, he
shouldn’t be assassinated. They sort of blush
and say, well, they know they shouldn’t think
it, but that yes, they would be jumping for joy.
If the subject endures, however, and I
have to say something else, I then ask in all
innocence how it is that such an evil man
could be democratically elected in a free
and fair contest. The answer is invariably
the same: the people who voted for him are
stupid. They are rednecks. They are racists.
They are stupid racist rednecks. Of course, I
want to say that my sympathies lie entirely
with these morons because I think national
borders are a Good Thing. And I want to follow that by saying that, so far, the most obvious result of multiculturalism, as far as I can
see, has been the end of freedom of speech,
thought and conscience.
But over the summer, as I say, I’ve
learned to keep quiet.
The depth of their hatred unsettles
me. On discovering that you are dwelling
among the tents of wickedness, the evangelical chapel Christian won’t despise you.
But these Trump haters’ hatred is so absolute and genocidal, I can’t fathom it. Am I
missing something, I wonder? Am I a Nazi?
Is this hatred of Donald Trump perhaps a
complex that I can look up in a textbook of
The Trump haters I met this summer
were wealthy. The wealthier they
were, the greater the hatred
psychological disorders? A modern equivalent of valetudinarianism, perhaps? Certainly, the Trump haters I met this summer were
wealthy. The wealthier they were, the greater
the hatred. They also hated their own white
working class, especially those born in the
former Confederate states. It’s so strange.
This American chap had Trump on
the brain. Later on, he tried again during
lunch to draw me out about the president.
I deflected the probe by asking him whether he liked my hat. It was a straw hat with
an orange ribbon and a brim badly torn in
two places. I’d found it in a skip, I told him,
which was perfectly true. Everyone laughed
uproariously and said how much they loved
my hat. The American chap’s hat was a baseball cap that said FACTS in capital letters.
After lunch we swam in the pool. And
then the American led us in half an hour’s
meditation. It’s what he does for a living.
He teaches business executives and convicts how to meditate. He is a Buddhist, in
fact, though not a very doctrinaire one, as
he was quick to point out. We went inside
the house, sat facing him in comfortable
chairs, closed our eyes, and he talked to us.
Meditation was about observing each passing thought objectively and dispassionately
instead of being subject to it. We tried this
for a while in silence. He suggested that it
sometimes helped beginners if they mental-
ly labelled each thought with a Post-it note
as it went by. We might label one thought
‘appetite’, for example, and the next ‘insecurity’, and the next ‘grief’. The category that
best applied to my thoughts, I noticed, was
‘hats’. After a while, ‘hats’ gave way to ‘bigotry’ and the train of bigoted thoughts was
so long that the station ought to have been
closed over the bank holiday weekend for a
platform extension.
Real life
Melissa Kite
My friendly neighbourhood Lib Dems have
put some campaign literature through my
In a covering note, they intimate that
they don’t understand why I can’t understand why everyone votes for them round
here. The leaflet features a dozen pictures of
our Lib Dem parish councillor doing good
works in a variety of settings.
Here, he poses in a green field with the
Lib Dem parliamentary candidate — a persistent young chap I’ve had to ask to leave
my front step on more than one occasion.
There, he poses on the high street at a traffic
black spot where he has discovered there are
secret plans to install a roundabout. Lawks a
mercy! Thank goodness our local man is on
the ball, has caught the big cheeses at their
usual game of being up to no good, and saved
us from having one of those murderous, newfangled roundabouts in our village.
Beneath that, there is a picture of him
outside a neighbouring parish rooms with
the exciting news that a joint neighbourhood
plan for this village and other nearby ones
is being drawn up. Another picture depicts
him on a bench at a horticultural attraction
in one of these villages, and there follows
this decree: ‘By the time you read this, we
will have had a village meeting to discuss the
reformation of the parish meeting with residents of (the other) village.
‘Our first move will need to be reconstituting the democratic village forum which
comes in the form of a parish meeting with
a chairman and clerk appointed at the helm
of this. This will enable things to move forward…’
I’m willing to bet the only thing that’s
moving forward is the Lib Dem march for
pettifogging power. Clearly, they are branching out, expanding their empire in their own
inimitable style to create a parish council of parish councils. Baffling new layers
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
upon layers of bureaucracy aimed at governing swings and roundabouts will soon be
unfurled in all their glory, no doubt.
Personally, it confuses me how anyone
has a power trip by arguing about picnic
benches, but evidently they do.
Back to the covering note: I don’t understand why the Libs can’t understand why I
can’t understand why they get so many votes.
So let me be clear: I don’t get why people
in this village cannot see through Lib Dem
doublespeak. Nationally, they call for 50,000
Syrian refugees to be let in, but locally they
campaign to block every single proposal for
house-building anywhere near them.
And while refusing planning permission for pretty much everything, they seem
to have no opinion whatsoever on certain
homes having extensions that the planning
department at the borough council bizarrely
has no record of. ‘That is a phantom Velux
you are looking at,’ one official told me.
And even if you don’t mind hypocrisy, I
don’t get why anyone thinks a vote for the
Libs is harmless. They plaster the area with
placards declaring their avowed intent to
remain in the green belt, but wage a tiresome sort of class warfare by banning horseriding from the roads around the green.
In other words, if the Libs are really asking what’s not to like about their regime,
then I am bound to say, everything.
The thrust of the note they have put
through my door seems to be that because
they have won votes, ergo they are a good
thing. But I’m not sure the history of politics
is going to bear them out on this.
Yes, my nose is out of joint. But having campaigned against town-hall neocommunism until my hair stood on end when
I lived in south London, I never thought I
would move to Surrey and find myself grappling with a small panel of locals who think
they are governing the People’s Republic of
Mole Valley.
I thought parking wardens on commission, bin police, ‘natural play spaces’, and
trees with artwork on them depicting trees
was bad enough. But what did I know? This
village is making me long for the lunacy of
Parish politics is a whole other ball game.
I mean it. I’m pretty sure they’ve got rules
on ball games. They’ve got rules on everything and if they haven’t they’re in the
process of making them. Having caused a
rumpus by stacking building materials outside my house, I received an email from the
clerk. The parish council is reviewing its
policy on renovation projects: ‘I will let you
know what the outcomes are.’
I felt like saying, ‘Do you have to? I’ve
only got another 30–40 years left on this
planet. I don’t really want to spend any
more time than I already have discovering
how much of a nuisance retired vegetarians
can make of themselves.’ But I didn’t. I said:
‘Oh, yes, please do!’
The turf
Robin Oakley
I guess his mother may have called him Patrick, or even, when he was in trouble, ‘Patrick Joseph’, but in the racing world, like the
great McCoy, the Yorkshire-based jockey
P.J. McDonald is known simply by his initials. It is proving to be a very good year for
‘P.J.’ and those initials are becoming steadily
more familiar to southern as well as northern racegoers. He won the National Stakes
at Sandown and the Molecomb Stakes
at Glorious Goodwood on Karl Burke’s
Havana Grey, and as I write he is firmly
ensconced in the top ten riders’ table with
nearly 80 winners. ‘I’d love to get the hundred up this season,’ he says, and there must
be every chance he will. But at 35 his is the
success of a hardworking slow-burner, not
that of a precocious youth.
Sometimes it looks as though everyone
in Ireland has a trainer in their family tree,
a horse in their backyard and an ex-jockey for a neighbour but there were no such
advantages for P.J.: ‘I had no racing connections. I never had ponies. I just wanted to be
a jockey.’ He was taught to ride by Dusty
Sheehy and mentored in point-to-points by
Padge Berry, but at Goodwood on Saturday
he confessed that, after his first four years
in racing with Irish trainer Charles O’Brien
had brought him only 70 rides and just three
winners, he had been on the point of giving
up and enlisting for a trade. Then a friend,
ex-jockey Michael Cleary, persuaded him
to contact the England-based jumps trainer
Ferdy Murphy, and P.J. boarded the boat to
give racing one more try.
So much in sport depends on confidence
— having somebody to instil it in the first
place and then developing it yourself. There
can be no more obvious example than the
ultimate flowering this season of champion jockey Jim Crowley, a one-time middleof-the-road jump jockey who is now riding
Group winners on the Flat with eye-catching flair and total tactical self-belief. The
straightforward P.J. admits that Ferdy Murphy was the man who worked the miracle
for him. At a stage when he was so light they
needed a wheelbarrow to carry his saddle
if he was to ride a chaser at 11st 7lbs, Murphy ‘gave me the confidence, he gave me the
platform and he guided me the right way. I
cannot thank him enough.’
Among P.J.’s victories when riding jumpers was that of Murphy’s Hot Weld in 2007 in
the gruelling Scottish Grand National. Ironi56
cally, the man in second place that day was
the then stable no. 1 Graham Lee, who has
been in the vanguard of former jumps riders
in recent years who have switched successfully to the Flat. Murphy urged P.J. to start riding
on the Flat as well to toughen up. He did it so
successfully that he was signed up by the late
Alan Swinbank as second jockey to Neil Callan, and made the switch permanent (with the
offer that he could return to Murphy, nowadays training in France, if things didn’t work
out). Since then, P.J. has made steady progress, establishing himself among the leading group of northern-based jockeys getting
plenty of rides from the likes of Mark Johnston, James Bethell, Ann Duffield and Micky
Hammond. He loved his time jumping but
relishes the different challenge. ‘Jumping you
can get horses switched off but on the Flat
split-second decisions win races.’
Is it tougher north of Watford? ‘It’s tough
wherever you are. The hours are long, it’s
hard work and most of the time you are
working just for your bread and butter — but
at the same time it’s brilliant.’ One of those
riders who is there grafting in yards in the
winter, too, helping to bring on the yearlings
and two-year-olds, P.J. has clearly become a
fully integrated Yorkshireman. He insists,
‘You have to go and get everything — nothing comes to you.’ He is a man at ease with
words in his Co. Wexford tones, and it is easy
to see P.J.’s value to trainers not just in obeying instructions, as he did when grabbing the
running rail at Goodwood on Havana Grey,
but in the way he observes: ‘You have to be
able to get off horses, speak to the owners
and be confident about what you are saying.’
P.J. had ridden an impressive double at
York’s Ebor meeting the day before on the
debutant Dream Today for Mark Johnston,
and on the quirky Montaly for Andrew
Balding, but he is not the sort to be carried
away by the current wave of success. ‘You
must never look too far ahead. There have
been days when I rode doubles and finished
being carted off in an ambulance.’ But there
is an optimism too. ‘If it was meant for you,’
says P.J., ‘it won’t pass you by.’
Just as well it hasn’t. When I asked him
what trade he might have chosen if racing
hadn’t worked out, the reply was: ‘I’ve no
idea. All I know is horses. Even the DIY is
left to the wife.’
‘Ah, good! I’m through to a real person.’
Janet de Botton
The 43rd World Bridge Championships held
in Lyon has just ended after two intense weeks
and hundreds of boards. The first week saw 22
teams from around the world play a complete
round robin, the top eight qualifying for the
The USA entered two teams, both of
whom made the quarter-final, but only
one made it the whole way. USA2 had an
extraordinary success, particularly in the
semi-final playing against Bulgaria. About
halfway through they were 46 imps down,
with their prospects looking bleaker by the
minute. Marty Fleisher was playing with the
great Chip Martel, who won his first world
title in 1985. Marty decided a big swing was
needed to inject some life into his ailing
team. This is the hand that, IMHO, changed
the momentum of both the match and the
tournament. Fleisher bid — and Martel
made — a 0 per cent slam and from there
led USA2 to the winners’ podium.
Dealer South
E/W vulnerable
z 84 3
y65 3
w A KQ
z K J 10 9
y 10
X 10 8 7 6
X J9
w 97
zQ6 2
y AQ J
w J 10 8
7 4
5 4 3
5 4
all pass
Marty must have been feeling the lurve, as
frankly his 6w bid makes no sense and indeed
is straight off on a spade lead. But fortune
favours the brave and West led his singleton
Heart which Chip won in hand with the Jack.
He followed with two top trumps to dummy
and played a heart to the… 8! He cashed the
XA, drew the last trump and played the XK
discarding a Spade in hand. Now he played a
heart to the Queen, cashed the yA and exited a Spade to East’s singleton Ace, who, with
only diamonds left, was endplayed to give a
ruff and sluff for an unbelievable +920 and a
21 imp swing. USA2 went on to win the semi
quite comfortably and met France in the final
— beating them by a heart-stopping two imps
and claiming the title. Bravo.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
o, that’s it then. Summer, I mean. It
pushed off without ever having really arrived. There were some bizarrely scorching days in between the chill and
the showers, it’s true, but I’ve barely worn
my shorts, haven’t swum in the sea, only
managed one day at the cricket and the lawn
outside is as green as I’ve ever seen it at this
time of year. Sigh.
These wines have been selected by with autumn in
mind, albeit with the vain hope of an Indian summer. If it’s hot, chill the Languedoc
Pinot Noir; if it ain’t, then relish its earthy
autumnal qualities at room temp.
To the vino. I have always loved the
white wines of the Rhône. They produce
so little of them, they’re as quirky as anything and they’re ideal for those bored with
the ubiquity of Chardonnay and Sauvignon
Blanc. The 2015 Domaine Les Grands Bois
‘Le Viognier’ (1), a white AOC Côtes du
Rhône, is a joy. Robert Parker gave it 90
points, declaring it ‘maybe the finest value
in Viognier I have ever tasted’. Although I
don’t always agree with Uncle Bob, he’s spot
on here. Made from a lot of Viognier and a
little Grenache Blanc, it’s apricotty, peachy,
creamy and floral with surprisingly fine
acidity (which Viognier all too often lacks).
It’s delicious. £10.45 down from £10.95.
The 2015 Clarendelle Bordeaux Blanc
(2) is a dry white Bordeaux of quite some
pedigree. A Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon
blend with a tiny splash of Muscadelle, it’s
made by the winemaking team of Château
Haut-Brion no less, using fruit not only from
CHB’s vineyards but also those of Château
La Mission Haut-Brion. It has fabulous ripe
fruit, great structure and remarkable (for
the price) style. It’s citrusy, but there’s stone
fruit in there too, and plenty of concentration. £15.95 down from £16.95.
Although seemingly a typical Provençal rosé, the 2016 Pezat Rosé (3) comes from
Bordeaux, produced by the mighty Jonathan
Maltus OBE, the maverick English winemaker behind St Emilion such as Châteaux
Teyssier, Laforge and the cult Le Dôme.
A blend of 60 per cent Cabernet Franc, 30
per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 per cent
Merlot, it’s what JM terms ‘glitter pink’ and is
gloriously fresh, vibrant and succulent. About
as good as rosé gets for under a tenner. £9.45
down from £9.95.
The 2015 Ripaille Pinot Noir (4) is new
to and it comes
from the Languedoc rather than Burgundy. It’s produced by Bruno Lafon (a Burgundian) and François Chamboissier (a
Bordelais) from sites in the foothills of the
From a great vintage drawn from the
vineyards of Châteaux Haut-Brion,
La Mission Haut-Brion and Quintus
Pyrenees, and it’s a cracker: soft and smooth,
with sour cherry notes, blackberries, mulberries and earthiness on the finish. £10.45
down from £10.95.
The 2015 Clos d’Alzan Signargues Côtes
du Rhône Villages (5) is a perfect everyday Côtes du Rhône from a stellar vintage.
Produced by Michel Collomb in Signargues (one of the 16 villages in the southern
Rhône accorded Côtes du Rhône Villages
status), it’s a single vineyard wine of real
oomph blended from Syrah, Mourvèdre and
Grenache. There’s plenty of pepper’n’spice
in the mix, buckets of rich, ripe dark fruit and
a wonderfully long finish. It’s perfect autumn
fare. £10.45 down from £10.95.
Finally, the 2012 Clarendelle Bordeaux
Rouge (6) which boasts the same immaculate provenance as its sibling above. A blend
of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from a great vintage, drawn from
the vineyards of Châteaux Haut-Brion, La
Mission Haut-Brion and Quintus, it’s absolutely à point, being mouth-fillingly rich, ripe
and concentrated. It’s full-flavoured and
forward and, with only 45 cases available
at, in seriously
short supply. £15.95 down from £16.95.
The mixed case has two bottles of each
wine and delivery, as ever, is free.
ORDER FORM Spectator Wine Offer, 2 Square Rigger Row, Plantation Wharf, London SW11 3TZ
Tel: 020 7549 7900; Email:
Prices in form are per case of 12
1 2015 Les Grands Bois Viognier, 14%
2 2015 Clarendelle Bordeaux Blanc, 12%
3 2016 Pezat Rosé, 12.5%
4 2015 Ripaille Pinot Noir, 12.5%
5 Clos d’Alzan, Côtes du Rhône Villages 2015, 14.5%
6 2012 Clarendelle Bordeaux Rouge, 13.5%
7 Sample case, two bottles each of the above
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the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Hou dares wins
Raymond Keene
Hou Yifan, the leading female grandmaster, is
beginning to place strain on Judit Polgar’s record
as the best woman chess player ever. At the
Biel Grandmaster tournament, Hou seized first
prize ahead of a phalanx of elite male rivals.
Her win against the veteran grandmaster Rafael
Vaganian (see below) was outstanding.
There have been occasional controversies,
including one in which our own Nigel Short once
became embroiled, about the relative powers of
the male and female brain. I incline to the view
of Professor Tony Buzan, inventor of Mind Maps
and originator of the world memory
championships, that the differences hover
somewhere between negligible and nonexistent,
and that any reticence on the part of female
chess practitioners to aspire to the supreme
laurels is grounded in culture, not anatomy.
Vaganian-Hou Yifan: Biel 2017
(see diagram 1)
20 ... Bxg2 This is the start of a brilliant
combination from Hou Yifan. 21 Kxg2 Qxd4
This is the immediate point. Now 22 exd4 Nf4+
and 23 ... Nxh5 leaves Black with a winning
position. However, there is more to Hou’s
combination than meets the eye. 22 Qxg6
Qd5+ 23 e4 fxe4 24 Qxe4 For the moment
White is a piece up but Black’s next wins a rook.
24 ... Qg5+ 25 Kh1 Qxd2 26 Qxh7+ Kf7
Flavour of the month
Lucy Vickery
Diagram 1
Diagram 2
Hou also needed to foresee that her king was not
in trouble here. 27 Qg6+ Ke7 28 Qxg7+ Rf7
29 Qd4 Qf4 30 Qxf4 Rxf4 31 f3 Rd4 32
Be4 Rd2 33 Rg1 Rc3 White resigns
Hou Yifan-Bacrot: Biel 2017 (see diagram 2)
The black kingside is clearly weak although the
strong central pawn provides some compensation.
Hou now manoeuvres effectively against the
kingside weaknesses. 31 Rae1 Rh6 Black would
have done better to sit tight with 31 ... Bd5. 32
Qf4 Rxh3 Now White is clearly better. Black
should have preferred 32 ... Rf6 when White can
emerge a pawn ahead after 33 Qxe4 Bd5 34 Qe8+
Kh7 35 g4 Rxe3 36 Rxe3, but the exposed
situation of her king will make progress very
White to play. This position is a variation from
Hari krishna-Studer, Biel 2017. Can you spot
White’s winning thrust? Answers to me at The
Spectator by Tuesday 5 September 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 Qxe6
Last week’s winner Roderick Adams,
Dalkeith, Midlothian
problematic. 33 Rxd3 Rxd3 34 Rxe4 Be6
35 Ne3 Rd8 This is a blunder in a difficult
position. Black had to try 35 ... Rd7 as will
become clear after White’s reply. 36 Re5
Black resigns If now 36 ... Qh7 to avoid the
impending pin along the g-file with Rg5 then
White replies 37 Qg5+ winning the rook on d8.
This is why Black should have preferred 35 ...
Rd7 in the previous note.
Much hype was whipped up in advance of
Kasparov’s recent comeback in the St Louis
quickplay events. Sadly, hype is all it was,
since a rusty and ill-prepared Kasparov
turned in a career-worst performance.
In Competition No. 3013 you were invited
to submit a poem in praise or dispraise of
There was a whiff of collusion about the
entry this week, so many references were
there to rubbish television, rubbish weather,
fractious kiddies, tired gardens, traffic jams;
as Katie Mallett puts it: ‘A turgid time of torpor and delay.’
But there were some sparkling, inventive
turns. David Silverman was on pithy form:
Oh, thou cruellest month!
If August comes, then winter
Can’t be far behind.
Honourable mentions also go to A.H.
Harker’s well-turned nod to Eliot, to Paul
Freeman and to W.J. Webster, a rare but eloquent fan of August. The winners take £30
and John Whitworth pockets £35.
August, August, it’s the tops.
August tastes like lollipops.
August in the midday sun,
Everybody having fun.
Summer days will last for ever.
Boys are bathing in the river.
Girls in cotton dresses go
Up and down and to and fro.
Perfect in their loveliness
Like the girls of Lyonesse,
Free from worry, free from care,
Happy faces everywhere.
All the world is fresh and bright
In that special August light.
Anyway, that’s how it seems.
August is the stuff of dreams.
John Whitworth
Augustus Caesar stole the days, but when his
Empire died
the Anglo-Saxon freeman claimed the weeks of
a quiet month, a riot month, when pupils kick
their heels
before their bad exam results and up-the-creek
a hazy month, a lazy month and such as we would
each time we drove to Kynance Cove along the 303.
We are not fans of caravans, nor statics by the
our kinship dwells in canvas bells that dad pitched
in the war;
we push their poles down last year’s holes in
bristly thrifted turf,
incant a spell for north-west swell and wild
Atlantic surf,
and catch a wave that mermaids crave, as tide
begins to run
across the teeth of a granite reef aglow in the
August sun.
Nick MacKinnon
On either side of summer lie
Long terms that make a teacher sigh
But solace comes with sweet July
When Sir can cease to damn a lot.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
For holidays reduce the strain
Of coaching thugs and feeling pain;
Poor Sir can be himself again
And may begin to charm a lot.
Kind August lets a teacher rest
From discipline and tiresome test.
This is the month that he loves best
For he can play and dram a lot
In foreign parts with foreign sun
Where joy is measured by the ton;
August invites him to have fun
And Sir will then stay calm a lot.
Frank McDonald
August’s a month I winnow down
To an intense epitome:
A cricket match in Chaucer’s town
In August, 1953.
The Aussie players, tanned as bark,
Were twice as talented as browned,
And playing as if for a lark
They smacked our bowlers round the ground.
Their single innings beat Kent’s two.
They won the crowd, not just the game,
Lusty and cavalier. We knew
Defeat by masters is no shame.
The stats the record books will cite
Are true, but only half the story.
When times grow dark I can relight
That unforgotten August glory.
G.M. Davis
August is a smörgåsbord of boiling hot and
As raucous as a beach resort, as silent as the rain —
It seems to be seducing you, but ah, it’s only
It offers you its sedatives, but brings a special pain.
It offers you tranquillity, and claims it’s
It offers you siestas and some sultry après-midis:
The sea, the lake, the river, how they promise to
be gentle,
But never do they mention all the chaos of the
Children play at August like some spoilsports high
on dexies,
Scuppering the karma, and alarming every nerve:
You thought you’d find nirvana, but you’re filled
with apoplexies —
You thought you’d straighten up, but you are on a
vicious curve.
Here is August, loitering, with intent and with
Its cocked and crooked finger urging you to take a
To holiday, to move yourself into the fifth
And now it comes to numb you, and your eyelids
start to ache.
Bill Greenwell
Hard task
by Fieldfare
Clockwise round the grid run
six of a kind (one of three
words and one three-word
pair). Other unclued lights
show where you might find others of their kind. Unchecked
corner letters could give PLAYDEN PLANK.
11 With everyone away, call
hourly for singers (6)
13 Old bird biting end off
confectionery (3)
16 Group of people, just the
first section (5)
17 Left in the rain, following
ordinary bird (5)
18 Power to clear out stretch
of land (6)
19 Joke about family breaking
up (6)
20 Develop strong emotion,
turning against English (6)
21 Bills from old masters (5)
22 New mentor works in
vacation (7, hyphened)
28 Commanded to capture
American ship, one enemy
of theirs? (7)
30 Ferment as poet switches
ending (5)
31 Master cast medieval
helmets (6)
34 Philosopher shortly holds
answer for statesman (6)
36 Tree bark covering poorly
37 Help no more in contested
election (5)
38 Very keen on drinking
beer, finally opening bars
39 In hearing, fail to notice
singular couple (4)
40 A side petal regrettably
pruned (3)
41 Welsh town lacks principal
two pieces of pasta (6)
You are invited to submit an extract from
the diary of the spouse of a high-profile
political figure, living or dead. Please email
entries of up to 150 words, including a word
count, to by midday
on 13 September.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
2 Penguin medley (8)
3 Resolve to change Teddy
4 Woman almost fit to be
scarecrow (6)
5 Given the word, men run
into action (7)
7 Pirandello’s resistance for
one unknown disease (5)
9 Lisa’s predecessor takes
care of state (6)
12 Ted leaves airport, crossing
a thousand ditches (6)
21 Baton said to be wielded as
punishment (9)
23 After setback, stupidly
erase passwords (8)
25 Black belted in martial art,
I do drop out, turning up
for sausage (8)
26 Wine, one picked in
dispute, say (6)
27 Is not even able to eat here
29 Handsome man’s election
splits Greek extremists (6)
33 Art school pop group (5)
35 Still in bed? Pretended to
have risen (5, two words)
A first prize of £30 for the first
correct solution opened on 18
September. There are two
runners-up prizes of £20.
(UK solvers can choose to
receive the latest edition of the
Chambers dictionary instead of
cash — ring the word
‘dictionary’.) Entries to:
Crossword 2325, The Spectator,
22 Old Queen Street, London
SW1H 9HP. Please allow six
weeks for prize delivery.
The event was THE GLORIOUS TWELFTH (1D/29)
(12 August, opening day of the grouse-shooting season).
Remaining unclued lights bring to mind ‘grouse’:
name); RUGOSE and ROGUES (11 and 3: anagrams);
GRIPE and BLEAT (39 and 25: synonyms).
First prize Robert Burgon, North Berwick, East Lothian
Runners-up Jack Shonfield, Child Okeford, Dorset;
Caroline Arms, Ithaca, New York
Status Anxiety
Spare me the encomiums
for John le Carré
Toby Young
n Absolute Friends, one of John le
Carré’s lesser works, the central
character explains his rebirth as
a left-wing firebrand, radicalised by
Britain’s support for America’s invasion of Iraq. ‘It’s the old man’s impatience coming on early,’ he says. ‘It’s
anger at seeing the show come round
again one too many times.’ This is followed by a rant about ‘the death of
empire’, our ‘dismally ill-managed
country’ and ‘the renegade hyperpower that thinks it can treat the rest
of the world as its allotment’ (not Russia, obviously, but the United States).
I felt a similar spurt of rage on
learning that Le Carré’s most famous
show — the seedy world of British intelligence, or ‘the Circus’, as
he calls it — is about to come round
again. Later this month, the 85-yearold author will publish A Legacy of
Spies, which revisits the events of
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
and resurrects several of his long
defunct characters, including George
Smiley. Once again, the reader will be
plunged into the slightly smelly, morally ambiguous universe of the Cold
War and its psychologically damaged
protagonists. Once again, Le Carré’s
fans will be able to tell themselves
how sophisticated they are for rising
above the good-vs-evil simplicities
of inferior espionage novelists. Once
again, they’ll give themselves permis-
His novels
gave succour
to the enemy
when we were
locked in a
sion to enjoy what is, essentially, an
airport thriller by reassuring themselves that Le Carré is really a literary writer who ‘transcends’ the limits
of genre fiction.
It’s hard to know where to start
with the old booby, but Absolute
Friends, published in 2003, is as good
a place as any. It was described by
one critic as Le Carré’s ‘first truly
bad novel’, but that’s a little unfair.
After all, he’d written at least half-adozen stinkers before that. But it was
probably his most left-wing, which is
saying something. The central character, Ted Mundy, joins forces with a
former Stasi agent to save the third
world from America’s military-industrial complex, and ends up being brutally gunned down by the German
security services. At one point, a sympathetic character rattles off a list of
fearless truth-tellers whose books
and journalism every responsible
citizen should read: Naomi Klein,
John Pilger, Arundhati Roy, Joseph
Stiglitz and George Monbiot. After
wading through Absolute Friends,
you get the impression that Le Carré
reads little else.
Some reviewers were disappointed, contrasting the book’s political
fanaticism with the more nuanced
tone of his earlier work. ‘Le Carré’s
anger comes across as a bit too raw to
work as fiction,’ wrote Stephen Amidon in the Sunday Times, ‘its rhetoric
more in line with a Harold Pinter column than a Graham Greene novel.’
But I don’t share the convention-
al view of Le Carré becoming mentally unhinged after the fall of the
Berlin Wall. No, I suspect that he
was a left-wing zealot from the very
beginning. That he didn’t become
anti-American in 1989, desperate for
some new subject matter. Rather, the
end of the Cold War just made him
even angrier because he worried
that the wrong side might have won.
No genuinely liberal person,
no one remotely fair-minded, could
observe the conflict between Western democracy and Communist
totalitarianism and conclude that
they were morally equivalent. America and its Nato allies may not have
been perfect, but the Soviet Union
imprisoned, tortured and brutally
murdered tens of millions of its own
citizens. And it’s not as if Le Carré
didn’t know about these crimes when
he first started writing of the Circus.
He was an intelligence officer himself,
don’t forget.
So spare us the encomiums for Le
Carré. The distinguished, grey-haired
gent who will be plastered across the
pages of newspapers and magazines
in a couple of weeks’ time isn’t just an
old has-been resurrecting his greatest
hits in the hope of returning to the
bestseller lists. He is an author whose
novels gave succour to the enemy
when we were locked in a life-ordeath struggle with one of the worst
regimes in human history.
Toby Young is associate editor of
The Spectator.
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
Spectator Sport
Which way will Lord’s leap?
Roger Alton
n the rarefied circles of the sporting establishment a decision will
soon be made affecting not just
the future of 17 of the most hallowed
acres in the land, but the very game of
cricket itself. The MCC has been conducting a debate about Lord’s, primarily its redevelopment, with a nod
to future expansion of the limitedovers game. This has boiled down to a
binary choice for members: the MCC
committee’s overwhelming recommendation, unsurprisingly, is for its
own ‘Masterplan’, against the outsider, known as the Morley-Rifkind plan.
It’s a rum sort of club, the MCC.
Primarily devoted, it seems, to keeping people out, it has people on
the inside who don’t want much to
change. Its committee structure is
opaque and this acrimonious longrunning debate has led to high-profile resignations, including that of Sir
John Major in 2011. Lord’s is a wonderful ground, of course — a sunny
day on the top of the Compton or
Edrich stands is life-enhancing.
Watching from the dank lower levels
of those stands, however, feels like
doesn’t want
an outsider
with their
hallowed turf
part of your life that you will never
get back. The Masterplan includes
redevelopment of those stands, and
some tinkering at the Nursery End.
Morley-Rifkind is more far-sighted, guaranteeing £150 million of
income with elegant expansion of
the Nursery End, including two compact blocks of flats, and the welcome
transformation of the prison-wall
look on Wellington Road.
The MCC is, of course, a club and
can do what it wants. But if they go
with their Masterplan, they must
try to make the ground as friendly
to non-members as possible — not
something they have been particularly good at. It seems that the Morley-Rifkind plan has as much chance
as a snowball in a microwave, and I
feel that the hostility it has generated
is because the MCC doesn’t want an
outsider, especially one perceived as
an upstart property developer, messing around with their sacred turf.
Before the deal is done, I hope
the committee reads carefully an
impassioned letter it has received
from three very influential members. It is a devastating critique of the
main points of the Masterplan which
asks the committee to look again at
aspects of Morley-Rifkind. It is a passionate appeal for compromise. Lords
could be in danger of missing out on
the promised riches of the expansion of the limited-overs game. Of
course, as far as many members are
concerned the limited-overs game
should go and copulate with itself.
Meanwhile, a massive expansion
of the Oval, usually a more pleasant
ground, is being planned. This £50 million project will bring its capacity to
40,000 and make it the biggest cricket
ground in the country, and the biggest
in the world outside India and Australia, all in time for the 2023 Ashes. So,
as Matthew Engel has said, there is a
great danger Lords will be relegated
to the status of a cherished antique,
rather like Arundel. I hope the MCC
will not just railroad its Masterplan
through, but will open up the debate.
he West Indies: an apology. Following their dismal performance
in the day-nighter at Edgbaston, this
column had considered arguing for
the creation of a two-tier Test structure, relegating the Windies to the second division, along with, say, Ireland
and Afghanistan. But at Headingley
they gave us one of the most enthralling Test matches of modern times.
Had they only been able to catch, they
would have smashed England out
of sight. They should heed the wise
words of Australia’s Bobby Simpson, who would tell his players: ‘What
are these? No, not hands you idiot.
Machines for catching cricket balls.’
The Spectator presents an evening
with Henry Blofeld in conversation
with Roger Alton: page 17
exhausting. But it’s not our house
so we can’t lay down the law.
Next time, Mary, how can we
ensure we are the only guests?
—S.R., Haddington, East Lothian
Q. Our best friends own a house
in Morocco which sleeps about
ten. They rent it out but go two
or three times a year themselves
and always invite as many people
as they can cram in. They have
much more social stamina than
we have, so whenever they invite
us, we beg that it can be just the
four of us. They agree but always
renege at the last minute and
invite others on the grounds that
it will be ‘much jollier’. We just
want time alone with them in
their undiluted company and we
find big house parties mentally
A. Enquire whether you can rent
the house yourself for a special
occasion. Then invite the owners
to come as your guests.
Q. Is it rude to bring a book to
a wedding? One wouldn’t read
during the vows, but at country
house weddings there are lulls
and longueurs between church
at 2 p.m. and shuttle bus at 3 a.m.
My boyfriend forbade me to bring
a novel to a wedding in Ireland.
I flagged badly after 1.30 a.m.
and think no one would have
minded me reading in a corner of
the marquee, but he says it’s bad
manners. Who’s right?
— L.F., Bayswater, London
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
A. One has every sympathy but
your boyfriend is definitely right. A
wedding is a stage and all the men
and women players. Your role is
to enter into the spirit of the event
and pretend to be fascinated and
moved by it. To read a novel would
suggest you have found another,
imaginary, world more interesting
than the real-life dramatic event
you are at the centre of. This would
be bad manners.
Q. May I offer this tip to readers
afflicted by temporary amnesia
in social situations? When faced
with the prospect of having to
introduce someone whose name
I’ve forgotten, I simply gesture to
the new arrival, and at the same
time take a sip of wine. The new
guest will immediately introduce
him or herself, thus causing the
other to fill in the gap.
— P.W., by email
A. Thank you for this useful tip.
You could equally load a giant
canapé into your mouth.
Q. We used to just nod or say
hello to our neighbours, but since
joining the Residents’ Association
we have graduated to friendly
terms. Now when one of us just
wants to nip round to the corner
shop we are often ambushed on
the way back by a neighbour with
time on their hands. Mary, neither
of us has a spare ten minutes or
more per day. Without being rude,
what excuse can one give for
not stopping?
— Name withheld, London W8
A. Always buy a choc ice at the
corner shop. Then you can hover
briefly with your neighbour but
say truthfully, ‘I’d better dash. I’ve
got to get some melting ice cream
into my freezer.’
A perfect feast with Roger Allam
Tanya Gold
Sheekey is one of Richard Caring’s older, and better, restaurants.
Since he has dowsed the suburbs
of London in multiple outposts of the
Ivy (there is one in Wimbledon, another in Richmond and presumably one
pending in Penge), J Sheekey increasingly feels like an island in a sea of
pointlessly aspirational green. The
rise of the Ivy — the original celebrity brasserie, which is code for an indifferent restaurant full of awful people
eating shepherd’s pie — is an inevitable consequence of the rise of celebrity culture. This is anti-culture, and
the Ivy is, therefore, an antirestaurant. So many celebrities, and
now so many Ivys to put them in. The
age of narcissism has many tentacles.
J Sheekey lives in an alley
between the Charing Cross Road and
St Martin’s Lane; it is not Soho then,
but the more depraved and interesting Charing Cross. It is long, latticed
and red, like a painted nail on a finger
of necrotic flesh. (A younger, more
hopeful and less interesting sister
called the J Sheekey Atlantic Bar is
Last orders are
at midnight,
and this is
thrilling: even
Rules shuts
the kitchen
at 11.30 p.m.
open next door. She is less expensive,
and blue.)
The real J Sheekey was established in 1890 by Josef Sheekey, who
was granted permission to serve oysters, shellfish and game by Lord Salisbury, in exchange for feeding him
after the theatre. I like the sound of
this Lord Salisbury.
Inside there is a warren of small,
crowded rooms with dark panelling
and white napery, with black and
white photographs of actors making faces on the walls. A place to plot
then, particularly if you seek a part in
Double Indemnity: the Musical.
Last orders are at midnight,
and this is thrilling: even Rules has
surrendered to the housing crisis that has moved all restaurant
staff to Zone 4 and beyond, and
shuts the kitchen at 11.30 p.m. And
so I have invited the actor Roger
Allam to dine. He has been pretending to be Roy Jenkins in a play.
This column does not normally
solicit celebrity guests. I loved A.A.
Gill, but not because he dined with
Joan Collins and Jeremy Clarkson,
who is now so famous that the fact
he recently gave up smoking was a
national news story. But I am a poor
interviewer, and Lynn Barber would
scowl at me — I love my interviewees,
and not always the better to manipulate them, and I adored Allam. It
is not that he looks like a Spectator
reader that a genie produced from
a bottle as evidence of the existence
of the genre (he is of the left, actually) or that his performance as Peter
Mannion in The Thick of It (where I
think he pretended to be Ken Clarke)
seemed to distil the anguish of the
Lib Dem/Tory coalition politics to
its essential form. (‘I’m bored of this,’
he moans. ‘I’m going for a Twix.’) It
is that he seems to have none of the
vanity of the generic actor; he is not,
for instance, dressed in leather lederhosen, as Jeremy Irons was when I
passed him in St Martin’s Lane.
I am quite angry he is not more
famous, but perhaps if he were
I would not be dining with him,
because he would live on a cliff in
Malibu, like Iron Man; and he is too
subtle for superhero films. Anyway, I
am a fan, and here he is, as an exhibit
in this column — a guest star. I can’t
tell you the more interesting things
he said, because they are confidential, although I suppose he would not
mind if I say he lives near Kew.
So, as we eat a perfect feast of
scallops, Dover sole, plain risotto
and 22 exquisite ounces of blue ribeye steak, I try to pretend that he is
not Peter Mannion, and fail.
J Sheekey, 28-32 St Martin’s
Ct, London WC2N 4AL,
tel: 020 7240 2565.
It’s like whipping cream. All of
a sudden it goes stiff and you
can turn the bowl upside down
without it falling out. In the same
way, a common mistake in speech
solidifies and becomes firmly
attached to the language.
I don’t think bacteria has
quite been whipped into a
singular shape yet, even though
one is always reading thing like
‘bacteria’s ability to evolve its way
around antibiotics’.
Such mistakes often occur in
newspapers, where rush preserves
erroneous forms that in oral
speech bubble up and burst, to be
lost to any record.
A word just on the turn is
media. The first example of it
found by the Oxford English
Dictionary, in the sense of ‘means
of communication’, was used,
or misused, as a singular entity.
‘Mass media represents the most
economical way of getting the
story over,’ wrote an advertising
man in 1923.
In becoming a singular, media
was helped by not showing itself
a plural by ending in an s. It
might be as singular as magma to
anyone not knowing Latin. But I
think a more important element
is semantic: media has followed
the fortunes of means. Means has
for centuries meant a mediator or
intermediate instrument.
For 400 years, means, despite
ending in an s, has been used in
a singular sense, and today we
speak of a means to an end, and
would not dream of saying a mean
to an end.
There is also a feeling that
media has became a collective
noun, like the mob or crowd,
which could take a singular
verb as easily as a plural. Media
now usually forgoes the specific
adjective mass, which indicated
its nature, but is often limited
by the adjective social, which,
as with social diseases, reflects a
cooperative origin.
Bacteria has a strong collective
identity (one seldom encounters
just the one bacterium, and
bacterium is mostly applied to
a class of micro-organisms).
It possesses an alien (Latin)
marker of plurality that, as with
phenomena, trips up speakers
unused to marshalling semilearned words. Similar uncertainty
is heard in producing vertebra as
the singular form of vertebrae or
ovum as the singular of ova. But
bacteria is proving more strongly
resistant to corrective measures.
— Dot Wordsworth
the spectator | 2 september 2017 |
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