Russell Brand doesn’t vote. Having been goaded about this by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight in 2013, Brand wrote a book, Revolution, to show that he’s both right and in earnest. Many people are angered by others not voting, it’s a shibboleth of sorts, but Brand’s position seems reasonable to me; there are many causes for indignant scepticism in public life and much of it is a sham. I don’t share his seeming surprise, though, that wealth buys influence and that rich and powerful people generally want to protect and expand their wealth and power. You’d think someone on the threshold of middle-age (he’s 39) would have noticed a little earlier. This is what George Orwell published in 1941, when he was 38. Continue reading
Among the most graceful of birds, they have the ugliest faces; in the countenance of a seagull we observe all the bitter hatred and malignance which we usually associate with the faces of money-lenders or book censors.
Some of the best BBC dramas can be the most irritating. By the best I mean those they’re most pleased with, whose cushions they are forever plumping, whose production values are the most ambitious. Take, say, the increasingly indistinguishable Sherlock and Dr Who, for which the structure, pacing, editing, characterization, mannerisms, tics and assumptions have become hauntingly similar. Continue reading
Andy Hamilton is an author, broadcaster, foraging guide and accidental expert—he has an unusual dedication to following wherever his interests take him. Mostly this has been to the areas of alcohol and self-sufficiency, frequently in the overlap between the two. His published books include The Selfsufficient-ish Bible (2009, co-authored with his twin brother), Booze for Free (2011) and Brewing Britain (2013).
Andy contributes to various TV and radio shows on subjects ranging from survival and foraging through to home brewing and gardening. Highlights include telling BBC Radio 2’s Simon Mayo how to make the perfect elderflower champagne and nearly taking the Autumnwatch cast’s teeth out with his toffee apples. His most recent appearance was on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme (‘Wild Booze’). He regularly blogs about home brewing, beer, foraging and gardening on his website, while you can also follow him on Twitter.
The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov (translated by Amanda Love Darragh). ‘We live in an interesting country, these are interesting times … we can’t help being interesting ourselves’. A Russo-Ukrainian novel. My review for Nudge.
The first of Kurkov’s novels to be translated into English was Death and the Penguin, in 2001; the Russian-language original, Smert’postoronnego, had been published in Ukraine five years earlier. It was an oblique, unpredictable success. A hard-boiled portrait of post-Soviet Ukraine, with its gangsters and corrupt politicians and its moral and physical uncertainty, could easily have attracted some earnest critical interest, but this was different. It seemed plausible and even matter of fact, offering an insight into its time and place, but with this came a protagonist with a pet penguin and a job straight from a sinister version of GK Chesterton’s Club of Queer Trades, where eccentrically employed members must have invented the means by which they earn their living.
This is an easy book to ignore or underrate. It’s less well known than the two films that have been made from it, and then it’s a Western, now horribly unfashionable. The story is good enough, but the best things in it are the least likely: quality of writing and a sort of humorous realism. A serviceable plot made brilliant by superbly worked characterisation and narrative isn’t what you’d expect from a much-filmed Western, but there you have it.
Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews. When the Wild West was also the Wild East. My Nudge review.
By 1812 the border of the Tsar’s dominions was on what is today called the Russian River, an hour’s drive north of San Francisco along California’s Highway 1. Russia also—briefly—had a colony on Hawaii. Rezanov spent much of his life passionately advocating the idea that America’s west coast could be a province of Russia, and the Pacific a Russian sea. This was no mad pipe dream but a very real possibility.