Solemn futility in the higher places

British-politicians-2011
Gordon Brown, Anthony Blair, John Major, Nicholas Clegg and David Cameron. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Executive Office of the President of the United States.

In the real dark night of the soul, it’s always election o’clock. Here come the endlessly repeated phrases, the lines to take today, the turgid interviews, the let me be absolutely clears and hard-working families, the swapping of business/celebrity/expert endorsements, the gaffes and the unread manifestos.

Before you despair, remember that ’twas ever thus… Continue reading

Brexit: the movie

Rashômon poster. Credit: Akira Kurosawa/Daiei (1950).
Rashômon poster. Credit: Akira Kurosawa/Daiei (1950).

The Spectator’s affably pro-Remain business correspondent, Martin Vander Weyer, invited readers to answer the party-game question ‘If Brexit was a film…?’ Naturally most replies have been satirically pro-Leave, readers being what they are, and Vander Weyer asked for more Remainers to have a go, but then I got to thinking… Continue reading

Goodbye to all that. Leaving Bristol

bristol-exitI like Bristol plenty, enough to live here for nearly fifteen years, but I’m not sure I like it in the way I’m supposed to. A typical Bristol enthusiast will tell you that it’s a vibrant, diverse, happening place, like a laid-back outpost of trendy London in the provinces, or a West Country Brighton. A friend overheard a Bristol University student say, ‘Bristol is like a sort of second-home London.’ Well, yah. Continue reading

Ecstasy and efficiency

When everything about a people is for the time growing weak and ineffective, it begins to talk about efficiency. So it is that when a man’s body is a wreck he begins, for the first time, to talk about health.  Vigorous organisms talk not about their processes, but about their aims. There cannot be any better proof of the physical efficiency of a man than that he talks cheerfully of a journey to the end of the world. And there cannot be any better proof of the practical efficiency of a nation than that it talks constantly of a journey to the end of the world, a journey to the Judgment Day and the New Jerusalem.  There can be no stronger sign of a coarse material health than the tendency to run after high and wild ideals; it is in the first exuberance of infancy that we cry for the moon. None of the strong men in the strong ages would have understood what you meant by working for efficiency. Hildebrand would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for the Catholic Church.  Danton would have said that he was working not for efficiency, but for liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Even if the ideal of such men were simply the ideal of kicking a man downstairs, they thought of the end like men, not of the process like paralytics. They did not say, “Efficiently elevating my right leg, using, you will notice, the muscles of the thigh and calf, which are in excellent order, I—” Their feeling was quite different. They were so filled with the beautiful vision of the man lying flat at the foot of the staircase that in that ecstasy the rest followed in a flash.

G K Chesterton 1905 Heretics

Dread words from the advertising lexicon

spa-pampering
Someone being pampered. It could only be worse if it were by candlelight in an indoor spa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

My dislike of the word ‘pamper’ suddenly caught fire recently. Walking through an English seaside town, I saw sign after sign advertising ‘pamper packages’ of some sort. There was competition to see who could offer the most ludicrously overblown one; fourteen hours of pampering and spa treatments by candlelight as you’re fed Turkish Delight by captive apes wearing golden chains, each trained to whisper because you’re worth it and smile sympathetically, their grave simian eyes showing that they understand and value you—they don’t judge. Continue reading

There’s nowt so hard as fops

spectators-print-shop
© Trustees of the British Museum. (This version cropped.)

We tend to think of fops as weak, coddled, over-groomed, and lacking in mettle. A man wearing make-up, a powdered wig and silks, speaking with an affected drawl and striking artful poses; a woman with towering hair and a lapdog, fanning herself with infinite boredom and leisure. The 18th-century gentry must have been be soft, lacking in grit, surely? Continue reading

Cold, snow, winter and the remote north

Iceland sunrise
Þingvellir National Park at sunrise (southern Iceland). Credit: Meredith Katzman.

We had a few cold days, but for the most part December was horribly mild. It felt like a reverse Narnia; ‘always Christmas but never winter’. That’s not to sneer at Christmas, there’s much to be said for eating, drinking, and irrational, even stupid cheerfulness. But without winter it all seemed a bit thinner, more watery, less convincing. It was more about the trappings and less about the feel of the thing. Continue reading