Are there any circumstances under which people won’t go on holiday?
In summer 1917, Russia was three years into a war that it was losing badly, there had been a revolution in February and there would be another one in October, and after that there would be years of civil war. Casualties in the army were shocking, as were civilian deaths from hunger and disease. Everything was chaotic and unstable; all that was solid had melted into air.
But when Lenin fled from possible arrest in St Petersburg in July 1917, leaving from Sestroretsk Station, the terminus for a small coastal railway, the trains were busy with holidaymakers:
It was the peak of the summer season and the trains were packed with middle-class passengers leaving the capital and going off to enjoy the seaside and the fresh air.1Continue reading →
My last piece on TV Licensing caught fire and is now the most read thing on my website. A few things came up in the responses on social media and elsewhere that I wanted to mention1. Continue reading →
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 letme be absolutely clears and hard-working families, the swapping of business/celebrity/expert endorsements, the gaffes and the unread manifestos.
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 the replies have been partisan, either pro-Leave or pro-Remain, but then I got to thinking… Continue reading →
I 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 →
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.
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 →
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 →
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 →
In the late 19th century terrorism and unrest were commonplace in parts of Europe and the United States. Anarchists were the main bogeymen, though there were numerous violently progressive movements, each hating the others. Anarchists were a mysterious and little understood underground, haunting the popular imagination, much written about in the newspapers and in novels and stories, both feared and fascinating. There was a certain dark glamour and they terrified beyond any rational danger. There were many, many more likely causes of death, but there is something intimidating about someone desiring your death impersonally, and apparently not fearing their own. We feel this now as much as then, and it’s as well to get some perspective. Continue reading →
Hitler once had a friend, of sorts: August ‘Gustl’ Kubizek. In the 1950s Kubizek wrote a memoir of young Adolf, a careful but somewhat sentimental and admiring one.
For a vital phase during the early years of his life, his late teenage years in Linz and Vienna, when we otherwise have tantalisingly little to go on, Hitler had a personal—and exclusive —friend, who later composed a striking account of the four years of their close companionship. This friend was August Kubizek. His account is unique in that it stands alone in offering insights into Hitler’s character and mentality for the four years between 1904 and 1908. It is unique, too, in that it is the only description from any period of Hitler’s life provided by an undoubted personal friend—even if that friendship was both relatively brief and almost certainly one-sided. For, like everyone else who came into contact with Hitler, Kubizek would soon learn that friends, like others, would be dropped as soon as they had served their purpose.
It’s natural for us to assume that the Great War was not just a formative experience, but the formative experience for anyone who fought in it. We also tend to assume that the experience was disillusioning at best, and psychologically ruinous at worst. The truth is, unsurprisingly, more subtle and varied. Continue reading →
Dame Janet Suzman recently made some cock-eyed remarks about theatre being a ‘white invention’, it coming from the (ancient) Greeks via Shakespeare, provoking a lot of fury, angst and uncertain history. I’m not going to add to the rage, but I will say something about the Greek side of the question. Continue reading →