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 →
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.
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 →
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 →