Saturday, May 05, 2007


While I'm waiting for my New Yorker subscriptions to arrive (they're currently over a week late, and if I don't get at least one on Monday I'm going to dash off an angry email to them), I got a copy of my favourite Tory mag, The Spectator, to amuse myself. The editorial itself is awful - about rubbish collection in local English councils - and full of crazy lines like -

... landfill produces huge quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more damaging to the climate than the emission of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. We need to dump less and recycle more.

Aside from the bizarrely exact claim that methane is '23 times more damaging to the climate than... carbon dioxide' (where did they get these figures from? Since climate science is so full of unknowns anyway, how can you say that so-and-so is '23 times more damaging' than such-and-such and be trusted?), you also have to wonder whether recycling, which is rather energy intensive, wouldn't end up expending a whole heap of carbon dioxide anyway. Frankly, I'd prefer an all-out polemic against global warming rather than this squeamish Tory acquiescence to the idea.

Anyway, it gets better. Charles Moore has a wonderful weekly column, 'The Spectators Notes', headed by a picture of a fox scratching itself outside the door of the Spectator's office in Old Queen Street.

I have always been very sorry that I offended Terry Major-Ball, who died last week, by referring to his brother John Major as 'the son of a failed trapeze artist'. As the Daily Telegraph obituary reported, Mr Major-Ball rang me up at home to complain, but instead found my wife, who charmed him out of his wrath so successfully that he went on ringing her quite often for a year or two. Once or twice I took the call myself, and Terry and I made it up.

Patrick Marnham has an outrageous piece of French-bashing about their presidential elections that begins thusly:

Every nation has its rituals. In Britain, when the head of state opens a flower show, she drives up, alights, puts on her spectacles and reads her speech. But Britain is an anachronistic monarchy. In the Fifth Republic they order things differently. First the police close the surrounding streets 24 hours earlier. Then uniformed workers with security clearance erect scaffolding and a stage. Then they drape the stage in crimson velvet and hang up an escutcheon and nail down a red carpet. And finally a police van drives up with sniffer dogs and a throne - an authentic, gilded, high-backed bronze-encrusted fauteuil straight from the repository of the Elysee Palace - and thye dogs sniff and the throne is carried out of the presidential van and placed reverently in front of the attendant microphone.

Now I'm sure the sniffer dogs are out in force in Britain too, but that detail about the throne is fantastic. Vive la France bashing!

The arts pages are great, opening with a fascinating piece about London's empty houses (the owners buy them up and then don't live in them while waiting for the market prices to rise). Charles Moore, mentioned above, also writes interestingly about 'The bicentenary of the Literary Society', even if the first five paragraphs, virtually, consist of shameless name dropping.

There's also Deborah Ross who, writing about film, somehow manages not to write about film:

I always, for example, weigh myself while holding on to the sink, which is actually a good idea as otherwise I'd probably be fat).

And Jeremy Clarke - the best columnist on board, in the absence of Boris Johnson:

Sharon's hugs are either dismissively cursory or it's like being caught in the death grip of a predatory spider. It depends entirely on how much she's had to drink. Either way it's amazing how insubstantial she is for somebody who has such a devastating effect on civil society.

And the competitions page has a neat variation on Kafka - readers have been 'invited to submit a piece of prose describing what happens when you wake up one morning to find yourself transformed into an insect but not a beetle. Beetles were outlawed so that you weren't scribbling quite so much in Kafka's shadow.' Perhaps proving that the secret of a magazine's success lies in the intelligence and wit of its readers, the answers are marvellous:

Next thing I'm waking up as a sodding flea!

... a female ant. Which means apparently that for no good reason and without my consent I've been plunged into a kind of primitive male-supremacist hell, where I do nothing but work while the blokes spend their time fertilising the queen.... now I'm just part of an eusocial superorganism...

Great stuff. And I haven't even got to the Dear Mary column yet. Is it just me, though, or does the magazine seem a little adrift in the absence of Boris Johnson as editor? Granted, it was always ridiculous to have an editor/feature writer on staff who was not only a Tory minister, but who also started having it off with members of the staff. But he was also a brilliant literary talent. I think the Tories have a lot to answer for in stealing Boris from that magazine and shoving him in the face of the public as a politician, the bastards!


Karen said...

If Boris Johnson didn't exist someone would have to invent him.

TimT said...

He does tick all the boxes quite nicely, doesn't he?

Karen said...

He's a delightfully precise toff.

Steve said...

I dunno, I know little of Johnson, but from I have seen of him, he strikes me as rather a poseur.

On the issue of literature and reading generally, Tim did you track down a copy of Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles"? I still strongly recommend "Something Wicked this Way Comes", too. (I think it is probably his best novel, although come to think of it maybe it is the only one I have read.)

TimT said...

You've got to be a poseur as a politician, and many writers are poseurs as well - certainly if they're writing about themselves. His stuttering Tory boy act is at once deliberate and accidental, but he's got an interesting background - I think his grandfather was a minister in the Turkish cabinet!

I've got two Bradbury books, one of short stories ('Golden Apples of the Sun') which I read and was marvellous. 'The Martian Chronicles' is waiting for an opportune time.

shamil said...

I just had to say you are so very right about the Speccie's drift since the days of Boris. Still love the magazine but it seems to have become a little too middlebrow newsmagazine-like.

Anyway that's my view. Intriguing blog by the way.


Charles Murton said...

Boris went wobbly after he became an MP. The Speccie was a much better magazine ten years ago than it is now.

On the Kafka issue, in Metamorphosis the character is transformed into a dung beetle. A lot of plays and commentaries identify the insect as a cockroach, which is quite wrong.

A dung beetle has wings. An irony of the story is that Gregor could have flown away from his horrible family, but he didn't realise it.

Charles Murton said...

And another thing, as Paul Johnson would say...

'Boris' is the only first name which is the same in all languages. It is spelt the same in all languages that have a Latin alphabet, and pronounced the same in all languages.

TimT said...

I'm both glad and sad that my opinions about the magazine have been confirmed. Even Jeremy Clarke's Low Life column is what it once was - his muse*, Sharon has left town. I wonder what he'll do for column filler now she's gone?

*Well, sort of.

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