Sisi’s Secret Gardens

The masters of Egypt’s arcane bureaucracy are still using ‘special funds’, or extra-budgetary slush-fund accounts, to siphon off state revenues for private gain and dispersal to patronage networks. Before he was deposed and locked up, Mohamed Morsi made a few half-hearted attempts to reform the special funds system and repatriate money to the treasury. But Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who recently announced a ‘national anti-corruption strategy’, has made no serious move against this idiosyncratic levy, which flourished under Sadat in the 1970s and increased dramatically under Mubarak in the 1980s. The secret gardens of Egypt’s bureaucracy and deep state may be harder to intrude on than Sisi claims to believe. More »

On the Tube

Eduardo Paolozzi's Tottenham Court Road mosaics.

Eduardo Paolozzi’s Tottenham Court Road mosaics.

There was general upset earlier this year when TFL revealed that the redevelopment of Tottenham Court Road station would lead to the removal of portions of Eduardo Paolozzi’s 1984 mosaics. The 20th-Century Society called – again – for a register of public art and bemoaned English Heritage’s failure to list them (as they had the water fountains at the station, also removed). Most of the murals, TFL says 95 per cent, remain in situ and are being restored, but the arches at the top of the escalators, which made going underground look like descending into Ali Baba’s futurist cave, are gone.  More »

If the Children Dared to Speak

With the exception of the novels he serialised in them – Hard TimesA Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations – the contents of Charles Dickens’s weeklies Household Words and All the Year Round have mostly been forgotten. But the lucky purchase by the book dealer Jeremy Parrott of a bound set of All the Year Round with handwritten marginalia identifying nearly all the anonymous contributors of its 2500 articles, stories and poems has generated much excitement. The handwriting seems mostly to be Dickens’s own, and names Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins and Lewis Carroll among many others: the speculation is that the bound set was Dickens’s file copy, which he kept in the flat above the office.

Whether the number of general readers will increase – in spite of the complete availability of both weeklies’ contents online – is hard to say. It would be a great pity if it didn’t. Although the articles were written a century and a half ago, they covered many issues that still trouble us, and show that what we tend to think of as new and malignant manifestations of modernity are anything but new.  More »

In Sofia

Djaved says he has learned that you can haggle with a policeman for anything in Sofia. At 10.15 on the morning we met it was already over 30ºC, but we went for a walk anyway. I grew up wandering these streets after school. Yuch Bunar, as the area near the Central Market Hall was once called, has traditionally been the home of migrants, Jews, traders, musicians. It is the most culturally and historically dense part of the city, and the buildings haven’t changed much since the late 19th century. They haven’t been intentionally preserved – just left undisturbed. The area has a synagogue, a mosque, one Catholic and two Orthodox churches, all working, all in one square mile, all peeling stucco in different shades of ochre, just minutes away from Parliament Square, where the buildings are in pale grey stone: the council of ministers, the presidential palace, the national bank. More »

What’s a Gang?

According to the Policing and Crime Act 2009, for violence to be ‘gang-related’ means that it involves at least three people, associated with a particular geographical area, who have ‘a name, emblem or colour’ which allows others to identify them as a group. Last month this was revised in new statutory guidance from the Home Office. There’s no longer any mention of geographical territory or gang emblems: a ‘gang’ is any group that commits crime and has ‘one or more characteristics that enable its members to be identified as a group’. There’s no mention of what those ‘characteristics’ might be. More »

Separation by Symmetry

plan-of-bethlehem-hospital

Plans of the 1815 New Bethlem Hospital in Southwark included in the Richard Dadd exhibition at the Watts Gallery, Compton, show complete segregation between male and female inmates. The ground plan consisted of two identical halves, except for the outlying women’s criminal building, which was considerably smaller than the men’s. There could be no chance meetings between men and women in a secure home for the ‘criminally insane’. More »

Osbonomics

stalin2A new five-year plan is always a landmark event in the life of the people. The chancellor has acknowledged the deviationist errors of the past. He has re-educated himself since the 2012 budget which tried to VAT meat pies, a staple of the worker’s diet. He has learned how to do glottal stops so he can tell the people how it is in a language they understand. He is the economy’s friend. He knows that a friend to the economy is a friend to the worker, the powerhouse of the land. More »

Soft-Moving, Bright-Eyed Wild Thing

'Dancer' by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1913).

‘Dancer’ by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1913).

‘There are few things more difficult than to appraise the work of a man suddenly dead in his youth,’ Ezra Pound wrote in his book about Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, the sculptor killed in the trenches at 23 whose work Pound had tirelessly helped to promote. Gaudier was mercurial, and many found him difficult to fathom: one friend wrote that he was ‘more like a dagger in the midst of us’; another that ‘it would need but little to set him murdering instead of hugging me.’ He found a protector in Pound, who described him on first meeting as a ‘soft-moving bright-eyed wild thing’. More »

At Cemetery Junction

A still from 'Riding on Air' (1959).

A still from ‘Riding on Air’ (1959).

When Vittorio De Sica was looking for funding to make the film that became Bicycle Thieves, the story goes, David O. Selznick offered to put up the money on condition that the lead would be played by Cary Grant. Film historians tend to take this as an instance of Hollywood crassness, though maybe it should be classed as one of cinema’s lost opportunities. More »

At the French Institute

Meursault, contre-enquête by Kamel Daoud came out in English translation last month. The plaudits in the UK and US have a rare ring of authenticity: Daoud’s book is a dazzling appropriation of L’Etranger, sceptical, impatient, yet full of admiration for a canonical little fiction. He is The Outsider’s nerdiest insider. He knows every line (and occasionally quotes or tweaks them in his ‘own’ novel): he has inhabited the text and argued with it for years. Edward Said published Culture and Imperialism in 1993, as the war between Algeria’s Islamists and the ancien régime – still in power today, after half a century – was getting under way. That’s over. But so is the age of postcolonial condescension, a confident, proscriptive age, which threw out Camus’s best work along with a lot of his high-minded anguish. Daoud has reopened the conversation about an interesting novel. More »

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