At University College Hospital

Not so long ago, I had a bicycle accident in the quarter of Camden Town that forms the background for many of Frank Auerbach’s paintings. The front wheel lost its grip as I rode over a manhole cover, made more slippery that morning by overnight rain. It was bad luck, but my good luck it wasn’t worse — my bike slipped away to the left, I fell to the right, my hip and chest took most of the impact, I wasn’t wearing a helmet, it happened on a side street used by few cars, two people picked me up.
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Corbyn’s Right to Reshuffle

The old Labour establishment’s loud objections to Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle betray a belief that shadow cabinet members have a moral and democratic right to their jobs. Had Corbyn, like almost any party leader in history, appointed a shadow foreign secretary who shared his foreign policy, dismissing Hilary Benn would have prompted even more outrage from Labour’s centrists.

The outrage has no democratic basis. The power to reshuffle and remove shadow ministers is, to be sure, a power from above, but it has been granted to Corbyn by the biggest popular mandate any Labour leader has ever had. Michael Dugher, Pat McFadden, Hilary Benn and Maria Eagle, on the other hand, were not elected by anyone to speak for the Labour Party as a whole. Their only mandate is from their constituents, which gives them the right to a seat in the Commons for the duration of this parliament, not a place in the shadow cabinet. More »

Eternal Bowie

Halfway through his final performance as Ziggy Stardust, at the Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973, David Bowie sang ‘My Death’, his version of ‘La Mort’ by Jacques Brel. It’s a faintly ridiculous song, rich with pompous melancholy, but he carries it off wonderfully. ‘Whatever lies behind the door/there is nothing much to do/angel or devil, I don’t care/for in front of that door/there is you.’ The last time through the chorus – in D.A. Pennebaker’s film of the concert you can see a tear, or a drop of sweat, glisten in the corner of Bowie’s eye – he pauses before the last word, and voices from the audience call out, as they may have done before, and would do again: ‘Me! Me!’ Whether he was expecting the response or not, his gaze flickers across his fans, as if picking them out one by one, and his ghostly face breaks into an unforced smile of pleasure and surprise. ‘Thank you,’ he says.

Sleazier Sounds

Steve Mackay, the saxophone player, died in October. I found out just last week, after falling into a YouTube hole marked ‘Stooges’, though his death was covered not only by the music press but by the Washington Post and the Guardian. This is slightly surprising; Mackay did many things with his life, but he’s known for playing on a few tracks on one album, which came out 45 years ago. Then again, the album is Fun House, and one of those tracks is ‘1970’ – mind-blowing, earth-shattering music, which really was made to shatter the earth: ‘What the Stooges put into ten minutes was so total and so very savage,’ Iggy Pop wrote in his memoir, I Need More, ‘the earth shook, then cracked, and swallowed all misery whole.’ More »

‘France is our life’

French law allows naturalised citizens to be stripped of their citizenship if they commit a serious crime. Three days after the 13 November attacks in Paris, President Hollande announced that he wanted to extend the law to all citizens with dual nationality, a measure originally advocated by the Front National. The proposal will be debated in the National Assembly at the beginning of February.

Rachid Ait El Haj, Bachir Ghoumid, Attila Turk, Fouad Charouali et Redouane Aberbri are in their late thirties or early forties. Four of them were born Moroccan, one Turkish, but they have all spent most of their lives in France and acquired French nationality. Last October they found out they’d lost it. ‘I was at home with my daughter, watching BFM TV,’ Attila told me. ‘They said five men – including one Franco-Turk – had been stripped of their French citizenship. It had to be us.’ More »

Labour’s Foreign Policy Quandaries

The Labour Party has always been split over foreign policy. The Boer War, fought between capitalists and racists, made it difficult to choose a side; likewise the First World War (imperialism v. Prussianism); less so the Second World War, which divided the Conservatives more. The Falklands War was fought against a fascist dictator, but by the hated Thatcher and in defence of a colonial relic. And then there’s the Iraq War and the bombing of Syria. More »

Uncle Bob

My uncle Bob died a few days before Christmas. I got my height from the same place he did. He was 6'7" and for most of his life well north of twenty stone. He reminded me of the joke about Friar Tuck. ‘Don’t worry, he’s one of us,’ somebody tells Robin Hood, and Robin says: ‘One of us? He looks like three of us.’ In most of Bellow’s novels there is a Bellow stand-in, sensitive, successful in his way, but a little dreamy also, unwilling to acknowledge worldly realities, and his big brother, who is bigger physically, too, big-hearted, unpredictable, but greatly loving – he tries to make the Bellow figure face the world. More »

Possession

For many fans, football is a dad’s game. Fathers introduce their sons (and, less often, daughters) to it, and they may build their relationship to each other through the game. Club loyalty is often passed on from father to son. For adult fans, following football can be a legitimate return to lost childhood, with managers as replacement father figures. Football phone-in radio shows are a Freudian feast of grown men blaming managers for all their problems or showing boundless faith in them.

In O, Louis: In Search of Louis van Gaal, the Dutch journalist Hugo Borst zones in on the death of van Gaal’s father when Louis was 11 as the formative event in his development. Van Gaal remembers his father as an ‘authoritarian figure; at home there was a mixture of warmth and strict adherence to moral standards.’ According to Borst, van Gaal as a football manager is trying to be the father he had taken away from him. More »

Fireman Shostakovich

shostroof

On 20 July 1942, Time magazine led with a story on ‘Fireman Shostakovich’. ‘Amid bombs bursting in Leningrad he heard the chords of victory,’ the caption on the cover said, under a picture based on a Soviet propaganda photo taken on the roof of the Leningrad Conservatoire in September 1941. More »

After the Deluge

ohagan stormThe average mid-life crisis ends in a red sports car, but mine landed in a caravan. I bought it during a fearful rainstorm 18 months ago and moved my fishing rod in the following day. There are two bottles of whisky here and a pot of soup on the hob; there’s a jar of pencils, an old typewriter, and a nice edition of The Mill on the Floss, which contains the best written account of a British flood that presently exists. As I write, and look out at the Clyde Firth, I fear that George Eliot’s coagulated waters might be about to overtop Ailsa Craig, the craggy rock in the middle of the sea that in my childhood was called Paddy’s Milestone. More »

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  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

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