Waiting to Cross

In a crowded room at a detention centre in Zawiya in western Libya, women from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Eretria, Benin, Liberia, Chad and Niger told me they wanted to go back home. The men who weren’t locked up were gathered separately in a few rooms, or outside cooking on a small fire and listening to rap. More »

Where is ‘The Secret of England’s Greatness’?

In the middle of Room 23 (‘Empire and Expansion’) of the National Portrait Gallery, between the explorers and officers on one side and Florence Nightingale receiving the Crimean wounded on the other, is a selection of cartes de visites and group photographs of visitors to the Houses of Parliament. The calling cards include those of the Parsee intellectual Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian to become an MP (for Central Finsbury in 1892), and ‘Mr Stanley, in the dress he wore when he met Livingstone in Africa’. More »

On Spring Street

1_101springstreet4‘I wrote criticism as a mercenary and would never have written it otherwise,’ Donald Judd wrote in 1974. ‘Since there were no set hours and since I could work at home it was a good part-time job.’ Caitlin Murray quotes this in her introduction to a new collection of the artist’s writing. Like everything I’ve read by Judd, it’s matter of fact, utilitarian – plain in ways that conceal the effort that might have gone into the actual work. More »

Three Deaths per Minute

Ousainou Sarr came to the UK from Gambia more than two decades ago. For two years he experienced typical tuberculosis symptoms – weight loss, profuse night sweats, a persistent cough – but his GP never suspected he might have TB. He was living rough on the streets of London, the TB capital of Western Europe, when the Find & Treat van offering TB screening arrived. The van is a specialist NHS outreach service that aims to tackle TB among homeless people, drug or alcohol users, vulnerable migrants and ex-prisoners across the UK, by providing screening and access to care. More than 9000 cases of TB were diagnosed in the UK last year. More »

Musique de France

I’ve been to Paris a lot in the last year or so. When I get offered DJ gigs in the city, I usually say yes and, if possible, stay for an extra day or three. At the time of the terrorist attacks in the 10th and 11th arrondissements a year ago I was at home in Manchester, but I know the area quite well. In 2010 I saw Trentemøller perform at the Bataclan. A journalist working for Les Inrocks, a French magazine I sometimes write for, was murdered in the theatre. A club promoter I met in 2013 lost seven friends at one of the bars. More »

Leonard Cohen and Me

Leonard Cohen has died. I was sorry to think that the last big world event this guru of chilled-out but vaguely sad-flavoured spiritual love had stuck around to witness was Trump’s victory. (More recent reports say he died on Monday, so at least he got to miss the election.)

There was always an element of kitsch to his profundities, and that probably applies to the music, too, which sometimes sounds like the shy campfire strummings of the guy at school who carries an untranslated Rimbaud in his jeans, the kid at camp in a weird hat who sits around playing guitar not because he has lots of friends but because he doesn’t. More »

The Nightmare Begins

Donald Trump’s quasi-apocalyptic victory marks the end of American exceptionalism: a certain idea of America, as a model of democracy and freedom, is dead. Trump didn’t kill it; he declared it dead with a campaign that was as surreal as it was reactionary. ‘It’s a nightmare,’ a French friend wrote to me in an email. ‘It’s worse than a nightmare,’ I replied. ‘It’s reality.’ More »

11/9

Kids were OK, they said maybe Michelle Obama can be president next time, we decided they would write to her to ask. Five-year-old was dismayed to learn that DT will be president until she is nine, which feels like forever. When we walked out the door the crossing guard on our corner shouted: ‘You remember 9/11? Well this is 11/9. Think about it.’ More »

Insubstantial Champions

There are many similarities between the Brexit vote and Trump’s win. The reliance for victory on white voters without a college education, fear of immigration, globalisation being blamed for mine and factory closures, hostility towards data-based arguments, the breakdown of the distinction between ‘belief’ and ‘conclusion’, the internet’s power to sort the grain of pleasing lies from the chaff of displeasing facts, the sense of there being a systematic programme of rules and interventions devised by a small, remote, powerful elite that polices everyday speech, destroys symbols of tradition, ignores or patronises ‘real’, ‘ordinary’ people, and has contempt for popular narratives of how the nation came to be. More »

What now for the left?

While Donald Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in the US presidential race is the starkest example of the failure of the centre-left to confront the rise of right-wing populism, a similar pattern has already been set across Europe. More »

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