Energy Rights

‘If it rains could you pop into ours to switch that thing on?’ my neighbour said before going away for the weekend. ‘And while you’re at it, make yourself a cup of tea; you can also do your washing.’ Their flat was recently flooded, and the company responsible for the leaking roof gave them a dehumidifier and offered to pay their electricity bills until the problem is resolved.

On Monday I went to the launch of the Energy Bill of Rights at the House of Commons. More »

Mais non, monsieur

joyce proust

In one of his recently published letters to his wife, Véra, Nabokov gives yet another version of the legendary encounter between Joyce and Proust in 1922. The various accounts of the meeting (many of them collected in Richard Ellmann’s Life of Joyce) disagree on almost everything, though it probably happened at a party given by the writer Sydney Schiff to celebrate the opening of Stravinsky’s Renard in Paris on 18 May. According to one version of the story, Joyce arrived drunk and poorly dressed; Proust, draped in furs, opened the door. More »

Fungal Forays

Eat these

Eat these

Amanita caesarea is an edible mushroom that grows around the Mediterranean from late August to October. In France, it’s known as the oronge, in Italy the ovolo. In London, they’re Caesars, or that’s what the greengrocer said when I bought some last week. He’d heard about them for years, but this was the first time he’d seen them at New Covent Garden. There weren’t many takers over the next few days, I noticed; orange and yellow, Caesars are beguiling to look at, but that’s their problem. Mushroom buyers in Britain tend to like their fungi to look like a suit: neutral. More »

In Tunisia

Campaigners for Tunisia’s largest Islamist movement, Ennahda, have tended to avoid the subject of religion in the run-up to Sunday’s election. Instead, they talk about the details of their manifesto: a promise of economic growth and a strong stand against terrorism, the need for a national unity government, increased state grants for students, longer maternity leave for women working in the public sector, even the chance for expatriate Tunisians to send home a second car from abroad at a much reduced tax rate. More »

Among the Developers

The property industry met at Kensington Olympia last week. MIPIM (Le marché international des professionnels de l’immobilier), held in Cannes for the last 25 years, came to London for the first time, gathering together ‘all professionals looking to close deals in the UK property market’. Tickets cost £500. (I had a press pass.) Day one kicked off with the announcement of a deal ‘to deliver the £400 million Kirkstall Forge development in Leeds’. The large sums of money and vague management speak remained a key feature for the three days of the conference. More »

Ryss Skräck

Loch Ness Sub

Sweden has always had a problem with Russians and the sea. You can see why when you visit the Stockholm Archipelago and learn about the days when whole islands were set on fire by Russian invaders in the 18th century. Covered with fir trees and little wooden houses, they are very combustible. Whole towns were burned down. It was called a ‘terror’ campaign. Against this, Sweden’s eastern defences are not too impressive. The story is told of the Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke that he laughed ‘only twice in his life: once when he heard of the death of his mother-in-law, and then when he visited Waxholm.’ Waxholm fort was supposed to be Stockholm’s outer defence. More »

Who’s afraid of ‘Klinghoffer’?

The Death of Klinghoffer, John Adams’s 1991 opera about the hijacking of the Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, has achieved a rare distinction in contemporary classical music: it’s considered so dangerous by its critics that they’d like to have it banned. For its opponents – the Klinghoffer family, Daniel Pearl’s father, conservative Jewish organisations, and now the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former New York governor George Pataki, who took part in a noisy demonstration outside the Met last nightKlinghoffer is no less a sacrilege than The Satanic Verses was to Khomeini and his followers. They haven’t issued a fatwa, but they have done their best to sabotage the production ever since the Met announced it. More »

In George Square

‘I came down here to support Tommy,’ the man said when I asked why he’d given over his Sunday to stand in the middle of George Square and listen to a stream of speeches, mainly about the perfidy of Albion. ‘I think he’s had a raw deal.’ Tommy Sheridan was on stage in a Yes T-shirt. Between the bronchial sound system and us was a sea of Saltires and homemade signs. A trio of mocked-up heads with the faces of Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Alistair Darling bobbed above the crowd, with a placard labelling them the ‘3 stooges’ and ‘traitors’. More »

At Frieze


There are champagne and pizza in the courtyard at Frieze but no ashtrays, so attendants with brooms circulate two paces behind the smokers, collecting the debris. Inside, the bins are concealed in the walls to save visitors the embarrassment of admiring, or trying to buy, non-art that could easily be confused with the art-art. Safe in its playground, the art-art makes the most of this: it’s all over the floor. Dog bowls with a little water beneath one picture, three pears near a wall, oversized wine glasses, a pile of vegetables. More »


A few years ago, a colleague in the English department told me she was vexed by her son’s addiction to, and incessant chatter about, a video game. The implication was that his time would be better spent reading. I asked what the game was.

Braid,’ she said.

‘Dude,’ I said. ‘You’ve got to play Braid. It’s awesome!’

It wasn’t long ago that many of us in academia regarded video games as little more than the violent and misogynist recreational pursuits of our least attentive students, things that our children should be protected from. But games have matured as an art form in the past decade, and are now among the most vital and quickly evolving cultural phenomena. More »

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