I received d.p. houston’s poetry collection Boîte de Vers in the post last week. It’s completely unreadable, but not in the sense that it’s bad. It could well be, but I have no idea because it comes in a sealed box, ‘in sloppy hommage to the spirit of Schrödinger’s Cat’. There are apparently five of these boxes in circulation; mine is lettered A. The precise nature of its contents is indeterminate. I could break the seal of strong black tape and open the box, but doing so would alter it. Not least because I would then be required to fill in the attached label with a cross or tick ‘to indicate whether or not the intrusion comes to be regretted’. It feels like a puzzle, or a personality test: what kind of person would open the box?

20 May 2019

You win or you die

John Lanchester

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen

Game of Thrones is arguably responsible for a quarter of my not being able to speak Spanish. Has it been worth it?

17 May 2019

Power Plays

Benjamin Markovits

The first mistake I made when I joined the basketball team in Germany was admitting I spoke the language. It would have been weird not to – it would have been very weird. But sometimes over the course of the year, I imagined what it would be like for people around me (coaches, players) to talk naturally with each other in the expectation that I couldn’t understand them. It would have given me an edge.

16 May 2019

Drawn from Life

Gillian Darley

One of Margaret Gillies’s illustrations for the 1842 Report of the Children’s Employment Commission

The Report of the Children’s Employment Commission, published in 1842, was compiled by Dickens’s friend Richard Henry Horne. The result of a three-year investigation, it was unprecedented, not merely for the level of shocking detail and first-hand evidence, but because it was illustrated. And most of the 26 images were by Gillies.

15 May 2019

Safe, Solid and Unquestionable

James Butler

Saturday’s Times carried on its front page a protracted complaint by the headmaster of Stowe School that Oxbridge was actively discriminating against the beneficiaries of private education, and that any complaint about the staggering overrepresentation of the privately educated in every avenue of British life was born of the same reasoning as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was a particularly inept rendition of a favoured right-wing talking point: that any analysis which talks in terms of groups or classes is already merrily chugging along to the gulag, with precious individuality flattened under its wheels.

13 May 2019

The Measles Scandal

Hugh Pennington

Graphical representation of a measles virus particle, from the CDC Public Health Image Library

In 2004 I described the basis of attacks on the MMR vaccine as ‘unsubstantiated speculation masquerading as science’, and finished the piece: ‘I despair.’ Measles is now busier in Europe than it was fifteen years ago.

10 May 2019

Incredible Untrue Events

Jeremy Bernstein

Melita Norwood (far left) with her mother, sister and half-brother in the 1920s

Trevor Nunn’s movie Red Joan, starring Sophie Cookson and Judi Dench, claims to be ‘based on incredible true events’, namely the life of Melita Norwood. But the story told by the film is so far from the truth it’s nonsense.

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