July 2019


22 July 2019

The British obliged

David Wearing

In May, the leading British general in the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq disputed White House claims of an increased Iranian threat. But the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, sided with Washington against his own military officer on the ground. Unlike its European partners, Britain joined the US in swiftly blaming Iran for the subsequent attacks on Gulf shipping. And when Washington urged London to seize an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar this month, the British obliged.


20 July 2019

On and around the Moon

Anna Aslanyan

‘Why had we come to the moon?’ the narrator of H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (1901) asks. ‘The thing presented itself to me as a perplexing problem.’ The novel features in The Moon exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, alongside other books that anticipated the space age: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Lucian of Samosata’s True Story, written in the second century AD. It begins with a ship blown to the moon by a whirlwind; a war between Phaethon and Endymion ensues, enabled by giant spiders. Aubrey Beardsley was one of the illustrators of an 1894 English edition.


19 July 2019

Honest Men Lying Abroad

Eloise Davies

After Sir Kim Darroch resigned as the British ambassador to Washington last week, everyone from leader writers in the Times to George Galloway on Russia Today was quoting Sir Henry Wotton’s line about an ambassador being ‘an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country’. Wotton wrote it in Latin in 1604 in the album amicorum (a sort of early modern autograph book) of a German acquaintance, en route to the Republic of Venice for his first embassy: ‘legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum reipublicae causa.’ It isn’t a pun in Latin, unfortunately: the verb mentior means ‘lie’ as in ‘deceive’ but not as in ‘lie down’.


16 July 2019

In Tripoli

Frederic Wehrey

One evening last month, I joined a group of anti-Haftar militiamen on the outskirts of Tripoli. On the roof of a ruined villa, lanky young men scanned the front with a night vision scope. The air was heavy with the smell of sweat and rotten fruit. The LNA were three hundred metres away, on the other side of an olive grove hemmed by junipers. To our left, there were flashes of tracer-fire, the growl of heavy machine-guns and the crash of mortars. Hunkered behind a breezeblock wall, the commander on the roof was listening intently to a walkie-talkie he’d stolen from Haftar’s forces.


15 July 2019

On Resigning from the British Museum’s Board of Trustees

Ahdaf Soueif

The British Museum is one of the world’s few encyclopaedic museums: it tells the story of how civilisation was built; it boasts seven million visitors a year and is committed to free entry; it holds a unique place of authority in the nation’s – perhaps the world’s – consciousness. A few days ago I resigned from its Board of Trustees.

My resignation was not in protest at a single issue; it was a cumulative response to the museum’s immovability on issues of critical concern to the people who should be its core constituency: the young and the less privileged.


12 July 2019

Who’s watching the cricket?

Chris Larkin

This summer has for some time been looked forward to as a make-or-break moment for English cricket. With England and Wales hosting the World Cup and an Ashes series starting here in August, it should be the perfect opportunity to make cricket part of the national conversation again; to try and halt the decline in enthusiasm for, and participation in, England’s traditional summer sport.


11 July 2019

‘Edison didn’t need me’

Alex Abramovich talks to Swamp Dogg

Jerry Williams Jr released his first album as Swamp Dogg, Total Destruction to Your Mind, in 1970. Before that he worked as a straight-up songwriter and producer – at Atlantic Records, among other places – cutting singles for Wilson Pickett, Patti LaBelle, Gary U.S. Bonds, Gene Pitney, and Inez and Charlie Foxx, as well as himself. He had got his start in 1954, the year that Elvis Presley made his first commercial recordings. Like Presley, Williams was living with his mother back then, though you wouldn’t have guessed it from the song he recorded: ‘Now, I know I take my whiskey/and sometimes get carried away,’ Williams sang. ‘I’m over 21 years old/so you ain’t got a darned thing to say.’


10 July 2019

On Photographing Leon Kossoff

Toby Glanville

I first met Leon Kossoff at Willesden Junction, down by the railway tracks, in 1995. I was there to take his photograph for the catalogue of his show at the British pavilion in Venice that summer. The following year I took his portrait for his retrospective at the Tate. I photographed him for the last time in 2013, for the catalogue of his show at the Annely Juda gallery. The idea was to meet at Arnold Circus, where Leon had grown up, and take pictures there. Afterwards we had coffee in a café on Calvert Avenue, the street where Leon’s father had run his bakery. I sent the pictures to Leon and he didn’t very much like them.


5 July 2019

In Chitral

Jeremy Bernstein

Sometime in the winter of 1969 a Pakistani colleague told me that the Ford Foundation had created visiting professorships at the University of Islamabad and asked if I would like one. At the time I was always open to travel adventure so I said sure. After I was appointed, the question arose as to how to get there. To me the obvious answer was to drive. I put the proposition to William Shawn, the editor of the New Yorker, who thought it an interesting idea. The magazine put up enough money for me to buy a Land Rover Dormobile. This legendary vehicle, which is no longer manufactured, had sleeping bunks and a stove – perfect for the job. I enlisted my friend the Chamonix guide Claude Jaccoux and his wife Michèle and in early September we set out. It took about three weeks to drive from France through Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan and then over the Khyber Pass into Pakistan.


3 July 2019

Forget Steve, Think Steph

Natasha Chahal

This time last summer I knew exactly where my friends would be, each evening showing blind and unwavering affection for football – men’s football. This summer I’ve had to coerce and cajole, offering positive reinforcement to those who bothered to watch games. This is the difference between Russia 2018 and France 2019. It may appear insignificant, but it reflects the difference between the perception of men and women both on and off the pitch. After matches, I’ve spent evenings scrolling social media to relive the excitement and been met with stale comments to the effect that ‘no one cares about women’s football.’ What they mean is they don’t care about women and they don’t care about their strength and their prowess and the way Steph Houghton has become the new poster girl for Steve McQueen-type cool and composure. And they don’t care that generations of girls and women for the first time feel able to be aggressively unapologetic about their talents. 


3 July 2019

Salmon Fishing in London

Anna Aslanyan

The Tyburn Angling Society purports to have been established by a royal charter issued by King Edgar the Peaceable in 959 AD, though there are no records of its existing before the 21st century. The River Tyburn, culverted in 1750, still flows underground from Hampstead to Westminster. The society claims to want to ‘daylight’ the river, bringing it back up to the surface. It commissioned a map in the early 2000s showing the proposed course, which would cut a swathe through ‘£1 billion worth of property’. The buildings marked for demolition included Buckingham Palace and the offices of Westminster City Council, which promptly rejected the proposal.


1 July 2019

‘After the Strike’

Tom Overton

In the BBC TV play Threads, broadcast on 23 September 1984, the nuclear bomb that drops on Sheffield is something of a social leveller. Mr Kemp, an out-of-work steelworker, is badly burned in his terrace house and his young children are killed outright. But there’s little to envy in the extra few days endured by the steelworks manager Mr Beckett and his family in the sturdy cellar of their large suburban semi. Just before the bomb falls, CND activists are rounded up. Police muscle into a demonstration and snatch a trade unionist calling for a general strike. Barry Hines’s screenplay was a response to Thatcher and Reagan’s economic policies as well as their nuclear brinkmanship.