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.
David Oluwale drowned in the river Aire on 18 April 1969. His body was recovered near Knostrop Sewage works on 4 May, and buried in a paupers’ grave at Killingbeck cemetery with nine others.
Last Thursday night there was a 21st-anniversary re-enactment of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Shortly after 6.30 p.m., a crowd – the Daily Mail estimated 160 – gathered under a bridge in Salford, some carrying flowers, most dressed in black. A Daily Star article the week before, and another that afternoon – ‘Fury as “sickos” prepare to “EXORCISE” Princess Diana in “funeral 2.0” TONIGHT’ – may have helped publicise the event. The editor of Royal Central (‘the latest news on the royals of Europe’) was said by the Star to have ‘raged’ that ‘the production will also be casting people to play living people, including Diana’s brother Earl Spencer … No doubt when William, Harry and Diana’s closest family find out about this production, they will be disgusted.’
Outside his Moscow house and studio, the president of the Russian Academy of Arts, Zurab Tsereteli, has a bronze statue he made of Vladimir Putin in judo robes with a tiger at his feet. Inside the house, which used to be the German Embassy, there are photographs of Tsereteli and Putin in front of To the Struggle against World Terrorism, the monument he gave to New Jersey to commemorate 9/11, and of Putin pinning one of many presidential orders on his lapel.
Antonio Tabucchi’s ghostly Lisbon novel Requiem: A Hallucination (1991, translated by Margaret Jull Costa) describes a recipe as ‘a first-class lesson in material culture … someone should have told Herr Jung that food always comes before the imagination.’ There’s a display in the city’s Museu da Agua that shows how much clean water we each use every day. To make three cups of coffee, one glass of milk, one glass of orange juice and one glass of wine requires enough water to fill a hundred bathtubs.
In 1928, a foot-high papier-mâché Felix the Cat was the first image to be broadcast on TV, spinning round on a turntable in the NBC studios in New York to test the new technology.
In ‘Stubbing Wharfe’, a poem from Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes writes about sitting with Sylvia Plath in a pub ‘Between the canal and the river’ in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire:
In Munich, Steven Spielberg’s fictionalised account of Israel’s response to the massacre of 11 of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics, Makram Khoury plays the writer and PLO spokesman Wael Zuaiter. Unaware he’s the first of the 11 Palestinians targeted for assassination by Mossad, he gives a talk on his Italian translation of the Thousand and One Nights at a café in Rome, does some shopping, and is gunned down in the hall of his apartment block. At the end of the movie, the chief assassin exiles himself to Brooklyn, wondering if he has merely inspired more violence. He is told that he is a small part of a bigger story: Mossad had other teams on the job. The newly completed World Trade Center is visible in the final shot of the New York skyline.
‘The most bloodthirsty line in the French national anthem was written with the English in mind,’ David Bell wrote in the LRB in 1998. Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, the military engineer who composed the words to the ‘Marseillaise’ in 1792, took the line about watering furrows with ‘sang impur’ from a poem which was much more specific about whose impure blood it should be.
Earlier this month I went on a press junket to the Josef Koudelka retrospective in Madrid. Reading the catalogue on the plane, I realised I was living the inverse of the romantic myth that grew up around the work I was going to see. Stuart Alexander’s essay describes the photographer in 1973, not long after he left Czechoslovakia for the West: