In Epping Forest

Cricket breaks out all over at this time of year. Bell Common, a generous village green set against a backcloth of ancient trees in their dark summer foliage, dotted with men in whites, is as bucolic a scene as you’ll find anywhere in England. The grass, turning a little pale after a long stretch of hot sunny days, is a shade greener on the woodland edge. Sometimes it can be boggy over there, a reminder of natural conditions, as Peter Day, the groundsman and a former captain, told me on Saturday. One of his sons was playing, the third generation of the family with links to the club. His father was a founding member of Epping Foresters when they set up in 1947, mostly ex-servicemen who began as a wandering team. Two years later they were granted a licence by the Conservators of Epping Forest to use Mill Plain, off Bell Common, as their ground. More »

Athens/Riyadh

Saudi Arabia has lifted its ban on women driving. But the guardianship system, which requires that every Saudi girl and woman be under the authority of a designated male relative throughout her life, remains in place. Without the permission of her guardian – her father, husband, brother, son, uncle, cousin – a woman cannot marry, travel abroad, or be released from prison. A guardian’s permission is no longer required for a woman to see a doctor, get a job or report a crime, but many hospitals, employers and police stations still ask for it. Women are supposed to ask their guardian’s permission to leave the house, an informal requirement occasionally upheld by the courts. A guardian can file a complaint on the Ministry of Justice website to ‘demand submission from those under his guardianship’ or to have a woman under his guardianship returned to him. Some guardians are liberal, lenient and supportive, and let women work and travel – but their permission is still required. ‘I’m lucky,’ a student told Le Monde Diplomatique. ‘My father trusts me, but it’s not like that for my friends. Every time they beg their guardians to let them go out, they say no, and often they beat them.’

Classical Athens, routinely described as the cradle of Western democracy, had a similar system. More »

Not a word from Geoffrey

In August 1934 Samuel Beckett was at his mother’s house in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock. In a letter to his friend Thomas McGreevy, he commented on the psychoanalysis he had been undergoing in London with Wilfred Bion: ‘It is only now that I begin to realize what the analysis has done for me,’ he wrote.

And now I am obliged to accept the whole panic as psychoneurotic – which leaves me in a hurry to get back & get on. Had a long walk with Geoffrey Sunday to Enniskerry & got soaked. He likes you very much & hopes to be writing to you soon.

The ‘whole panic’ is the series of heart palpitations that drove Beckett to seek medical help. Geoffrey is Geoffrey Thompson, an old school and university friend, now a doctor, who consulted with him about his symptoms and advised him to move to London for psychoanalysis.

Geoffrey Thompson was my grandfather. More »

Stanley Cavell

The philosopher Stanley Cavell, who died yesterday at the age of 91, wrote a piece on the Marx Brothers for the LRB in 1993:

Movies magnify, so when pictures began talking they magnified words. Somehow, as in the case of opera’s magnification of words, this made their words mostly ignorable, like the ground, as if the industrialised human species had been looking for a good excuse to get away from its words, or looking for an explanation of the fact that we do get away, even must. More »

In Memoriam GSA

The images of the Glasgow School of Art going up in flames again were like a bad dream. The glowing orange inferno, caught on mobile phones, brought back memories of the fire four years ago which destroyed the most beautiful space in the building, the library, surely one of the most remarkable rooms in the history of architecture. But this time the damage has been more far reaching. It looks as if the entire interior has been gutted. The building was being restored but now seems to have been utterly destroyed. All that remains is the masonry shell which will have been dangerously damaged by the very high temperatures. More »

Who gets to tell Iraq’s history?

When Islamic State moved into Mosul in 2014, Omar Mohammed observed and documented everything he could, from public executions to the inner workings of the hospitals. And even though it put his life in danger, he posted many of his observations online using the handle ‘Mosul Eye’.

He is now concerned that the history of the city under IS could be compromised. After the 2016 operation to drive out the caliphate, the New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi took nearly 16,000 documents produced during IS rule – everything from birth certificates to judicial rulings – stuffed them into bin bags, and flew them back to New York.

In Mohammed’s view, the history of Iraq, and of Mosul in particular, has too often been told and controlled by outsiders. More »

In Belfast

On Sunday, 10 June, around midday, women gathered at the Titanic slipways in Belfast, a ‘regenerated’ area of former docks, to take part in the Processions, a march to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage, which was taking place in several cities across the UK. At the front of the procession, women walked quietly. At the back, there were banners, some men and loud chanting. Two weeks after the Republic of Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, women were demanding abortion rights in Northern Ireland.

In the morning I had travelled from Dublin to Belfast on a bus full of women who had canvassed before the referendum. More »

Tsoi lives!

On 30 May, when the Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, reported dead the day before, appeared at a press conference in Kyiv, the Russian-language internet responded with the meme ‘Tsoi lives’. The rock star Viktor Tsoi and his new wave band, Kino (‘cinema’, ‘film’) – with their simple but powerful lyrics, fresh tunes and the frontman’s low, casually drawn-out, artfully accented baritone – were hugely famous in the 1980s. A university friend of mine lost much of his street cred when, on hearing someone say, ‘Let’s put some Kino on,’ he replied: ‘What film?’ Tsoi died in a car crash in 1990, aged 28. ‘Tsoi walls’, covered in slogans and lyrics, have since sprung up in several cities, along with a number of sculptures, including one of Tsoi on a motorbike (he never rode one). More »

Remembering Anthony Bourdain

In the spring of 2009 I received a phone call from someone who worked for a programme on the Travel Channel called No Reservations, of which I had never heard. He told me they were planning to shoot an episode in San Francisco over the summer and would I be interested in appearing. As no one had ever asked me to be on television before (or since), I said: ‘Sure.’ I was told that the star, Anthony Bourdain, had borrowed a copy of my book of essays, Cutty, One Rock, on a long flight to Sri Lanka from one of his staff and liked it so much he wanted to have me on his show. ‘That’s nice,’ I thought to myself. More »

A New Standard for the Gulf States

Last November, the International Labour Organisation closed its case on a complaint about working conditions in Qatar. Reforms meant that some two million workers now enjoyed better protection. ‘Qatar has set a new standard for the Gulf States,’ the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation said, ‘and this must be followed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE where millions of migrant workers are trapped in modern slavery.’ In April, the ILO inaugurated its project office in Doha, its first in the Gulf, to support a programme on working conditions and labour rights in Qatar. More »

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