James Hamilton-Paterson

James Hamilton-Paterson lives in Italy. His most recent novel, Cooking with Fernet Branca is published by Faber.

Yearning for Polar Seas: north

James Hamilton-Paterson, 1 September 2005

My father was born in China and no doubt I caught from him his own boyhood tingle at the idea of ships and their Empire routes, especially long ocean voyages by P&O liner. Excitement, homesickness, the magic of the word ‘Orient’: to a child growing up in South-East England in the 1940s and 1950s, such elements blended early into a near-poetry of longing for a vertical sun. By...

Diary: what’s happened to the sea

James Hamilton-Paterson, 23 September 2004

Early one morning two Februaries ago, I stood in shirtsleeves in the tiny bay of Crinan in the extreme west of Argyll. The sun was brilliant in a rinsed blue sky. On a nearby islet an unmoving white heron might have been a plaster model. Behind it shores and islands widened to the horizon. Everything was still. Before long the first clouds had appeared, and within fifteen minutes the islands...

Not Altogether Lost: The Tasaday

James Hamilton-Paterson, 19 June 2003

In June 1971 it was learned that a hitherto unknown tribe had been found living in the dense rainforest of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Reportedly, the group consisted of 27 members, spoke an unknown tongue and wore only leaves. Tentatively named Tasaday after a nearby mountain, they seemed to be exclusively hunter-gatherers who knew nothing of agriculture and used stone tools to dig...

Forget the Klingons: Is there anybody out there?

James Hamilton-Paterson, 6 March 2003

In the middle of the 19th century the prevailing scientific view of the abyssal ocean held that it was a vast body of water with a uniform temperature of 4 °C. With no variation of temperature there could be no convection currents, hence no circulation of dissolved oxygen and suspended food particles. The abyss was stagnant, a body of water under massive pressure, barely warmer than...

‘Getting to Mars’ is the dream’s deceptively simple shorthand. It crucially leaves out ‘and getting back again’. The outward journey alone will take two years. Once there, astronauts will need constant protection from the extreme cold and lethal radiation (there is little atmosphere and no ozone layer). They will be wholly reliant on equipment dropped by previous unmanned expeditions that will enable them to generate all sorts of things, including their own oxygen. It will be impossible to bring all the necessary fuel, so they will have to synthesise tons of hydrogen to power their return journey. That in turn will require that Mars have the right ambient chemistry, which unmanned craft will previously have ascertained. And everything hinges on there being a source of purifiable water that can be freed from the frozen Martian soil in sufficient quantity. After their stay, and with phenomenal luck, the travellers will return four or five years older having spent the time imprisoned in protective suits or airlocked Portakabins eating rehydrated rations, never once having been able to walk free and feel the ancient planet’s distant sun and thin wind on their faces.

As the toffs began to retreat: Declinism

Neal Ascherson, 22 November 2018

There is a fine Scots word for the sale of the contents of a house, farm or factory: a ‘displenishment’. We have certainly witnessed the displenishment of Great Britain.

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Blooming Symbols

Adam Lively, 27 May 1993

The Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal recently argued that great literature has no need of symbols: it simply presents life as it is. A symbol in a novel can act like a leech on a living body, sucking...

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Interesting Fellows

Walter Nash, 4 May 1989

Take one housemaid, who interrupts you while you are making a ludicrously maladroit attempt to swaddle a stolen painting in brown paper. Fly into a sulk. Bundle the poor girl into your car, and...

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