Patrick Wright

Patrick Wright is completing a book about the East German novelist Uwe Johnson.

Short Cuts: The Moral of Brenley Corner

Patrick Wright, 6 December 2018

The​ Department of Transport is currently putting arrangements in place to transform a 13.5 mile stretch of the M20, passing through Kent on the way to Folkestone and the Channel Tunnel, into a ‘giant lorry park’ in time for 29 March next year. When I learned of this frantic exercise in ‘resilience planning’, my mind drifted back to a time still unblessed by the...

His Bonnet Akimbo: Hamish Henderson

Patrick Wright, 3 November 2011

There are those, even among his friends, who remember Hamish Henderson as a chaotic figure who could most often be found soliloquising in Sandy Bell’s, a favourite pub near Edinburgh University. Was he one of the ‘lowest of men’, spilling whisky and sliding off his stool as he launched into another ballad? Or was he a seer, defying body and convention to ‘soar like an...

Omnipresent Eye: The Nixon/Mao Show

Patrick Wright, 16 August 2007

It is a cold, clear morning, and the soldiers gathered at the airfield are singing ‘The Three Main Rules of Discipline’ as an American jet labelled ‘The Spirit of 76’ lands and taxis over to its appointed resting place. A hatch opens to reveal President Nixon. The former Red-baiter blinks before launching himself down the ramp slightly ahead of his wife, who is wearing...

Little England: The view through a bus window

Patrick Wright, 7 September 2006

In 2000 the Royal Institute of British Architects hosted a public meeting at which various contenders for the new office of London mayor were invited to argue their case for election. If the event remains memorable, it’s thanks largely to the Conservative candidate, Lord Archer, who betrayed no inkling of the perjury charges that would soon ditch his campaign and carry him off to jail....

Cubist Slugs: The Art of Camouflage

Patrick Wright, 23 June 2005

Six years in the making, Blechman’s Encyclopedia is itself a camouflaged object. At first glance, it looks as if it comes straight out of a military glove compartment. Indeed, it could be a military glove compartment. The two volumes are contained in a large, shadow-casting khaki box, covered with black stencilled numbers that suggest ordnance but turn out to be nothing more explosive than the ISBN. Both are covered in disruptive pattern material, but the larger one, which contains the main analysis of camouflage as it travels from ‘nature’ to ‘military’ and then ‘culture’, is banded in bright orange. This reflects Blechman’s design strategy of ‘negating the practicality of camouflage by combining it with high-visibility fabrics’. The choice of orange may also be connected to his interest in Eastern spiritual traditions, and perhaps even to the way in which the sales and press person at Maharishi, identified only as ‘Suzie’, signs off her emails with the word ‘peace’.

Dropping Their Eggs: the history of bombing

Patrick Wright, 23 August 2001

‘I cannot recall taking a single piss during my childhood, whether outside or at home in the outhouse, when I didn’t choose a target and bomb it. At five years of age I was already a seasoned bombardier.’ This is an unusual way of embarking on an analysis of modern warfare and its technologies, but then Sven Lindqvist has long been writing history in his own way. Oral...

Diary: The Cult of Tyneham

Patrick Wright, 24 November 1988

Reading the Faber Book of English History in Verse in East London was like trying to hold Radio 3 on the FM band. The wavelength was under fire from all sides, and its measured strains kept giving way to the outlandish rapping and toasting of the local pirate stations. Closing the minister’s volume in dismay, I noticed an image of Nelson dying at Trafalgar on the cover and set off in search of a place where I might try again.

Brideshead and the Tower Blocks

Patrick Wright, 2 June 1988

Witold Rybczynski introduces his book with a telling anecdote. During the six years of his architectural education, ‘the subject of comfort’ was only mentioned once. He finds this ‘a curious omission’, since comfort should surely be central to architecture – like justice to law or health to medicine. The point is a strong one, and Professor Rybczynski duly piles it on. Bitterly deprived by his own education, he can only write from a position of ‘ignorance’. As he sets out to discover the ‘meaning of comfort’, he is at pains to differentiate his own ecological approach from the high-rise proclamatory style, full of arrogant expertise and alienated technique, with which his profession still tries to hide the ‘fundamental poverty’ of its modern ideas. Here, then, is another architect going all human on us, eating humble pie and sending himself on a remedial course to find out what everyone else has always known.’

Diary: The Deer Park or the Tank Park?

Patrick Wright, 31 March 1988

In 1979 Mr Wilfrid Weld commissioned an ecological and historical survey of his 12,500-acre estate in south Dorset. The survey was partly financed through the Manpower Services Commission, and its findings appeared in an impressive publication late last year. Working as I have been recently on the cultural history of this area, I was interested to know more and went down to Lulworth to meet Mr Weld.

Rodinsky’s Place

Patrick Wright, 29 October 1987

In 1975 Colin Ward described Spitalfields as a classic inner-city ‘zone of transition’. Bordering on the City of London, the place had traditionally been a densely-populated ‘service centre for the metropolis’ where wave after wave of immigrants struggled to gain a foothold on the urban economy: Huguenot silk weavers, the Irish who were set to work undercutting them, Jewish refugees from late 19th-century pogroms in East Europe, and the Bengalis who have settled in the area since the 1950s. Since 1975, Spitalfields has achieved a national reputation as a reclaimable area of beautiful houses and exotic contrasts which has survived the levelling embrace of the welfare state.


Patrick Wright, 21 May 1987

Bryan Carsberg of Oftel smiles up in soft brown light as he dangles in the mirror on a green office wall. Michael Meyer of Emess Lighting is dissected by the blinds that cut across him and then reassembled from outside – his shirtsleeved figure looming like a target in the formulaic eye of some Hollywood assassin. As for London and Scottish Marine Oil’s Chris Greentree, all that remains of him is a severed head shining above the water as the sun goes down over drilling rigs beached by the receding North Sea tide.’

A Journey through Ruins

Patrick Wright, 18 September 1986

Douglas Oliver’s books have been appearing since 1969. Slim volumes published in tiny editions by marginal presses, they have escaped all but the slightest measure of attention. This may be the usual story for poets, but Oliver – a former journalist who is now teaching in Paris – is developing an unusual poetic which deserves wider interest. His most abiding themes have an autobiographical dimension. Repeatedly, for example, he returns to a mongol son who died in infancy, just as – across another tormented distance – his writing also comes back to the fragmentary and unverifiable stories of Tupamaros guerrilla activity in Uruguay which Oliver used to receive when working on the night desk at a Paris press agency. Grounded in personal experience, the writing nevertheless has the literary capacity to transform everything it finds there. In some striking passages of The Diagram Poems (1979) the ‘stupidity’ of the lost infant can therefore become affirmative in a critical and always unresolved way: casting a searching and unpredictable light on the indistinct politics of revolutionary violence and its barbaric suppression.’


Multum in Parvo

7 September 2006

I shouldn’t have named Ford Madox Ford among those who persuaded Douglas Goldring out of his initial enthusiasm for the First World War. Ford was not the otherwise unnamed ‘influence’ mentioned by Goldring in his autobiography Odd Man Out. Indeed, he was strongly in favour of the war against Germany.
John Lanchester’s disaffection with New Labour (LRB, 10 July) and the recent squabble between the Government and the BBC brought to mind an encounter that I once had with Blair’s press secretary. It was in the autumn of 1995, shortly after the party conferences in which patriotism had been a pronounced theme. Still in power but already mired in sleaze, the Tories had retreated to the last...

Outside in the Bar: Ten Years in Sheerness

Patrick McGuinness, 21 October 2021

In Uwe Johnson’s work, perspective doesn’t come from a bird’s-eye view but from staying at eye level – from looking and never stopping. His characters are suspicious of any claim...

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In 1954, it seemed that ‘People’s China’ was about to rejoin the world. The Geneva Accords on Indochina, which ended France’s colonial wars in South-East Asia and...

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In Europe’s Inner Demons, Norman Cohn described the medieval witch craze as a ‘supreme example of a massive killing of innocent people by a bureaucracy acting in accordance with...

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Tankishness: Tank by Patrick Wright

Peter Wollen, 16 November 2000

The tank, I was surprised to learn, was a British invention. It provided a much-needed response to the recent development of barbed wire, fortified trenches and rapid-fire machine-guns. Armoured...

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Downland Maniacs

Michael Mason, 5 October 1995

‘Acid rain’ was first identified, and deplored, almost 150 years ago. That is a disconcerting fact for our modern environmental awareness – which thus appears not to be modern...

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Down Dalston Lane

Neal Ascherson, 27 June 1991

In the winter of 1941, so I have been told, there were nights when it was never dark at the fighter airfield at North Weald. You could walk up the shallow ridge at the southern perimeter and see,...

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Getting on

Paul Addison, 9 October 1986

Here are two books about the relationship of the English to their past. According to Patrick Wright, England is a reactionary society burdened by a false mystique of national identity. To...

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