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On the A1

Andrew O’Hagan, 4 March 2021

... The road is a no man’s land on the edge of society,’ Rupert Martin wrote in 1983, introducing Paul Graham’s photo­graphs of the A1, ‘and its inhabitants – the staff of cafés or hotels, the lorry drivers, salesmen and others who ply the road – are often imbued with a solitary stoicism, a kind of self-sufficient melancholy.’ There are those for whom the main road between Scotland and England was more essential to society – James Boswell, for instance, who, in November 1762, travel­led the near­ly four hundred miles in a cold chaise, putting in at Berwick, Durham, Doncaster and Biggleswade ...

By the Gasometers

Andrew O’Hagan, 2 July 2015

... In the days before Eurostar came to the area behind King’s Cross, before St Martin’s, the Guardian, Camden Council’s offices and (soon) Google UK, there existed a few cobbled streets and a couple of old railwaymen’s tenements. Battle Bridge Road, where the gasometers stood, was within a Victorian triangle formed by the two great railway stations of King’s Cross and St Pancras and the Regent’s Canal ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Ageing Crims, 4 June 2015

... blended very naturally with the world of other folk heroes in the Glasgow of the 1920s. Michael O’Hagan was the kind of hard man feared and admired in equal measure, and, to this day, such men are spoken about as decent ordinary sorts who bring the spirit of the people along with them on their criminal activity. It is hard to know how this happens, except ...

‘Village Politicians’

Andrew O’Hagan, 18 December 2008

... When David Wilkie’s ‘Village Politicians’ first appeared at the Royal Academy in 1806 it caused a sensation. Less than ten years after the end of the French Revolution, less than ten years before Waterloo, we find a room of common Scots not only arguing the political toss but represented in a style that seeks neither to caricature them nor to elevate them ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Telecom Rehab, 4 October 2007

... says they have 40 per cent off shoe racks for the months of August and September!’ My name’s Andrew, and I’m a reachaholic. Through the fellowship of other sufferers I’ve come to see there are worse things than not being available for entire stretches of 15 minutes. I’m taking it one day at a time, but I know I am powerless before the influence of ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Slayer Slang and Bling Bling, 21 August 2003

... We are told that the average household’s electricity usage goes up 100 per cent during the summer holidays, the result not of air-conditioning but of an almost total aversion among today’s nippers to the bee-loud glade, in fact to the great outdoors in general, which appears to be a place rather badly equipped to compete with video games called things like ‘Wasp Attack IV ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: The Queen, 11 May 2006

... The Queen once detained me as I tried to get into an ice-rink. It was one of those hot days in the summer of 1977, and the portly Mr Waddle, or Akela as we liked to call him in Jungle Book parlance, took a pack of us to the Magnum Leisure Centre. I was feeling a bit down as I only had one cub scout badge (for housekeeping) and I thought I might get another one pinned to my jumper for careering across the ice in my toggle and cap ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Myths of Marilyn, 8 July 2004

... It’s my feeling that she looked forward to her tomorrows,’ said Marilyn’s housekeeper, the last person to see her alive. But now we may be in a position to say that Marilyn Monroe’s tomorrows have stretched beyond any known horizon, becoming one of the publishing world’s core subjects. More than six hundred books have been produced about the late movie star; that’s more books than you’ll find on Florence Nightingale, Princess Diana, Boadicea and Julia Roberts put together ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: A journey to citizenship, 16 November 2006

... Becoming a British citizen is a significant life event,’ the former home secretary David Blunkett writes. ‘The government intends to make gaining British citizenship meaningful and celebratory rather than simply a bureaucratic process.’ The quote is not from Blunkett’s diaries but from the funniest book currently available in the English language, published by the Home Office, and called Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Trip to Echo Spring’, 12 September 2013

... There was a drawer in every room of our house and in every drawer there was a white pamphlet. On the cover it said: ‘Who, Me?’ My mother had placed the pamphlets there in the hope that when my father tried to find a corkscrew or a book of matches he would see the bold question and finally ask it of himself. I don’t know whether any of my brothers remember this, but I do, or the writer in me does, as if the question was quite fundamental, asking – as I looked for a toy car or the same book of matches – if I had what it would take to make sense of my life ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Voices from Beyond the Grave, 20 November 2008

... People say serious writing is akin to painting. Or music. They hardly ever say it’s like maths. Or quantity surveying. But the art form that literature most closely resembles is acting: the same fascination with character and ideas, the same obsession with voices and identities and silences. Dickens, we know, used to practise impersonating his characters in the confines of his study, mugging before the mirror in order to perfect the rascally sneer of Bill Sikes or the effeminate moue of Old Mr Turveydrop ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: The Oscars, 26 February 2009

... It’s not easy to believe, but people used to think the Oscars didn’t matter. Now the hoopla takes up half a year, much longer if you take into account that many actors, writers and directors begin mugging for Oscars the moment they agree to a project. In previous times a respectable number of the nominees didn’t turn up at all, but now they would sooner be wheeled in semi-recumbent on their sickbeds than forgo the occasion altogether ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Valets, 10 September 2009

... I don’t have many regrets in life, but the ones I do have run very deep. For instance, I find it very hard to accept that I have never had a valet. My grandfather didn’t have a valet, my father didn’t have one, and now it looks like I won’t have a valet either. That’s a helluva lot of no-valet in one family. On the other hand, it probably means I’ll hold onto my many shocking secrets, for it seems the role of valet has long since gone from being one where he presses your Y-fronts and shines your buttons to being one where he spills the beans big time ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: HBO, 10 June 2010

... Somewhere around the time of the second season of The Sopranos, people at dinner parties stopped gossiping about their friends’ sex lives and started talking about American television shows, later designated ‘box sets’. Nowadays, it’s all anybody ever talks about, and the quickest way to feel old or out of it is to find oneself unable to speak, in detail, about why Jeremy Piven is so brilliant as the agent in Entourage ...

At the National Portrait Gallery

Andrew O’Hagan: Lucian Freud, 26 April 2012

... Titian’s Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto were described by Lucian Freud as ‘simply the most beautiful pictures in the world’. And not long ago, in an act of Alex Salmond-defying co-operation, the National Gallery of Scotland and the National Gallery of Great Britain raided their respective coffers – as well as the coffers of their respective, culturally estranged governments – to buy the pictures from the Duke of Sutherland ...

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