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Tim Dee: Twitching, 11 March 2010

... at Edgware Road. All birders were birdwatchers once. At eight I was smitten by a yellowhammer in Surrey; by nine I was hardcore. Since then I have had periods of being a birder and periods of retirement from active service. Now I think of myself as somewhere between the two, an inveterate namer (you cannot unlearn the habit) but motivated primarily by the ...

UK Law

John Horgan, 16 August 1990

Stolen Years: Before and After Guildford 
by Paul Hill and Ronan Bennett.
Doubleday, 287 pp., £12.99, June 1990, 0 385 40125 6
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Proved Innocent 
by Gerry Conlon.
Hamish Hamilton, 234 pp., £12.99, June 1990, 0 241 13065 4
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Cage Eleven 
by Gerry Adams.
Brandon, 156 pp., £4.95, June 1990, 0 86322 114 9
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The Poisoned Tree: The untold truth about the Police conspiracy to discredit John Stalker and destroy me 
by Kevin Taylor and Keith Mumby.
Sidgwick, 219 pp., £15, May 1990, 0 283 06056 5
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... copper’s first port of call and his last resort. One can only guess at the pressure put on the Surrey Police by their superiors, but it produced results. Paul Hill was arrested on a Thursday morning: by Friday evening, abused, beaten, threatened and starved until he broke, he had confessed to eight murders. He was to find out when he attempted to retract ...

Strange Things

John Bayley: The letters of Indian soldiers, 2 September 1999

Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers’ Letters 1914-18 
edited by David Omissi.
Macmillan, 416 pp., £17.50, April 1999, 0 333 75144 2
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... mostly in the Punjab, are anything to go by. Similar letters home, sent by British soldiers to Surrey or Wolverhampton or Newcastle, were, it is true, mostly composed in the same vein: it was considered almost a military duty to sound cheery, and to conceal the real horrors of war from the folks back home. Besides, there was the censorship to think ...

‘A Being full of Witching’

Charles Nicholl: The ‘poor half-harlot’ of Hazlitt’s affections, 18 May 2000

... to respectability: one might call it ‘shabby genteel’. Once it had led down to the popular Surrey Gardens, but now the gardens had closed and a rash of new housing was spreading across the area. No. 65 was a typical three-storey house of sooty grey London brick, with a thin garden out back and a pub nearby on the corner (the Giraffe, named after a ...

A Salvo for Malawi

Douglas Oliver, 23 June 1994

... Chotsa chipewa! Choka!Take off your hat to me! Now scram!Say you’ve never heard of John Chilembwe,or of his mission church at MbombweHQ for his First War Risingfirst salvo for the Malawi nation.Yet as surely as my mother livedon the tracer-path planetleft behind in our world’s world lineso surely my memory discovers hernot in chemical coding but alive there stilland so surely John Chilembwe still gives offthat black light in his black preacher’s suitor is alive in all our pasts before our birthnot in the photos recovered when they shot him downbut still running from the troopstowards Moçambique unarmed, hot-fleshed,in dark blue coat, striped pyjama jacketcoloured shirt, grey flannel trousersrunning for about a mile beforeMlanje Police Private Naluso shot him;the bullet spun him around and around,Sergeant Useni hit him again,I hit him through the head,said Garnet Kaduya, Church of Scotland,in a language truly dead, but Chilembwe wasspinningas they pulled and snapped the life-threadin that present moment ...

Toolkit for Tinkerers

Colin Burrow: The Sonnet, 24 June 2010

The Art of the Sonnet 
by Stephanie Burt and David Mikics.
Harvard, 451 pp., £25.95, May 2010, 978 0 674 04814 0
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... Dante, Michelangelo and Shakespeare did, as well as more recent experimenters such as Hopkins, John Berryman or the sub-Prynnean Tony Lopez. Donne and Hopkins used sonnets as vehicles for religious anguish because it’s so easy to suggest that they’re buckling under pressure, that the spirit will not run true to the form, or to God. The sonnet has a ...

Stormy Weather

E.S. Turner, 18 July 1996

Passchendaele: The Untold Story 
by Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson.
Yale, 237 pp., £19.95, May 1996, 0 300 06692 9
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... On a June night in 1917, in his home at Walton Heath in Surrey, the Prime Minister asked to be roused at 3 a.m., because there was something he did not want to miss: the big bang from afar which would signify that British sappers had blown the top off the German-held Messines ridge. The sound came through on schedule ...


Gregory Dart: Leigh Hunt, 18 December 2003

The Selected Writings of Leigh Hunt 
edited by Robert Morrison and Michael Eberle-Sinatra.
Pickering & Chatto, £495, July 2003, 1 85196 714 1
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... to know nothing of ‘the world’. ‘I am a child you know,’ he tells the young wards of John Jarndyce. ‘You are designing people compared with me.’ Skimpole’s main similarity to his real-life source, apart from a talent for accepting handouts, is his conversational manner, which is peculiarly fanciful, fluent and charming, but there are other ...

Family Romances

Anthony Thwaite, 2 February 1989

A Little Stranger 
by Candia McWilliam.
Bloomsbury, 135 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 9780747502791
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Running wild 
by J.G. Ballard.
Hutchinson, 72 pp., £5.95, November 1988, 0 09 173498 3
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Breathing Lessons 
by Anne Tyler.
Chatto, 327 pp., £11.95, January 1989, 0 7011 3391 0
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... stylistic exercise, like that of a very clever student who had been nourished on a forced diet of John Cleveland, George Barker (The Dead Seagull) and Craig Raine, and who had once heard the plot of a novel by Iris Murdoch. The novel’s characters were indeed Romantic, if by that one means fabulous, fanciful, whimsical, high-flown, etc, as under Roget ...

At the Foundling Museum

Brian Dillon: Found, 11 August 2016

... separated them from the names of the corresponding children. When the hospital moved to Surrey in 1926 the original building was demolished, although some of its interiors survive in the present Foundling Museum on Brunswick Square, along with many of the tokens. They include coins, buttons, a hazelnut, a tiny rouge pot, many heart-shaped mementos ...

The Best of Betjeman

John Bayley, 18 December 1980

John Betjeman’s Collected Poems 
compiled by the Earl of Birkenhead.
Murray, 427 pp., £2.50, June 1980, 0 7195 3632 4
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Church Poems 
by John Betjeman.
Murray, 63 pp., £5.95, March 1981, 0 7195 3797 5
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... emotional ecstasies find their consummation in the sight of a packet of Weights pressed in the Surrey sand, in the makes of Rovers and Austins and Lagondas, in rhododendrons (‘Lucky the rhododendrons’) casually swiped at by the tennis racquet of a girl with an arm ‘as firm and as hairy as Hendren’s’. Surprised by these joys, the reader is swept ...


William Feaver: John and Myfanwy Piper, 17 December 2009

John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art 
by Frances Spalding.
Oxford, 598 pp., £25, September 2009, 978 0 19 956761 4
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... a wan light on pews reserved for the use of MPs in St Margaret’s, Westminster, are untypical of John Piper. Normally, his stained glass seethes, particularly in Coventry Cathedral, where a Piper sunburst behind the boulder that serves as a font irradiates a great wall of clunky fenestration. In Westminster though, in a building studded with fanciful ...

Bright Old Thing

D.A.N. Jones, 23 July 1987

Letters of Conrad Russell: 1897-1947 
edited by Georgiana Blakiston.
Murray, 278 pp., £16.95, May 1987, 0 7195 4382 7
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... they could come up with. Russell was ever a countryman, proud of his mangels: raised in rural Surrey, he was discomposed in towns. He wrote to his sister in 1902 when he was 24: ‘I have never found London life so unattractive before. The young men at Scoones do not amuse me much but I seem to amuse them for they laugh consumedly every time I open my ...

High Taxes, Bad Times

John Pemble: Late Georgian Westminster, 10 June 2010

The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1820-32 
by D.R. Fisher.
Cambridge, 6336 pp., £490, December 2009, 978 0 521 19314 6
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... to have cost £80,000: the Whig spent £30,000 and still lost. The burden could be crippling. John Benett, MP for Wiltshire, was told by his brother in 1820: ‘The failure of the subscriptions at both the last elections has already thrown an overwhelming debt upon your property, and one that you will never see cleared as long as you live.’ And all for ...


Edward Pearce, 22 October 1992

by Anne Chisholm and Michael Davie.
Hutchinson, 589 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 09 173549 1
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... another high-toned writer, I started journalistic life on the Express, initially the Sunday in John Junor’s long days, then the Daily under Roy Wright. Beaverbrook had been dead by then for ten years. The amiable son, who touchingly refused the title in a spirit of unaffected and perhaps warranted humility, reigned rather than ruled in his place and was ...

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