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Leslie Wilson: Talking Rubbish, 19 August 1993

... There is a school-trip atmosphere about this party of waste-disposal professionals off to the rubbish dump: the packets of sandwiches handed out beforehand; everyone piling onto the coach in the heat and waiting for hours, talking shop, talking rubbish. Mainly men, though there is a scattering of women. The occasion: an international symposium on waste disposal at Bosphorus University, Istanbul ...

Broom, broom

Leslie Wilson, 2 December 1993

The Virago Book of Witches 
edited by Shahrukh Husain.
Virago, 244 pp., £14.99, October 1993, 1 85381 562 4
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... The last person to be formally executed for witchcraft in England was Alice Molland, hanged in Exeter in 1682. But I have found tales of witch-lynchings in 19th-century England, even (in a little local history pamphlet) a murder in 1950s Oxfordshire that bore all the hallmarks of a witch-lynching. Swiss peasants used to calm storms by laying a scythe on the ground with the cutting edge uppermost to wound the storm-witch and Jung, writing in the late Fifties, described how he watched a ‘Strudel’, or local witchdoctor, taking the spell off a stable just beside the Gotthard international railway line ...


Leslie Wilson: On Chinese Magic, 12 May 1994

... When, as a wide-eyed expatriate wife, I first arrived in Hong Kong, I heard this story over a restaurant table. The first time a Hong Kong building was sheathed in reflective glass, the buildings opposite began to suffer from leaks, electrical faults, and illness among their staff. This is because demons, who live in happy ignorance of their own hideousness, were seeing their own reflections in the walls, flying off in terror and bouncing into the building across the street ...

Mao’s Pleasure

Leslie Wilson, 5 October 1995

The Private Life of Chairman Mao 
by Li Zhisui, translated by Tai Hung-Chao.
Chatto, 682 pp., £20, November 1994, 0 7011 4018 6
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... In 1949, when many of China’s citizens were running from the newly-victorious Communists, Dr Li Zhisui returned to his homeland. He had been making good money as a ship’s doctor with the Australian Oriental Company, and he could have stayed there or joined his wife in Hong Kong. But since Australia only admitted white people to citizenship, and in Hong Kong he could have become only the ‘disenfranchised subject of a foreign king’, he decided to take part in the reconstruction of his own country: this, he writes, was more important to him than making money ...


Leslie Wilson: Nazi Germany civil service, 25 November 1999

... I can’t remember liking my German grandfather. ‘Oh,’ said my mother, ‘you adored him when you were a baby.’ That was in the incredible time when things were right, when my grandparents still lived together. But then my grandfather wanted to marry another woman and – my mother told us – had my poor, fragile, religiously-obsessed Omi locked up in a mental hospital ...

Salem’s Lot

Leslie Wilson, 23 March 1995

... On 28 November 1988, Paul Ingram, a police officer, was arrested by colleagues in his office in Olympia, Washington State. His daughters, Ericka and Julie, had accused him of sexual molestation. Ingram made no attempt to deny the charges. He couldn’t remember doing anything, but he said: ‘My girls know me. They wouldn’t lie about something like this ...

Farewell Hong Kong

Penelope Fitzgerald, 24 February 1994

The Mountain of Immoderate Desires 
by Leslie Wilson.
Weidenfeld, 374 pp., £15.99, February 1994, 0 297 81371 4
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... any more than we believe Pip’s great expectations have anything to do with Miss Havisham. Leslie Wilson’s powerful and brilliant book strikes me, first and foremost, as a burlesque. All burlesque is anti-heroic, and The Mountain of Immoderate Desires gives a sardonic version of the 19th-century novel’s trusted heroic themes: a riddle of ...

Under Witchwood

Adam Thorpe, 10 September 1992

Power of the Witch: A Witch’s Guide to her Craft 
by Laurie Cabot, with Tom Cowan.
Arkana/Penguin, 294 pp., June 1992, 0 14 019368 5
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by Leslie Wilson.
Picador, 168 pp., £15.99, August 1992, 0 330 32427 6
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... of Salem, keen to add her faith to the long list of politically correct minority causes. Leslie Wilson’s second novel, Malefice, uses historical imagination in plenty and keeps a skilful balance between propaganda and reality. The word ‘witch’ quivers throughout with its instabilities: a spit or an admiring sigh, a fatal taunt or a proud ...

Harold, row the boat aground

Paul Foot, 20 November 1986

Memoirs 1916-1964: The Making of a Prime Minister 
by Harold Wilson.
Weidenfeld/Joseph, 214 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 7181 2775 7
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... was, believe it or not, a Labour Party meeting, and the main speaker was the Labour leader, Harold Wilson. The ‘warm-up’ was a brilliant speech by the MP for Stechford, Roy Jenkins, who described his leader as ‘the greatest Parliamentarian of his generation’. The acclamation for Wilson as he rose to speak, diminutive ...

This Trying Time

A.N. Wilson: John Sparrow, 1 October 1998

The Warden 
by John Lowe.
HarperCollins, 258 pp., £19.99, August 1998, 0 00 215392 0
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... at John, ruining himself with stupid al-co-hol, deah!’ ‘The port’s with you, Leslie.’ ‘And that’s where it will stay. You’ve all had quite enough’ – and so on. On that evening, Sparrow was very drunk. He had the quiet, belligerent carefulness of utterance of a man who had been drinking all day, if not all week. It ...

Nothing for Ever and Ever

Frank Kermode: Housman’s Pleasures, 5 July 2007

The Letters of A.E. Housman 
edited by Archie Burnett.
Oxford, 1228 pp., £180, March 2007, 978 0 19 818496 6
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... would now (at 71) ‘do nothing for ever and ever’. In his well-known essay on Housman, Edmund Wilson made a special point of the author’s giving up work on a poet as interesting as Propertius in order to spend his life with Manilius. Wilson regarded the switch from love poems to obsolete science as evidence of an ...
by Richard Ingrams.
Private Eye/Deutsch, 144 pp., £4.25
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... and then demoted to a knight by the Scrutiny Committee, in what is bitterly remembered as the Wilson Honours List. Was there a connection between Sir James’s elevation and his year-long battle to punish Private Eye and jail its editor, Richard Ingrams – an effort which was supported by Wilson and Lady ...

Constable’s Plenty

John Barrell, 15 August 1991

by Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams.
Tate Gallery, 544 pp., £45, June 1991, 1 85437 071 5
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Romatic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition 
by Jonathan Bate.
Routledge, 131 pp., £8.99, May 1991, 0 415 06116 4
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... ever to accompany an exhibition of the work of a British artist. It is also one of the dullest. Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams have resisted the tendency of the last fifteen years or so by which the catalogues of major exhibitions have often been presented as major interpretative studies of the artist and his times. Constable is a catalogue, nothing ...

Dingy Quadrilaterals

Ian Gilmour: The Profumo Case, 19 October 2006

Bringing the House Down: A Family Memoir 
by David Profumo.
Murray, 291 pp., £20, September 2006, 0 7195 6608 8
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... Doctor, the Lord, the Spy’ and Profumo himself. The leader of the opposition, Harold Wilson, dubbed them ‘this dingy quadrilateral’, though, as will soon appear, a much dingier quadrilateral was composed of four very different people. The origins of the Profumo family were Sardinian. Jack Profumo’s great-grandfather, who had, the author ...

Real Thing

John Naughton, 24 November 1988

Live from Number 10: The Inside Story of Prime Ministers and Television 
by Michael Cockerell.
Faber, 352 pp., £14.95, September 1988, 0 571 14757 7
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... 1951 he made one of the first party politicals – a cod interview with the well-known broadcaster Leslie Mitchell. It opened with Mitchell saying: Good evening, I would just like to say first that, as an interviewer, and as what I hope you will believe to be an unbiased member of the electorate, I’m grateful to Anthony Eden for inviting me to ...

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