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Hatless to Hindhead

Susannah Clapp, 1 May 1980

A Country Calendar 
by Flora Thompson, edited by Margaret Lane.
Oxford, 307 pp., £6.95, October 1979, 9780192117533
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... adopt the same positions as those who have currently elected in favour of candles and home-made pickles. She may talk disparagingly of the ‘lowlier sort of charabancers’ who slide through the beechwoods in their patent leather shoes and bring a gramophone to play ‘For ever blowing bubbles’, but she regards them as a nuisance rather than a moral ...

Do your homework

David Runciman: What’s Wrong with Theresa May, 16 March 2017

Theresa May: The Enigmatic Prime Minister 
by Rosa Prince.
Biteback, 402 pp., £20, February 2017, 978 1 78590 145 4
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... parties to find positions both could live with. May didn’t do negotiation; in the words of Eric Pickles, one of her cabinet colleagues, she is not a ‘transactional’ politician. She takes a position and then she sticks to it, seeing it as a matter of principle that she delivers on what she has committed to. This doesn’t mean that she is a conviction ...

Where are the playboys?

Robert Irwin: The politics of Arab fiction, 18 August 2005

Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology 
edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi.
Columbia, 1056 pp., £40, June 2005, 0 231 13254 9
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... dough, the warm thirsty smell of roasted watermelon seeds, soft lupin seeds in brine, dripping pickles, custards scented with orange-blossom water’, where shrak bread is baked on a round iron griddle and doors are surrounded by honeysuckle blossom. But not all that was lost by the Palestinians was lost to Israeli soldiers, demolition men and ...


David Thomson: Alcatraz, 26 March 2009

... coffee. Lunch Navy bean soup; beef stew and vegetables; steamed potatoes; creamed peas; sour pickles; bread; coffee. Dinner Steamed frankfurters; Lyonnaise potatoes; succotash; lettuce salad; rice custard pudding; coffee. It’s not Chez Panisse, but it’s better than porridge. The fact that Cole and Roe’s bodies were never found is ...


John Sutherland, 4 June 1981

Tit for Tat 
by Verity Bargate.
Cape, 167 pp., £5.95, April 1981, 0 224 01908 2
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Watching Me, Watching You 
by Fay Weldon.
Hodder, 208 pp., £6.95, May 1981, 0 340 25600 1
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Maggie Muggins 
by Keith Waterhouse.
Joseph, 220 pp., £6.95, May 1981, 0 7181 2014 0
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Mr Lonely 
by Eric Morecambe.
Eyre Methuen, 189 pp., £5.95, March 1981, 0 413 48170 0
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... seduction by the president of the ‘fuck of the month club’. Not much fun, as the late Wilfred Pickles would have said. It has been observed that Waterhouse’s formula in fiction has been to imprison a child’s bright imagination in an adult’s dreary grownupness. As with Jubb, Billy or the younger hero of There is a happy land, Maggie has a rich ...

Howard’s End

John Sutherland, 18 September 1986

by Howard Jacobson.
Bantam, 314 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 593 01212 7
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Coming from behind 
by Howard Jacobson.
Black Swan, 250 pp., £2.95, April 1984, 0 552 99063 9
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Peeping Tom 
by Howard Jacobson.
Black Swan, 351 pp., £2.95, October 1985, 0 552 99141 4
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... door and insert a letter between his buttocks. His most embarrassing moment, as the late Wilfred Pickles might have said. And the letter? ‘A bill from Heffers for the latest book they had sent him – F.R. Leavis’s Nor shall my sword.’ The story, as it continues, traces Sefton’s rise to the top of the greasy pole of academic life, represented by the ...

Glorious and Most Glorious City of the Oxyrhinchites

Christopher Kelly: Roman Egypt, 21 February 2008

City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish: Greek Lives in Roman Egypt 
by Peter Parsons.
Phoenix, 312 pp., £9.99, December 2007, 978 0 7538 2233 3
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... many more’. Scholarly order is imposed on a similarly bewildering variety of mud bricks, pots, pickles, preserves and cakes: ‘the standard flat cake (plakous), cakes with honey and nuts chopped up (koptai), crumbly cakes with honey and sesame (itria)’. Parsons slowly, meticulously explains the process of Egyptian baking in klibanoi, terracotta shells ...

Mexxed Missages

Elaine Showalter: A road trip through Middle America, 4 November 2004

... there’s a makeshift little museum with some yellowing clippings, and a place that sells Alien Pickles. On this rainy Sunday a few families are touring the museum, but after 9/11, the notion of alien abduction seems as quaint and legendary as being abducted by Billy the Kid. Blurry photos of supposed ‘alien implants’, vague scratches on pale ...

Flowers in His Trousers

Christopher Benfey: Central Park’s Architect, 6 October 2016

Frederick Law Olmsted: Writings on Landscape, Culture and Society 
edited by Charles E. Beveridge.
Library of America, 802 pp., £30, November 2015, 978 1 59853 452 8
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... of the commission. He ‘sleeps on a sofa in his clothes, and breakfasts on strong coffee and pickles!!!’ Olmsted reported on the ‘avalanche of suffering’ he witnessed on the hospital ships he commanded along the Virginia shore: ‘The little room was as full as it could be packed of sick soldiers sitting – not lying – on the floor; there was ...

America comes to the USSR

J. Hoberman: The 1950s’ Soviet Dream, 6 January 2011

Red Plenty: Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the 1950s’ Soviet Dream 
by Francis Spufford.
Faber, 434 pp., £16.99, August 2010, 978 0 571 22523 1
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... essay (a reception in Akademgorodok’s brand-new eight-storey hotel features ‘sliced beef, pickles, black bread, a hardboiled egg, a pyramidal salad of tinned peas and diced apple held together with mayonnaise’), Spufford waxes scientific. One chapter includes a detailed description of the thermionic valves used in the BESM-2 processor invented by ...

If they’re ill, charge them extra

James Meek: Flamingo Plucking, 21 March 2002

Salt: A World History 
by Mark Kurlansky.
Cape, 452 pp., £17.99, February 2002, 0 224 06084 8
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Salt: Grain of Life 
by Pierre Laszlo, translated by Mary Beth Mader.
Columbia, 220 pp., £15.95, July 2001, 0 231 12198 9
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... preserve food to tide them through times of famine (which would include the average winter). Hence pickles, sausages, salt fish, hams, cheese, sauces – hence, in fact, much of what is wonderful in food. There are ironies in this, as Kurlansky points out. These foods, once essential to prevent the everyday menace of starvation, are now, in the era of ...

On Not Going Home

James Wood, 20 February 2014

... he wished, talking to people, telling them stories about far-off lands, where people ate honey and pickles, where no one put ice in the water, where pigeons nested in pantries.It’s as if jet flight is existentially shallow; a slower journey would enact the gravity and enormity of the transformation. Pronek returns to America, but must take his home with ...

Hang up your running shoes

Jon Day: Emil Zatopek, 6 October 2016

Today We Die a Little: The Rise and Fall of Emil Zatopek, Olympic Legend 
by Richard Askwith.
Yellow Jersey, 480 pp., £16.99, April 2016, 978 0 224 10034 2
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Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zatopek 
by Rick Broadbent.
Wisden, 320 pp., £16.99, April 2016, 978 1 4729 2022 5
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... He drank strange concoctions that he thought would improve his performance: the juice from jars of pickles; a mixture of lemon juice (for vitamin C) and chalk (he thought the calcium would protect his teeth). He ate the leaves of young birch trees because he had noticed that deer did so. Deer run quickly, he reasoned, so he might too. He experimented with ...

Bible Study in the Basement

Namara Smith: ‘Priestdaddy: A Memoir’, 13 July 2017

Priestdaddy: A Memoir 
by Patricia Lockwood.
Allen Lane, 333 pp., £14.99, May 2017, 978 1 84614 920 7
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... provides moral instruction to his children with his hand dangling in an immense bowl of homemade pickles (‘the only vegetables he ever ate willingly’). When the urge strikes, he shuts himself up in his study to make ‘violent and incomprehensible sounds’ on the electric guitar. As a teenager, Lockwood’s father grew his hair long and played in a ...

Echo is a fangirl

Ange Mlinko, 3 December 2020

Time Lived, without Its Flow 
by Denise Riley.
Picador, 85 pp., £9.99, October 2019, 978 1 5290 1710 6
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Selected Poems: 1976-2016 
by Denise Riley.
Picador, 210 pp., £14.99, October 2019, 978 1 5290 1712 0
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... singing in its waters, ‘flexing my long damp thighs/Now as studded and ridged as the best dill pickles in Whitechapel’. She tries out different registers, different personae:What should I sing out on this gratuitous new instrument?/Not much liking minimalism, I tried out some Messiaen,/Found I was a natural as a bassoon,/indeed the ondes martenot/Simply ...

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