Spinsters and Clerics

Alison Light

In the summer​ of 1934, after finishing her English degree at Oxford, Barbara Pym drafted a comic novel. Sending up her closest friends, she cast the arrogant fellow graduate she was in love with as a self-centred cleric, Archdeacon Hoccleve, given to complaining loudly about his wife and numbing his congregation with abstruse sermons. Pym and her sister, Hilary, became Belinda and Harriet...

 

What if she’s a witch?

Clare Bucknell

To Hans Kepler, the Imperial Mathematician, trying to defend his mother by taking an analytical view of the situation, Leonberg is like a depressing morality play; its population a typical collection of sinners. ‘This one had always been envious; that one had always been willing to lie for personal gain. This one had denied his mother Communion. That one was known to be violent.’

 

In Baltimore

Gary Younge

When​ Black Lives Matter demonstrations erupted across the United States and then the world last year, their target was not Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd. Floyd’s murder resonated so widely because Chauvin’s brutality signified something deeper and more pervasive. The video footage of Floyd’s death offered evidence of both an...

 

The Mani Olive Harvest

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Everything gathers here. Animals stamp and neigh and collide and rear, swift hands disentangle them; strong backs are bent double under the sacks. Greetings are shouted and gossip has to be exchanged in voices of thunder to overcome the din of the engine and the roar of the great turning stones. Each peasant watches his cataract of olives poured into the wooden jaws; and when at last the pale jade-green jet of the first oil gushes from the spout below, he dips into it a piece of bread and munches it, feeling the happiest of mortals. These are private and local scenes, cut off from the outside world. Everyone who doesn’t belong here has fled long ago, at the same time as the swallows. (Not quite everyone, or these lines would not be being written.) One morning there is a confetti of snow on the high peaks of the Taygetus; in a day or two they are an unbroken white, a dazzling background to the oranges with which the village trees are now heavy. The harvesting goes on through the winter solstice until the cut twigs and branches cover the ground and choke the lanes.

 

Getting away with it

John Lanchester

Of the very, very many things that make fans cross, nothing makes them crosser than penalties and sendings-off induced by simulation. We all know what it looks like: the faintest contact with a defender sending the grizzled pro to writhe in agony on the pitch, one eye on the referee, the other on next year’s Oscars. There was a beautiful example in Italy’s quarter-final match against Belgium, when the inappropriately named Immobile collapsed with an apparently career-ending injury after being breathed on by a defender, only to bounce sheepishly back to his feet and trot off to join the celebrations when Italy scored ten seconds later. The generic fan term for this kind of behaviour – which includes elaborate delaying tactics, shirt-pulling, winding up opponents and so on – is ‘shithousery’. Fouls are against the rules but within the ethos of football. They’re just a fact of the game and all players foul, some better – more intelligently and tactically – than others. Simulation and shithousery are against the rules but the question of whether they are within the ethos of the game is more complicated.

Away with Words

Away with Words

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ACT UP grows up

Adam Mars-Jones

At first glance​ the title of Sarah Schulman’s remarkable history of the Aids pressure group ACT UP in New York has a cool authority at odds with the turbulent energy of the group itself, although justified by the meticulousness of her scholarship. Let the Record Show was also the title of a 1987 agitprop artwork devised by a collective that later called itself Gran Fury, and...

 

Diana of the Upper Air

Lavinia Greenlaw

Fora short while the highest point of the New York skyline was marked by a girl standing on tiptoe. At night she was also the brightest point, the focus of 66 incandescent lamps and ten spotlights, at a time when there was little electric light in the city. During the day, the sun detonated her gilded surface and she ‘flashed against a green-blue sky’, as Willa Cather described...

 

On Paul Celan

Michael Wood

Paul Celan​ was born in 1920 and died in 1970. The symmetry of these dates, arranged around the end of the Second World War, seems cruelly freighted, as does the fact that Celan chose to end his life on Hitler’s birthday. Celan – he gave himself the name by inverting the order of the syllables of his original surname, Antschel – grew up in Czernowitz, then part of Romania,...

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