Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Advent is a time of horror

At the age when most children are being read The Tailor of Gloucester or ’Twas the Night before Christmas, my father took a very different approach to bedtime stories during Advent, and read me my first M.R. James story. I can’t have been much more than five years old, and he was probably a few

Is Conor McGregor the Irish Trump?

The flamboyant, ridiculous mixed martial arts fighter Conor McGregor is considering a run for the Irish presidency. ‘Potential competition if I run,’ he tweeted yesterday, along with a picture of Gerry Adams, Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny, the three septuagenarian current favourites for the job. ‘Each with unbreakable ties to their individual parties politics… Or me,

The strange life of Alvin Stardust

He had mutton chop sideburns, a vast quiff and was dressed in black leather, even down to murderers’ gloves, over which he wore enormous silver rings, which he then wiggled in a beckoning fashion while staring suggestively into the camera. Nevermind hiding behind the sofa during Dr Who – for me, in December 1973, as

Why companies should ditch personality tests

An increasing number of British companies are using personality tests to hire staff. Two of the more popular personality tests are the Big Five and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). There’s just one problem and it’s a rather big one: both of these tests are utterly scientifically useless. And Brits are being hired (or not hired) based on the results

Hell is the multi-faith prayer room at Bristol Airport

When the Roman Emperor Justinian finished building the Hagia Sophia church in Constantinople in 537 he compared it to the great temple in Jerusalem. ‘Solomon, I have surpassed thee,’ he declared. Some 400 years later, as visiting ambassadors from Kyiv were led into the same ethereal structure, they remarked: ‘We did not know if we

The Terry Venables I knew

You didn’t have to like football to feel some sort of affinity with Terry Venables. He had bags of East London charm, oodles of enthusiasm and glossy good looks (as long as you didn’t mind the gold medallion around his permanently tanned neck). As it happens, I like football very much – so it was

I found peace at the gun range

I like ice hockey, 7-Eleven Big Gulps and the choice of six lanes on the Interstate. I like almost everything about America except the guns, which is why I decided to challenge my prejudices at a pistol range in Fresno, California. Walking in, I was welcomed by ‘Don’t tread on me!’ stickers and signs in

The Museum of London’s dubious ‘race research’

I don’t know about you, but I love a bit of topical reading when I go abroad. That’s why, in my last week of travelling between lush, green, untouched Cambodian islands, I’ve been immersed in apposite books like Julia Lovell’s Maoism: a Global History, and Frank Dikotter’s The Cultural Revolution. So far, I’ve been pleased

Was the Emperor Elagabalus really trans?

The North Hertfordshire Museum in Hitchin has made the remarkable discovery, known to historians only since the 9th century AD, that the Roman emperor Elagabalus was a sexual pervert who liked to be called ‘she’ and offered vast sums to any doctor who could kit him out with female sex organs. In celebration of such a visionary, the

How to date a widower

When is it acceptable to consider dating a widower? How do you know if they are still grieving and not ready to move on? According to statistics, men die earlier than women, so I was surprised this year to meet several whose wives had died before them. Divorced since the early 1990s, I had no

Why have we forgotten David Cassidy?

Everyone has a guilty pleasure. Some have several. One of mine is David Cassidy who died six years ago from liver failure at the age of 67, an event that barely made more than a back-of-the-book page lead in many newspapers. Which is a shame. For at his peak, he had a fanbase on a

JFK’s assassination and the landscape of loss

It has become a commonplace to observe that, 60 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, America lost its innocence – or at least the myth of its innocence. Certainly, the event has left a stubborn impression on history and culture; something to do with the power, grandeur and

What Ridley Scott gets wrong about history

The film director Ridley Scott says that those who worry about the historical inaccuracies in his new biopic of Napoleon should ‘get a life’. Or as the told The Sunday Times last week: ‘When I have issues with historians, I ask: “Excuse me, mate, were you there? No? Well, shut the fuck up, then.’ If

The miserable rise of the childless wedding

Since becoming a mother, I have come to dread weddings. Children are often no longer welcome at nuptials. My children have been banned from several already, and we have attended several others where they might as well have been, so inhospitable were they to young families. I find it indescribably depressing and utterly baffling that

Why are so many young people single?

An increasing number of young Brits are single. Many of these people don’t want to be single. They want to be in a relationship. But, for some reason or other, they’re having no luck. Why? What’s holding them back? A recent study shed light on the factors that contribute to involuntary singlehood in Britain and

I’m sick of streaming. Films were better on Blu-ray

The digital world, I’m realising, is a bit of a racket. Recently most of my iTunes library disappeared from my iPhone, and I just don’t know if I can be bothered to go through all the different hoops, portals, queueing systems and long forgotten passwords to get them back again. I’ve also had the repeated

The vanity of Just Stop Oil

Just Stop Oil have spent the past year vandalising their way through the National Gallery in the over-orchestrated manner of a Cluedo suspect. Once it was Constable’s Hay Wain in Room 34 with a bit of glue. Then van Gogh’s Sunflowers in Room 43 with a Warholian can of tomato soup. The newest casualty is

Against all odds, I’ve started to like Phil Collins

This isn’t easy for me. In fact, it is perhaps the most difficult public admission I’ve ever made. I’m worried about how people will react, how friends and colleagues might reconsider their opinion of me after reading this. But I can’t keep it locked up secretly inside me any longer. I have to admit it.

Help! I’m on a dating blacklist

There’s a online blacklist of men you should avoid dating and I’m on it. I discovered this over the summer when a colleague gave me a nudge and showed me a screenshot of my dating profile. ‘That’s you, isn’t it?’ A wave of fear passed through me. I had been posted on a Facebook group

Julie Burchill

Sam Smith, please put it away

Undressing. Getting one’s kit off, whether for the lads or the ladies, depending on one’s bent. Disrobing, divesting, denuding. Slipping into something more comfortable. Giving one an eyeful. Getting ‘em off. Once we put away childish things and cease frolicking as nature intended, stripping off becomes a whole new ballgame. In our newly found state

The beautiful sadness of Matthew Perry

Matthew Perry, who died yesterday, was the funniest of the Friends – and the saddest. ‘What must it be like to not be crippled by fear and self-loathing?’ his character, Chandler Bing, asked. It seems Perry never quite figured out the answer. Chandler was a brilliant comic creation – and Perry, a melancholic clown, perfectly suited

Gareth Roberts

My favourite, ferocious teacher

In 1979, I was 11 years old, and I had a quite remarkable teacher. Don’t worry, though – this isn’t going to be one of those anodyne paeans to an inspirational educator that the Department for Education use in their ads to lure people into teaching. In fact, if the lady I’ll refer to here

The secret to learning a language quickly

Becoming proficient in a so-called ‘easy’ language (for English speakers, French is relatively easy) often takes hundreds of hours; a difficult language (Mandarin anyone?) takes several thousand. That’s good for language teachers, but not so good for the learners.  Language teaching today is where medicine was in the 18th century Even after putting in all

How to hunt for fallen meteorites

At 1.17 p.m. on 1 February 2019, a daytime bolide exploded over Vinales, Cuba, showering down meteorites on the local villagers. Seasoned meteor hunters flew the stones back to the Tuscon Gem Show in a now-defunct Inn Suites where, from my display room, I watched enviously as they broke the stones apart with a hammer

Melanie McDonagh

Sir Ranulph Fiennes: a living Lawrence of Arabia

Sir Ranulph Fiennes (a third cousin of Ralph, since you ask) has written a book about Lawrence of Arabia. He feels an affinity with him: he too has led Arabs in fighting, in Sir Ranulph’s case, for the Sultan of Oman. ‘I’d been in Arabia, leading Arabs against the Marxist rebels. In Lawrence’s day, the

Richard Curtis doesn’t owe fat people an apology

Nepo-narcissism has plunged new depths. Scarlett Curtis, the mauve-haired social justice activist and daughter of filmmaker Richard, has been grilling her hapless father about his wicked pre-cultural revolutionary past. During a creepy Soviet-style cross-examination in front of a crowd at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Scarlett harangued the creator of Blackadder for failing to include a

Chivalry is dead

‘Excuse me please, would you mind moving your bag so I can sit down?’ I asked. He took a slug from his can of lager, looked me in the eye and said no. Picture the scene: the London Underground, steaming hot, a crowded carriage, a long day spent in heels, and a spot of sciatica.