Spectator Life

Spectator Life

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

The worst open mic night of my life

A lonely microphone. A sound system that would have been impressive in the late 1990s. The smell of athlete’s foot and the contents of a Nobby’s Nuts packet. A deranged dog. Three privately educated members of a punk band call ‘SKiN FuK!’ arguing with the bartender. The stale atmosphere of regret and faded dreams mixed

Women are obsessed with the Romans, too

Infamy! Infamy! That was my response to the TikTok trend about ancient Rome. Women asked their partners how often they thought about the Roman Empire. Many men admitted they thought about it every day; three times a day, said one. One confessed he was obsessed with ‘aqueducts and the fact that they had concrete that

Save our cigars!

There’s nothing new about Rishi Sunak’s reported proposals to phase out smoking in Britain. His plan has been borrowed from New Zealand’s former leader Jacinda Ardern, whose shamefully illiberal legacy includes the complete illegalisation of tobacco sales to those born after 1 January 2009.    There’s nothing progressive about it, either. The Anglosphere’s elite war

Why Europe needs wolf hunting

In the German state of Hesse, the Christian Democrats have announced that, if they win next month’s state elections, they’ll back hunting licenses for wolves. The centre-right Free Democratic party has promised to do the same. Germany has around 1,000 wolves. Last year, the EU president Ursula von der Leyen’s pony was killed by one.

So long, summer!

Summer is now officially over and who laments its passing? Some may rhapsodise about the period between June and September, but for many of us, it is a hiatus and trial, the period of the year we most dread. It’s the bill for autumn and winter, the season we’d live better without.   The pavements

Julie Burchill

The unspeakable truth about Russell Brand

Before the accusations of being a Bad Feminist start, can I say that I am inclined to believe the women who claim to have been sexually assaulted and raped by Russell Brand. Nevertheless, I found another of the complaints about him featured in the Dispatches documentary – that sexual partners would telephone Brand’s employees ‘in

Julie Burchill

Be more Karen

In case you were under the apprehension that ‘Karen’ is simply an attractive name popularly given to girl babies in the early 1960s (my best friend as a child was called Karen, and there were three more in our year at my sink-school comprehensive) I’ve got news for you. To quote dictionary.com: Karen is a

The myth of Sandhurst

On one of summer’s rare dry days, I spent an evening watching The Rakes Progress at Glyndebourne’s Festival Opera. I’m a big opera fan and have travelled to Italy, Spain and Germany to see some fantastic performances but had never felt the urge to go to Glyndebourne. I am not sure why. I guess the idea of all

How I rid myself of a Hindu priest

Hinduism is diverse. Every region, caste and devotee worships differently which means that when there’s a big event no one knows what to do. Practices vary between communities. Sindhis do things differently to, say, Sikkimese. And they vary across different regions too. Sindhis in the Indian city of Pune, where my grandparents were from, do things

Julie Burchill

Britain is now a nation of shoplifters

I was a teenage shoplifter. I had a good run at it, from 12 to 14, and found it as addictive as any drug: the anticipation, the antsiness, the sharp stab of joy on completion. But all it took was getting caught, spending an hour in a police cell before being grimly collected and yelled

How to make excuses and infuriate people

It started as a fairly pleasant train journey. A woman with a half-shaved head and multiple tattoos got on pulling a French bulldog on a lead. We got to talking about dogs, and breeds, and whether Staffordshire Bull Terriers had an unearned bad reputation, and about her cats too, and was she a dog or

The rise and rise of the centrist bore podcast

It doesn’t seem like 13 years since I strolled down to the Cabinet Office after work on a May evening to enjoy a bit of protest tourism. A largeish crowd of the usual malcontents – students, crusties and the Socialist Workers’ party – had gathered to harangue the Tory and Lib Dem representatives who were

Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis’s peculiar apology

Not since the then-couple Johnny Depp and Amber Heard released a pained, hostage-style video in 2016 apologising for bringing their dogs into Australia illegally has there been such an awkward public statement by A-list stars. Now is the turn of actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher over the weekend. In the minute-long video, they half-apologise

Confessions of a sperm donor

I first became aware of the London Sperm Bank after seeing an advert on Instagram. ‘Help someone achieve their dream of a family. Become a sper­m donor and get compensated up to £420 a month’. Why not get paid to do something that I was going to do anyway in my spare time? In the

We need an English folk revival

The cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason recently expressed a preference for ‘folk tunes’ at the Last Night of the Proms over the singing of Rule Britannia! – and, whatever one may think of jettisoning Thomas Arne’s celebrated anthem of British liberty, Kanneh-Mason’s suggestion raises the question of what exactly English folk music is. England is not the

Is your pet killing the planet?

As a travel writer, I used to joke about the so-called ‘downsides of the job’. The stupidly complex shower-fixture in the five-star Maldivian Paradise. The unexpected commission to go to Denmark in winter. The vague but real sting of disappointment upon realising that the free hotel pillow-chocolate is actually a mint. But in recent years

Should I become a microdoser?

Microdosing, the practice of taking a very small amount of a mood-enhancing drug, has been happening in America for a long time. But in the UK, microdosing was, until recently, a fringe activity. Now everyone – teachers, techies, lawyers, hedge fund managers and hipsters – is doing it. Microdosing is moderation in pursuit of moderation.

Admit it, the French are better than us

The French, according to the enshrined belief system that I grew up with, are work-shy layabouts. They never turn up for a job on time as they’re too busy drinking wine for breakfast. And once they do finally start, they break off almost immediately for a two-hour lunch with more wine before dithering about a

Julie Burchill

The terrible triumph of tenderness

When I was a young woman in the 1980s, videotape was the new-fangled entertainment form; on evenings in, my second husband and I liked nothing better than to whack in a VHS and record something off the the telly. We felt like we were in The Jetsons – though seen with a modern eye, we

How to shock a Satanist

I wish I could be like actors and pretend to be bored by press junkets, but the truth is I love the attention. My job as a Hollywood writer and producer mainly involves sitting in front of a computer and shouting at my kids, so free drinks, launch parties and people telling you how great

Bring back sex, drugs and rock n’ roll 

It’s generally not hard to find a thoroughly depressing, joyless, plaintive, whiny, doom-laden, monotoned, earnest, life-sucking, soul-less, uninspiring, hapless and gloom-inducing article in the leftier British press. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the editors have sacked all their journalists, installed ChatGPT, and simply sit there, sipping Waitrose crémant, as they punch in evermore negative and melancholy prompts like ‘write an article

Punk’s fake history

If you were born after 1970 and don’t remember punk, you’ve almost certainly been misled by people who do. You’ve probably been told – through countless paean-to-punk retrospectives, documentaries and newspaper culture pages ­– that it was a glorious, anarchic revolution that swept all before it. I can tell you first-hand that it wasn’t. Punk

So long to the father of Americana

Robbie Robertson, the revered songwriter who died last week aged 80, was an immensely important composer. Over six decades in the entertainment business, Robertson worked alongside a small galaxy of musicians and singers, most famously Bob Dylan, who probably spoke for many when he said the Toronto-born artist’s death came as ‘shocking news’ for those

Why Americans love the Fringe

‘It’s like the Olympics of performing’ says Los Angeles-based comedian Greta Titelman on the Fringe’s reputation over the pond. ‘It’s a big honour – but you will likely have a mental breakdown at some point during your run.’ Like over 350 US-based acts this year, Greta has opted to spend August in Scotland’s capital at the largest

Real cyclists don’t use e-bikes

An impossible 45 years ago, I decided the moment had come to get back on my pushbike. I had long hated the way the motor car was taking over the world and wanted to play my part in changing this. I also had a more selfish reason. After two years on the Fleet Street diet

The trouble with wild campers

It’s not just bears that squat in the woods, as you’ll discover if you ever have the pleasure of a visit from wild campers. Other disfigurements to the land have included scorched patches of grass, which luckily didn’t become full-blown wildfires, branches severed from trees (presumably for wet firewood), stakes removed from young saplings (ditto),

What skinheads did for reggae

Let’s play a game of word association. I’ll start: ‘skinhead’. Hmm. I think I can guess which words instantly occurred to you: ‘thug’ perhaps, ‘hooligan’ probably and possibly even ‘racist’? Yet for anyone who remembers the original incarnation of skinheads, another word will always spring to mind: ‘reggae’. If you believe that Britain’s love affair with