High life

High life | 1 March 2018

Gstaad They have busy eyes and the set of their mouths is that of a hungry carnivore. Their hands are always working, stroking, exaggerating. They’re salesmen to the rich and famous and flog them trinkets, pictures and dresses — and at times even people. They gush like no Hollywood agent ever did, and once upon

Low life

Low life | 1 March 2018

Poperinghe, Bailleul, Wytschaete, Gheluvelt, Ploegsteert, Messines, Zonnebeke, Passchendaele. The other week I grandiosely claimed that I have been reading about the first world war, on and off, all my life. What I ought to have added was ‘with little or no understanding’. Because it wasn’t until a fortnight ago, when I bought a 1916 Ordnance

Real life

Real life | 1 March 2018

‘Good afternoon, my name is Bradley, and how may I be of help to you today?’ After you’ve spent ten minutes negotiating an automated system that quite clearly aims to frustrate you from ever getting through to a human being, when you do get through to one, through dint of your own bloody-minded refusal to

More from life

The turf | 1 March 2018

You can tell by the tone of the jokes how most occupations are regarded and we’ve all heard the traditional ones about the old enemy. ‘Why don’t sharks attack bookies?’ ‘Professional courtesy’. ‘Why did God invent bookmakers?’ ‘To make used-car salesmen look good.’ ‘Why are bookmakers buried an extra six feet down?’ ‘Because deep down

Wine Club

Wine Club 03 March

Chateau Musar, that extraordinary Lebanese winery with vineyards deep in the Bekaa Valley, boasts an almost fanatical following. Indeed, two of Musar’s most devoted admirers were my esteemed predecessors — Messrs Waugh and Hoggart — thanks to whom our Wine Club partner, Mr Wheeler, has been wafting Musar under the beaks of Spectator readers very

No sacred cows

It’s World Book Day again. God help us

For parents of primary school children, the first Thursday in March has got to be the worst day of the year. Even an attendance Nazi like me, who won’t countenance any excuse for keeping a child home from school, would accept that on this occasion a ‘tummy ache’ is a perfectly legitimate reason. Why do

Dear Mary

Your problems solved | 1 March 2018

Q. For some time I have been spoiled by paying a small rent for a central flat belonging to absentee friends of my parents. Unfortunately it is a two-bedroom flat and the owners have just moved another lodger in. She is nice but ill-informed and, frankly, thick. Even ordinary non-challenging conversations about domestic issues are


Sweet drams

‘What seas what shore what grey rocks what water lapping the bow’. So evocative, which seems strange: one would have assumed that Eliot would have been seasick crossing the Channel. Yet he understood the gentle little tides — and also the beauty and the fear, the other-worldliness, the implacable grandeur, of the great waters’ vast

Mind your language

Trahison des clercs

I had long associated the phrase trahison des clercs with the writer Geoffrey Wheatcroft, though I can’t put my finger on examples in his oeuvre. In any case, I wrongly presumed that trahison des clercs dated from the Middle Ages, when clerks in orders were the learned ones, like Chaucer’s Clerk of Oxford, responsible for

The Wiki Man

Why I’m not on board with quiet carriages

Every now and then I try to invent a new scientific unit. I’ll never come up with anything as good as the millihelen — a unit of beauty sufficient to launch one ship — or the Sheppey, which is a distance of approximately seven-eighths of a mile defined as ‘the minimum distance at which sheep