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Fifty shades of Santa

During a frantic online rummage for last-minute Christmas presents (I am too old to risk actually purchasing anything on the internet this close to the 25th, but I thought I might find some inspiration for presents I could then go out and buy in the shops and drag home in a bag on a stinking

Egypt on the brink

It is strange now to recall the jubilation with which the ‘Arab Spring’ was welcomed. Amid all the excitement of dictators toppling, many people here in the West, as well as some over there on the ground, forgot that the test of a revolution is not the overthrow of a tyrant, but what comes next.

Thank men for women’s lib

Let’s get this straight. I’m a feminist. That’s the way I was brought up. My mum was a passionate women’s libber and I always agreed with my mum — even when she was wrong — but she was right on that one. The struggle to free one sex has liberated both. The human species is now

The unlikely revolutionary

Behind Michael Gove’s desk stands an imposing McCarthy-era poster which says: ‘Sure I want to fight Communism — but how?’ In their less charitable moments, Tories may argue that his Department of Education is as good a place as any to start. The strength of its grip over state schools has long been the subject

Assault on the ivory tower

Look down the list of the masters, wardens and principals of Oxford colleges and you’ll soon see that The Spectator’s contributing editor Peter Oborne was on to something with his theory of the inexorable rise of the media and political classes. At high tables across the university, former journalists, broadcasting executives and quangocrats are increasingly

The age of turboparalysis

More than half a decade has passed since the recession that triggered the financial panic and the Great Recession, but the condition of the world continues to be summed up by what I’ve called ‘turboparalysis’ — a prolonged condition of furious motion without movement in any particular direction, a situation in which the engine roars

Reason to believe

My belief in God is not philosophical. It is not rooted in metaphysics or reason. It springs from the heart and the senses. It is practical. Every Sunday I attend the 11 o’clock Mass at the Jesuit church in Farm Street, Mayfair. I have been doing this, intermittently, for decades. For me, Farm Street is

Alpha male

Just before stepping down as Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Robert Runcie told me — in a sotto voce conversation during the General Synod — that charismatic evangelical parishes such as Holy Trinity Brompton (‘HTB’) in South Kensington, with their American-style worship, near-fundamentalist teaching and smart social connections, posed more of a threat to the

The tao of washing up

Christmas isn’t about giving. Or receiving. It’s about washing up. And for some of us that’s its greatest joy. You think men hide from housework? Not when it comes to the soapy science, we don’t. Virtually all my male friends share a love of the bubbles. For us, ‘festive season’ equals ‘even more plates and

The greats we hate

Craig Brown Which classic work do you think this comes from? ‘Her teeth were white in her brown face and her skin and her eyes were the same golden tawny brown. She had high cheek-bones, merry eyes and a straight mouth with full lips. Her hair was the golden brown of a grain field that

‘We rot. Don’t we?’

Joanna Lumley and Sister Elizabeth Obbard are seated at the front of the church. Lumley is perched elegantly on the edge of her chair; Sister Elizabeth settles deep into hers, submerged under folds of habit. They are talking in front of an audience at the Carmelite church in Kensington, west London, about life as a

Screen burn

In mid-November an Indian chauffeur taking me to Broadcasting House made a detour to show me the Christmas lights in Regent Street. He wished to share the pleasure that they gave him and it was with glee that of the shops he used the terms ‘top class’ and ‘posh’, when to me the street seems

Tbilisi: The Edge of the Real

The electricity will be on in one hour, says my landlady. She tells me that it is dark out all over town (ignoring the glittering chrome bridge over the Mtkvari River, ignoring the casino that casts neon shadows on the banks at night). She calls me ‘daughter’ and evades specifics. Won’t I come upstairs for

Christmas Quiz

It’s time for the immemorial Christmas custom in which the family gathers round the iPad, cracks another walnut, and sharpens its competitive claws on the Spectator’s traditional challenge to suppressed memories of unlikely events, political gaffes, terrible films, old books and the Olympic opening ceremony. Weird world In 2012: 1 On whose painting, ‘Black on


American Notebook | 12 December 2012

I bumped into Steve Martin dining with Eric Idle at a Beverly Hills boîte, as one does. ‘I really enjoy your Spectator diaries,’ said Steve. ‘And I,’ said Mr Idle. ‘And you and the roller-skating nuns were the best thing in the Olympic finale,’ I chirped back. Hollywood folk love to give each other compliments.

A letter from Turkey

My Turkish never having got beyond intermediate, I always have the same conversation with taxi drivers. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘England, actually I’m a Scotsman,’ I say. Cue suppressed giggles about skirts and whisky from the driver, perhaps a mention of Braveheart. I ask: ‘Where are you from?’ Most taxi drivers in Istanbul are from


For obvious reasons, people are always looking for a nicer word for right-wing. For a while, they tried ‘free-market’ — after all, it sounds spirited and buccaneering — but the 2008 financial crisis left that one holed below the waterline. There was a brief fashion for trying to make the word ‘laissez-faire’ sound attractive, but

Christmas Notebook | 12 December 2012

I used to spend a small part of every Christmas season worrying that perhaps that year, the particular year in which I was worrying, wasn’t quite as Christmassy as all the others. Generally speaking, I can take all the cinnamon and cloves and ching-chingy shop music you can throw at me, even the colossal seasonal