Lead book review

Bona to vada your dolly old eek

Imagine you’re a gay man living in the year 1950. Not unnaturally, you would like to meet another gay man. How to identify yourself to a potential partner? A confession might bring the police; dressing and carrying yourself in distinctive ways will invite ridicule or violence in the street. The solution is this: you casually

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He saw it all

Apart from a passionate relationship with the common toad, what do George Orwell and David Attenborough have in common? H.G. Wells is the answer. The self-consciously ‘great’ old man’s bad, yet gripping, writing about utopias profoundly influenced Orwell. And Attenborough, as a lad, was entranced by Wells’s extravaganza A Short History of the World —

First-class air mail

Growing up as a rootless army brat in bases home and abroad, I would listen in appalled delight to my parents’ record of Tom Lehrer singing ‘Poisoning pigeons in the park’: ‘When they see us coming the birdies all try and hide/ but they still go for peanuts, when coated in cyanide.’ Now, I have

Back from the brink

Hugo Williams’s wryly candid reports from the front lines of sex and family life are a perennial delight. Often timeless, they also frequently bring the styles and music of the 1950s and 1960s back to elegant life. These pleasures can be found once again in Williams’s new book, Lines Off; but this time they’re not

An asymmetrical friendship

If you know your Peter Conradi from your Peter J. Conradi, you’ll also know that the former is foreign editor at the Sunday Times, while the latter is a professor emeritus at the University of Kingston and the authorised biographer of the late Iris Murdoch, of whom he was a devoted friend and disciple. It’s

Native wood-notes wild | 20 June 2019

With public life increasingly a din of personalised ringtones and phone chatter, we crave silence. Acoustic ecologists speak of ‘ear cleaning’ exercises that might attune us beatifically to a hushed environment. Silence itself can be quite noisy, of course. Even in the countryside the thoughts in one’s head and the sound of one’s breathing can

Illusions about delusions

Schizophrenia is the psychiatric illness about which the most misconceptions abound. It’s not so much the ‘negative’ symptoms that cause misunderstanding, devastating as they are — social withdrawal, self-neglect, flattening of mood — but the auditory hallucinations and delusions, often of a paranoid nature, that can accompany it. Nathan Filer, a psychiatric nurse, wrote the

A shaggy showgirl story

One of the chief regrets of book-loving women of my age — and a surprising number of men — is that no one writes novels like Love in a Cold Climate and The Dud Avocado any more. I’m talking about the brand of romantic misadventure written with such wit, verve and emotional honesty that you