Fascinating: Radio 4’s Empire of Tea reviewed

I can scarcely remember a time before tea: I started drinking it at around four, at home in Belfast, as a reward after school. Before long I was as fiercely protective of my right to a brew as the workers of British Leyland’s Birmingham car plant, who were famously spurred to strike action in 1981 when the management proposed cutting tea breaks by 11 minutes. Decades on, my passion is undiminished. There is no problem to which tea is not at least a partial solution: it restores flagging spirits, calms the over-excited, warms in winter and refreshes in summer. Sathnam Sanghera’s recollections in his Radio 4 five-parter Empire of Tea

Was there ever a time of equality in human society?

Origin stories have always helped humans gain a moral compass. Locked in a tight embrace, the Maori deities Rangi and Papa are separated by their enveloped children, creating the distant father sky and nurturing Mother Earth, bringing light to the world. Mayan gods fashion man from maize after destroying earlier clay and wood versions, who are seen to have no soul. Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Life but illicitly also from the Tree of Knowledge. One of the more touted modern human origin stories, ostensibly based on evolutionary science, speaks of a natural inequality between violent and promiscuous men and caring and faithful women. Having evolved to

Why do people assume I am posh?

If we cram any more doctors into our spare rooms we can put a sign outside advertising NHS accommodation. We came by the first one when he answered my ad on a well-known website, booked for a few nights and ended up staying for years. He has a family home elsewhere, but needs somewhere to sleep when he is working late at the nearby hospital. I cannot find a small house with a few acres that I can afford anywhere in Britain He is an anaesthetist and no trouble at all. We see him only one or two nights a week, or sometimes less, depending on his shift pattern. He

It’s taken me days to uncringe: All My Friends Hate Me reviewed

All My Friends Hate Me is a film about a university reunion weekend and should you have an upcoming university reunion weekend, I’d duck out if I were you. No good will come of it. This is social anxiety as horror (almost) and you won’t just cringe for the full 90 minutes, you will violently cringe. It may take you days to uncringe. It’s a clever film, and surprising, and compelling. Yet it is also an endurance test. You won’t regret seeing it, but you will be so glad when it’s over. You won’t regret seeing this film but you will be so glad when it is over This is

A gem that should be released online: Park Theatre’s Abigail’s Party reviewed

Mike Leigh’s classic, Abigail’s Party, has been revived under the direction of Vivienne Garnett. The script is a guilty secret for middle-class types who like to sneer at those beneath them but who can’t express their shameful feelings openly so they watch Mike Leigh instead. The only sympathetic character, Susan, is a well-bred gal who arrives at the party with a bottle of red wine which Beverly puts in the fridge. Red wine in the fridge! How hilarious. Offered a gin or a Bacardi and Coke, Susan asks for a sherry, which Beverly doesn’t stock. A drinks cabinet with nothing but gin and Bacardi! What a bunch of barbarians. Next

The joy of being cancelled

New York I’ve never met anyone called Othello, certainly not in Venice nor in Cyprus, but perhaps there are men by that name in Africa. Someone who was referred to as Othello, but always behind his back, was the greatest of all Russians, Alexander Pushkin: a ‘raging Othello’ was how les mauvaises langues in court described the great poet. Pushkin’s great-grandfather, General A.P. Gannibal, was Ethiopian. I’ll get back to Othello in a jiffy, but first a few words about marital jealousy and Pushkin. The poet got a bee in his bonnet soon after marrying the beautiful but coquettish Natalia because she flirted, harmlessly but nevertheless disastrously. Innocent flirtation might

Forget race or class, marriage is the big social divide

The latest spark to ignite the culture wars is a report from the parliamentary education committee on the underachievement of working-class white boys. But this isn’t about race. The boys don’t underachieve because they are white. Their skin colour is merely a marker by which we can see that a certain cohort is doing worse than another. And despite received wisdom, it’s not just about poverty, school funding or investment. Children of other ethnicities who are equally poor, and even potentially at the same school, will likely do considerably better. It’s not even about class, which seems to be the latest factor on which the fickle finger of blame is

The secret code of the ruling class

I naively hoped that last year’s statement by the Equalities Minister explaining why unconscious bias training was being phased out across the civil service might slow its spread. After all, the minister’s scepticism wasn’t based on political disagreement but on research commissioned from the Behavioural Insights Team that concluded: ‘There is currently no evidence that this training changes behaviour in the long term or improves… equality in terms of representation of women, ethnic minorities or other minority groups.’ Reading between the lines, the BIT evidently thinks that UBT is little more than snake oil — and there’s a vast amount of literature in the social sciences to back that up.

Is my phobia of upmarket restaurants misplaced?

Scotching my bright idea of a stiff gin for Dutch courage in the bar across the road, Catriona bounded straight for the door of the Colombe d’Or. My restaurant phobia was fast upon me and I followed her into the bourgeois holy of holies more slowly than a nudist climbing through a barbed wire fence. We were half an hour early and directed to the bar. Here my plea for strong spirits was again denied and I had to make do with champagne. Speechless with ecstasy — this was her birthday treat — Catriona toddled off with her flute to cast her eye over the Miros, Matisses and Chagalls in

How the French view their weekly clap for carers

Once a week we break French emergency law and have a friend round for drinks on the terrace. The terrace overlooks the village rooftops as if it were a box at the theatre. Two weeks ago we were pleasantly lit up, when, at one minute to eight, the villagers below came out on to their terraces or stood at their windows and front doors to make a noise in support of the ‘essential’ workers: nurses, doctors, carers, postmen, shopkeepers, council workers, and so on. Some banged saucepans together or beat them with wooden spoons. Some blew horns of one kind or another, including what sounded to me like one of

Meet Emma Dent Coad, Kensington’s class warrior

Emma Dent Coad, Kensington’s new Labour MP, has a rule: ‘Don’t do personal.’ Except, that is, when it comes to David Cameron (‘Camoron’), George Osborne (‘double dipstick’), Boris Johnson (‘baby-daddy’), Nick Clegg (‘puny’), a local Tory rival (‘freeloading scumbag’), politicians generally (‘knaves, sophists, deceivers’), the judge running the Grenfell Tower inquiry (doesn’t ‘understand human beings’), the Queen (‘Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’), Prince Charles (‘massive tax evasion’), the Duke of Cambridge (‘so thick’), the Duchess of Cambridge (‘Kate Kardashian’), Prince Harry (‘playboy prince’) and black Conservative London Assembly member Shaun Bailey (‘token ghetto boy’). Dent Coad came to politics late, but during her half-year in Parliament she has experienced enough drama for a