Policed conviviality: Serpentine Pavilion 2023 reviewed

As I sat down at this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, I overheard a curious exchange. ‘You mustn’t create art within art,’ said an invigilator frostily. He was telling off Fred Pilbrow, an architect, who had been taking in the Pavilion’s sociable atmosphere with friends and painting a watercolour of the scene. They proceeded to enter a perverse negotiation as the invigilator struggled with the theoretical parameters of his orders; apparently the watercolour may stain the furniture but dry media like pencils aren’t allowed either; actually, all art-making is not allowed in any of the exhibitions, ‘but photography is OK’. The timber structure has been stained in a shade of brown that

Most-read 2021: Why I regret buying an electric car

We’re closing the year by republishing our ten most popular articles in 2021. Here’s number two: Jonathan Miller writing in April about the woes of owning a battery-powered vehicle.  I bought an electric car and wish I hadn’t. It seemed a good idea at the time, albeit a costly way of proclaiming my environmental virtuousness. The car cost €44,000, less a €6,000 subsidy courtesy of French taxpayers, the overwhelming majority poorer than me. Fellow villagers are driving those 20-year-old diesel vans that look like garden sheds on wheels. I order the car in May 2018. It’s promised in April 2019. ‘No later,’ promises the salesman at the local Hyundai dealer.

The podcast that makes the world strange, mysterious and compelling again

It’s interesting that we have decided shaming and yelling are the easiest ways to change people’s minds. Which is not to say I do not think there are people in this world who deserve to be shamed and yelled at: people who use the term ‘cancel culture’ sincerely, people who are deeply invested in the marriage and divorce cycles of celebrities, Meryl Streep. But do I think yelling at Ms Streep will accomplish what I fervently wish for, which is for her to stop ruining perfectly fine movies with her barely adequate performances? No. Every issue in our cultural lives is politicised right now. Just searching through various podcasts I

Why I regret buying an electric car

I bought an electric car and wish I hadn’t. It seemed a good idea at the time, albeit a costly way of proclaiming my environmental virtuousness. The car cost €44,000, less a €6,000 subsidy courtesy of French taxpayers, the overwhelming majority poorer than me. Fellow villagers are driving those 20-year-old diesel vans that look like garden sheds on wheels. I order the car in May 2018. It’s promised in April 2019. ‘No later,’ promises the salesman at the local Hyundai dealer. April comes and goes. No car. I phone the dealership. No explanation. The car finally arrives two months late, with no effort by Hyundai to apologise. But I Iove

Melanie McDonagh

Call of the wild | 19 April 2018

One of the prettiest pieces in the V&A exhibition Fashioned from Nature is a man’s cream waistcoat, silk and linen, produced in France before the revolution, in the days when men could give women a run for their money in flamboyant dress. It’s embroidered with macaque monkeys of quite extraordinary verisimilitude, with fruit trees sprouting all the way up the buttons. And what we know is that they were derived from the Comte de Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle, générale et particulière, of 1749–88. As Edwina Ehrman, curator of the exhibition, observes in her introductory essay, ‘choosing monkeys from Buffon’s publication… to create an embroidery pattern for a waistcoat reflected the fashionable

The only things left worth watching on the BBC are foreign buy-ins like The Last Wave

Soon, very soon now — even sooner than I imagined, if A Suitable Boy turns out to be as lacklustre as some critics are saying — the only things left worth watching on the BBC will be old repeats and foreign buy-ins like The Last Wave. A bit like The Returned (Les Revenants), The Last Wave concerns the effect of a supernatural event on a small community, not in the Alps this time but in a seaside resort on the Atlantic coast famed for its surf. During a competition, ten surfers are enveloped by a mysterious sausage-shaped cloud and disappear in the sea for five hours. They re-emerge, apparently unharmed

Bad science

Kill Climate Deniers is a provocative satire by Australian theatre-activist David Finnigan. The title sounds misanthropic and faintly deranged but the show is a comedy delivered with oodles of verve and fun. Finnigan is a skilful writer of dialogue, a gifted farceur and, at times, an astute analyst of power and its corrupting tendencies. Like most Aussies, he’s incapable of pomposity and his show takes a pop at every player in this game: the politicians, the shock jocks, the sainted Greens and the media. A TV journalist has the surname ‘Ile’ — an anagram of ‘lie’. Finnigan reminds us that the bulk of eco-warriors are white middle-class malcontents whose priority

Get woke, go broke

You won’t be aware of this because the BBC has been keeping it very quiet. But the new Doctor Who is — wait for it — a woman! Let me say straight away that Jodie Whittaker is a delight. Opening as the new Doctor is never easy — all that tiresome establishing rigmarole you have to go through along the lines of ‘I’m feeling all funny. Almost like I’m a completely different actor but in the same body. What can it be? Who am I? Has anyone watching at home worked it out yet?’ But already we like her. Yes, at the moment she’s still a bit of a mishmash

Losing his religion

Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is slow, churchy, cerebral, bleak, difficult, tormented and puzzling, which is always a blow. So exhausting when a film’s meaning isn’t laid out clearly and neatly before you. But it is, at least, powerfully puzzling and grippingly puzzling. You may not understand it (completely), but you will come away with the feeling that something was being said, whatever that something may have been. Ethan Hawke stars as the Revd Ernst Toller, leader of First Reformed Church somewhere in upstate New York. The church, which dates from 1767, is built in the Dutch style, and is white and clapboard, pretty as a picture. But right from our

Angst and cant

What if? is the engine of every great story. What if the toys came to life when their owner left the room? What if the prince’s uncle killed the king, seduced the queen, and stole the crown? Lucy Kirkwood asks: what if an elderly atomic physicist volunteered to take charge of the team decommissioning a stricken nuclear power plant in order to spare the lives of younger workers? Quite a complicated set-up. The play takes an hour to reach its starting point. First it feels like an oldies love triangle with a post-apocalyptic twist. We’re in a farmhouse near the site of a nuclear disaster. Rose, a wrinkly beauty, arrives

The lying game | 27 October 2016

‘Adam Curtis believed that 200,000 Guardian readers watching BBC2 could change the world. But this was a fantasy. In fact, he had created the televisual equivalent of a drunken late-night Wikipedia binge with pretentions to narrative coherence…’ You really must watch Ben Woodhams’s brilliant 2011 Adam Curtis-pastiche mini-documentary The Loving Trap, which you’ll find on YouTube. It’s so devastatingly cruel, funny and accurate that when I first saw it I speculated that Curtis would never be able to work again. But this was fantasy. Of course, I knew that Curtis would be back, not least because to be parodied in this way is not an insult but a sure sign

The slow death of environmentalism

Would you describe yourself as an ‘environmentalist’? I would, mainly to annoy greenies, but also because it’s true. If your definition of an environmentalist is someone who loves immersing himself in the natural world, makes a study of its ways and cares deeply about its future, I’m at least as much of one as David Attenborough. But I can see why many fellow nature lovers might balk at the term, especially now that it has become so grievously politicised. That would explain the recent Gallup poll — it was taken in the US but I suspect it applies to Britain too — showing how dramatically this label has plunged in popularity. In

I offered Zac Goldsmith £50 to stay 20 feet away from me

I once tried to bribe Zac Goldsmith with a £50 note, but he didn’t bite even back then. He was about 15 years old, and the reason for the hush money was pure self-preservation. He was already good-looking and I knew he’d be even more so at 20, so I offered him 50 quid to stay 20 feet away from me for the next 15 years if he saw me talking to a girl. My bribe worked with his younger brother Ben, who grabbed the loot and never kept his side of the bargain. That was in 1997, when Jimmy Goldsmith formed the Referendum party and I covered its first

The green house effect

I write this half-naked, sucking on ice cubes, breaking off sentences to stick my head in the fridge. In the flat below, one neighbour dangles out of her window, trying to reach fresh air, while another keeps having to go to hospital because the heat exacerbates a life-threatening heart condition. We live in a beautiful new development on the banks of the Thames. Fancy pamphlets in our lobby boast of our building’s energy efficiency. In winter, we bask in a balmy 24ºC, without having used the radiators in two years. The insulation in the walls is super-thick; our energy bills are super-low. But from spring to autumn, whatever the weather,

The Green party isn’t nearly tough enough on Ancient Greece

The Green party’s manifesto appears to make saving the planet only a small element in its otherwise painfully unoriginal agenda. This is a pity. People have been wreaking environmental havoc for thousands of years, Greeks and Romans included. Deforestation and subsequent soil erosion were the most serious example of such havoc in the ancient world. Wood was the equivalent of today’s coal and plastic. It provided fuel for houses, baths and industry, especially pottery-firing. We hear of one Phaenippus who made a useful income from his six donkeys bringing firewood into Athens every day. It was the basic building material for everything from chairs to houses and ships (even the pitch

Calling the Green party socialist is an insult to socialists

The Green party has been likened to a watermelon: green on the outside and red on the inside. But that is to do a huge injustice to generations of socialists and communists. Misguided though they were in many of their ideas, nobody could accuse them of actively seeking to make society poorer. That, however, is the unashamed aspiration of Natalie Bennett and what has become the fastest-growing political party in Britain. It is quite possible that a good proportion of the 9 per cent of the electorate who say they are planning to vote Green in May are unaware of this, but it is there in black and white (‘policy

The darkest secret about commuting: some of us enjoy it

In the early days of Victorian railways, train journeys were (rightly) considered so dangerous that ticket offices sold life insurance as well as tickets. There were no onboard toilets until the 1890s, meaning that passengers either had to cross their legs or buy a ‘secret travelling lavatory’, consisting of a rubber tube and bag hidden inside the clothes. Some traditions, though, were already well-established. ‘The real disgrace of England,’ wrote Anthony Trollope in 1869, ‘is the railway sandwich.’ These three facts all come from the first chapter of Iain Gately’s exploration of commuting. They also serve as a neat summary both of what’s best and what’s most odd about Rush

Does Ukip believe in anything any more?

[audioplayer src=”http://traffic.libsyn.com/spectator/TheViewFrom22_5_June_2014_v4.mp3″ title=”James Delingpole and Michael Heaver debate whether Ukip stands for anything” startat=1222] Listen [/audioplayer]I’m worried about Ukip. It’s possible that my concerns are entirely misplaced but let me give you some examples of what I mean. First, a tweet from Ukip’s Newark candidate Roger Helmer (whose heroic stance on energy and climate change I greatly admire): ‘Meet Robert Jenrick, the Tory candidate for Newark: Gilded youth. Posh Tory boy. London property millionaire.’ Second, the party’s official response to a local newspaper interview given by Donna Rachel Edmunds, one of Ukip’s new councillors in Lewes, East Sussex, in which she argued — on perfectly sound libertarian principles — that businesses should

Tim Rice’s diary: From Eternity to here

Last October, in these very pages, I wrote with what is now annoying prescience, ‘Like almost everyone else in the insane world of musical theatre, I don’t know how to create a hit.’ I am now facing up to the grim fact that my latest effort, From Here to Eternity, is folding after a six-month run at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The publicity has vastly exceeded the interest in the show when it opened last September. Never have the words of Bob Dylan seemed so relevant to me: ‘There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.’ The enthusiasm of the media to report gleefully on Eternity biting the

You, too, can be a shale profiteer

It might not be something you want to mention in the Half Moon Inn in Balcombe, or around any of the other communities where people are getting anxious about shale gas explorers ripping up the countryside with their drills and pipelines. But if shale is the tremendous source of wealth that David Cameron insists it can be for this country, how do you go about investing it? After all, if there are fortunes to be made, there is no reason not to claim your share. There is no longer any question that shale gas is a major industry. In the US, where it is most advanced, it is already worth