More Mr Pooter than Joe Orton: George Lucas’s gay life in London

In January 1948, George Lucas, an unremarkable 21-year-old Roman Catholic who had just been demobbed from the Pay Corps, was living unhappily in Romford with his ill-matched parents, who relentlessly taunted him about his homosexuality. He would shortly get a job at the War Office and so embark on a lifetime’s career as a civil servant, commuting to central London every day to work at his desk and spend his evenings in search of sex and companionship, largely among the servicemen who hung around Marble Arch. In later life Lucas would trawl the pubs, streets and urinals of central London, more often than not paying for sex, and always keeping

Women don’t want women-only clubs

In my experience, men offer this infuriating comeback when challenged about the continuing exclusion of women from clubs such as the Garrick (for now at least – the Garrick is voting on 7 May on the admission of women as members). ‘But why don’t you set up your own women-only clubs,’ they sulk, ‘and leave us alone?’ My interlocutors are often members of not one but multiple men-only clubs. My husband, father and brothers, for example, frequent a combination of White’s, the Beefsteak, Pratt’s (men-only until last year) and the Garrick. Two of my siblings à l’époque graced the Bullingdon at Oxford. Women-only clubs are all marketed as networking hubs,

Navalny’s final agony at the Polar Wolf gulag

One winter’s night before the Ukraine war, I was on a train that stopped at a remote station deep in the Russian arctic. It was late November. The mercury stood at 15 degrees below zero – the hard, dry frost of the far north. The train stood silent, wreathed in the coal smoke of the stoves that heated every carriage. The village’s name was Kharp. Though I did not know it at the time, Kharp is home to the FKU IK-3 penal colony, a Soviet-era arctic facility known as Polar Wolf where Alexei Navalny has just died. It was here that the Putin regime, with its rigid deafness to irony,

The pure joy of grandchildren

‘My grandchildren are my world,’ writes a woman on social media, summing up a certain type of grandparent. There are, however, two ways of looking at it and I see many whose worlds revolve around their grandchildren because they have no choice. I used to chat with them at the school gate. If their families were not strictly ‘the rural poor’, they were certainly of the group Theresa May described as ‘just about managing’: both parents had to work and grandparents took up the slack, unless they were still of working age, in which case arrangements were more haphazard. I see many whose worlds revolve around their grandchildren because they

‘The chocolate soufflé is too good for people’: Pavyllon at the Four Seasons Hotel, reviewed

One in, one out, as Rick says in Casablanca. Le Gavroche, which was the first restaurant in Britain to win three Michelin stars – and this was before Michelin stars indicated poor mental health in gifted chefs – closes in January, which is serious news in the land of London restaurants: a kind of Congress of Vienna with Michel Roux bowing out with the blood of infinite chickens on his knife. I don’t love Le Gavroche the way other critics do but I admire it, even if it means ‘urchin’, which is not witty when you consider its prices. There was a scandal involving staff’s tips going to management –

The new status symbol of the super rich: headlice

To help out friends, I sometimes collect a boy from his primary school near Sloane Square. This part of London boasts the most expensive homes in Britain and the local families are served by a crop of ultra-pricey schools. The best known, Hill House, was founded in the 1940s by an eccentric army officer, ‘the Colonel’, who replaced the traditional blazers, caps and ties with a uniform of soft shoes, breeches and cravats inspired by George Mallory’s climbing kit. The Colonel’s wife chose the colours – red, brown and saffron – and the pupils became a local landmark as they marched along the King’s Road to play games at the

The heady, hedonistic summer in which I became a life-long foreigner

Rome I have spent almost all my adult life as a foreigner. When I graduated from Oxford I faced a stark choice: work for a living or leave the country. As I did not wish ever to have to get up in the morning, toil in an office or travel on public transport, the path was clear. I moved to Budapest with the intention of opening a bar. I feature in three novels as, respectively, a poseur, a snob and a persistent but inept seducer It was the summer of 1993, and the newly free nations of central Europe had become an irresistible magnet for self-styled bohemians from across the

Grumpiness is a way of life

I used to be a terrible grump who would rant and rage against the 1,001 irritations of modern British life. And then one day I decided life was too short to be permanently enraged by everything and everyone.  ‘These kind people simply want to share their music with me! How thoughtful!’ For grumpy me, the sound of other people’s music in public spaces was agony. I’d seethe at the outrageous selfishness of such people. My quiet walks through the park would be shattered by the BOOM-BOOM-BOOM blast of music from a passing cyclist. And I’d shout: ‘Thanks for sharing your terrible taste in music!’   The new, cool me reacted differently.

How the Georgians invented nightlife

Modern nightlife was invented in London around 1700. So argued the historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch, who traced this revolution in city life to its origins in court culture. Medieval and Renaissance courts held their festivities while it was still light outside, but by the late 17th century, aristocrats preferred to party after dark. The trend was rapidly commercialised: a new kind of conspicuous consumer descended on pleasure gardens like Vauxhall and Ranelagh, to eat, drink, stroll and listen to music by the many-coloured light of thousands of oil lamps. Before the 1700s, night was a fearful all-consuming presence, and the main challenge was to get through it Or you can give

Paul Wood, James Heale and Robin Ashenden

23 min listen

This week Paul Wood delves into the complex background of the Middle East and asks if Iran might have been behind the Hamas attacks on Israel, and what might come next (01:11), James Heale ponders the great Tory tax debate by asking what is the point of the Tories if they don’t lower taxes (13:04) and Robin Ashenden on how he plans to introduce his half Russian daughter to the delights of red buses, Beefeaters and a proper full English (18:36). Produced and presented by Linden Kemkaran

‘Weaponising Jewish people is wrong’: Sadiq Khan on anti-Semitism, Ulez and the upcoming electoral battle

For most of this year it was widely accepted that the Tories had given up on London. Sadiq Khan seemed unbeatable and the party’s hunt for a mayoral candidate to run against him became a farce as various ‘big names’ refused to run. Then Daniel Korski, the frontrunner for the candidacy, had to drop out over a #MeToo row and it fell to Susan Hall to lead the charge. And yet, despite the political drama, the Tories are within touching distance of victory at City Hall – just a couple of points behind Labour in the polls. London looks winnable. ‘Nobody likes to be unpopular, but you’ve got to have

London e-bike blight

The past few weeks have been spent in the enclosed rehearsal spaces of the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End, preparing and finally opening in Private Lives. Shut off from the world as I am, we could have become a colony of North Korea for all I know. And yet some things do penetrate – who could fail to be horrified and appalled by the twin disasters in North Africa recently? These two devastating events have resulted in the deaths of an ever-rising number of tens of thousands of people. And yet they already seem to have dropped off our news coverage. Has the enormity of the 2004 Indian Ocean

Ulez expansion has gone ahead in defiance of evidence

London’s Ulez scheme has been expanded. A new network of cameras filming the traffic movements of millions of Londoners is now switched on. Old cars and vans, often used by sole traders, will be charged £12.50 a day if they pull out of their driveways. Keir Starmer had asked the London Mayor Sadiq Khan to ‘reflect’ on the policy after Labour lost the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election. Khan duly did, and concluded that he would stick to plan A. With 4,000 Londoners dying of air pollution every year, he said he had no option. But if that figure is correct, why has air pollution been mentioned in only one

Hell is the Ulez hotline

‘Only boring people get bored’ is what we were all told as children. What we were not warned about was that boring things can also make you boring. Boringness is infectious. Or so I have come to believe. Due to the backlash against the extension of Ulez, the Mayor has come up with a fresh brilliant idea Thanks to my own low tolerance for boring things, I didn’t race to find out about the Ulez scheme. These soul-destroying acronyms often arrive at the peripheries of my vision, where I hope they will remain. Yet they make their remorseless push forward. So this week, with boring inevitability, I had to call

The rise of the open-fire restaurant

Burn the formal white tablecloths and fling open the kitchen doors. The latest craze in restaurant culture is open-fire cooking – where chefs sweat it out over roaring flames in full view of their customers. And the simple, raw nature of this method of food preparation seems to have set diners’ imaginations alight.  ‘Cooking outside over flames is primal and in our DNA as human beings,’ says Andrew Clarke, co-founder of Acme Fire Cult – one such restaurant in Dalston, north London. ‘The smell of woodsmoke and animal fats hitting the hot coals stirs up something deep inside.’ For Tomos Parry, chef and co-owner of Brat – another open-fire restaurant

When is a martini not a martini?

Considering its status as the canon’s most iconic cocktail, it’s remarkable that the martini doesn’t have a single agreed upon recipe. Like many great drinks it comes with more of a template than exact specifications, which basically dares us to riff on the formula. Historically, this has meant altering the garnish – swapping the olive for a cocktail onion, perhaps – or adding a dash of bitters. Today, though, a whole generation of bartenders is using the martini to channel their creativity, introducing bespoke ingredients and flavour combinations to this old favourite. But just how many times can you remix the martini and still retain its essential martini-ness? Gamely, I

Has the regeneration of Elephant and Castle been a success?

It has been ten years since work began in earnest on the regeneration of one of the few surviving sections of old-school central London. While the rest of Zone 1 seemingly saw wall-to-wall gentrification, Elephant and Castle remained an outpost of stubborn, scruffy ordinariness, an oasis of discount stores, greasy spoons and traditional boozers. Over the past decade, billions of pounds have been lavished on sprucing up the Elephant. But while the old place certainly looks quite different – a cluster of new towers, thousands of new homes, a gaping hole where the 1960s shopping centre once stood – this is a regeneration that has had its fair share of troubles.

The invasion of the wheelie bins

Once I thought nothing could make residential Britain look uglier than pebble-dashing, PVC windows and satellite dishes. I was wrong. As if the country had not been brutally homogenised enough by the fact that every high street has the same shops, now every residential road is reduced to being an identical backdrop for a very persistent invader: the wheelie bin. Lined up like Daleks, they are breeding in my North London neighbourhood, blocking front gardens and pavements. Outside houses split into flats, where each has its own set, there are actual crowds of these 4.5ft graceless plastic buckets, which come in multiple colours for different sorts of rubbish. When wheelie bins first

How to see world-class opera for £11

I’ve always been happy to splash out on attending all sorts of events – £80 on tickets for run-of-the-mill Premiership football matches; £120 for the ghastly experience of watching rugby in Twickenham’s concrete jungle; £60 to attend a concert by ancient rockers who’ve seen better days. As an English teacher, I’m also an avid theatre-goer – despite the fact that the last time I went to the theatre, to see a woke version of Henry V full of gratuitous swearing and cheap jibes at Brexit, it cost £55 for a restricted view.   But I’d always avoided opera, put off by its somewhat elitist image. And I’m not the only one

Is Scottish reeling the route to romance?

‘Remember to flirt outrageously.’ This essential piece of advice is imparted courtesy of Country and Town House magazine for its readers curious about Scottish reeling. The reel, a social folk dance, dates back to 16th-century Scotland and has remained popular for all this time, notwithstanding a brief hiatus in the 17th century when the Scots Covenanters assumed the stance (rightfully, some might say) that such amusement leads to mischief leads to sin. Less curious about the dancing than the flirtation, I joined some friends for the final, sweaty session of the season at London Reels. The group meets in St Columba’s church in Knightsbridge on the second Tuesday of each