My father was the best of England 

I always think of my father at this time of year. In particular, I go back to the summer of 1997 – the year he died and the year the England he knew died as well. You went to bed in the confidence that tomorrow could only bring the same happiness as today We always spent July and August at his house in Italy, with gardens that tumbled down to the sea. There was a comforting symmetry to those days. The mornings began with the BBC World Service; the evenings were spent mixing white ladies and arguing over the newspapers I had bought in the port, with its boats bobbing

The diary of a dying man: Graham Caveney’s poignant cancer memoir

Reading this third memoir by Graham Caveney, a knot in my chest tightened. It wasn’t only because it’s a cancer memoir; it was because the unfolding of history so often shows that abuse begets self-destructive behaviour. To parody Auden: I and the public knowWhat all healthcare staff learnThose to whom evil is doneDestroy themselves in turn. Caveney’s two previous memoirs, The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness and Agoraphobia, outlined his working-class childhood in Accrington, Lancashire, and his winning of a place at a Catholic grammar school. But where the school succeeded in helping him achieve his aim of becoming a writer, it also screwed with his head, because he was

Why am I so unlucky in love?

One of my exes is trying to get me arrested. I discovered this when I received an email from the Met Police saying that he had accused me of stealing his belongings. As he is not a British citizen, the nice policeman I spoke to said I need do nothing in response. I was puzzled, until I remembered that after we had parted ways my ex had said: ‘I’d like to see you behind bars.’ I hadn’t realised he had meant it literally. The bastard. When we parted ways, my ex had said: ‘I’d like to see you behind bars.’ I hadn’t realised he meant literally I wondered what I

Lovely slice of Cosmic Scouse: Michael Head & the Red Elastic, at EartH, reviewed

One of the more bizarre but recurring tales about how the music of Liverpool has been shaped over these past 45 years concerns Courtney Love, the American musician famed, music aside, for being married to Kurt Cobain, and for being wildly unpredictable. This story claims the 17-year-old Love, who had travelled across the Atlantic to be near the bands she loved, introduced Liverpudlian musicians to LSD, setting in train a decades-long phenomenon known as ‘Cosmic Scouse’. The slight problem with this is that Love only came to Liverpool in 1982, by which point the musicians she had come to celebrate – Echo & the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes among

Could I find a girlfriend on a Guardian Blind Date?

Free grub, free booze and the chance to fall in love. That’s the deal offered by Blind Date, a matchmaking strand in the Guardian that brings together lonely hearts and asks them to spill the beans. When I applied for this enticing freebie I had no expectation of being chosen, but my email was answered within hours. Amazing. Randy singletons are in short supply among Guardian readers. I was asked to describe my ‘interests’, which are rather limited. I tend to avoid travel, sport, art, museums, cars, planes, movies, pubs, music, parties, dancing, eating out or holidays. I’m never invited to dinner by anyone or ‘for the weekend’, thank God.

Is French still the language of love?

There are so many ways to express love in French that it’s easy to make faux pas. My faux pas over the five decades I’ve been speaking French are legend – at least in the family. Best to keep them there. Most people know that ‘Je vous aime’ means ‘I love you’ and covers one or more people. If you say ‘Je t’aime’, the informal expression of love for one person, you’ve got to be careful. Especially in today’s world where ‘hooking up’ is more common than rabbits breeding.  We speak a lot of Franglais in our family – we’re creative and lazy when it comes to language. With bilingual grandchildren it’s inevitable. A few

James Bond and the Beatles at war for Britain’s soul

‘Better use your sense,’ advised Bob Dylan: ‘take what you have gathered from coincidence.’ John Higgs is a master of taking what he can gather from coincidence – or, as he would insist, synchronicity. From the filigree of connections and echoes in the KLF (Discordianism through the lens of 1990s pop provocateurs) to the psychogeography of Watling Street to more recent deep dives into William Blake, he confronts the modern Matter of Britain: who wields power, and who resists it? Love and Let Die starts with another perfect coincidence, namely that it was 60 years ago – to be precise, 5 October 1962 – that saw the first Beatles single

The ancient art of love spells

An Oxford don has raised the prospect of producing a cocktail of hormone pills that would help you to fall in love. What an appalling prospect! You might suddenly find yourself consumed with an irresistible desire for Ian Blackford. The ancients knew what was really required: a means of ensuring that the object of your passion fell in love with you. The ancients regarded an attack of lust as the same sort of experience as falling ill or being afflicted by madness. So a man in love with a woman would write a love spell asking a god or some unpleasant earth spirit to, for example, ‘burn, torch, the soul

Momentous decisions: Ruth & Pen, by Emilie Pine, reviewed

Emilie Pine writes about the big things and the little things: friendship, love, fertility, grief; waking, showering, catching the bus. She did so in her startling collection of essays Notes to Self, and she does it again in this, her equally startling debut novel Ruth & Pen. As Ruth (‘Counsellor. Patient. Wife. Wife?’) tells herself in the morning: ‘Swing the wardrobe door open, make a choice. To run. Or to stay. Or just which jacket to wear…’ This short novel takes place in Dublin on Monday 7 October 2019. It’s a significant day for our protagonists, two strangers who briefly cross paths. Ruth, 43, is deciding whether to end her

Irish quartet: Beautiful World, Where Are You?, by Sally Rooney, reviewed

The millennial generation of Irish novelists lays great store by loving relationships. One of the encomia on the cover of Donal Ryan’s Strange Flowers (Irish Book Awards Novel of 2020) declares: ‘You have to truly love people to write like this.’ It’s hard to imagine that being said of Colm Tóibín or Anne Enright (let alone Vladimir Nabokov, Evelyn Waugh or Muriel Spark). But there are new kids on the block, and forensically intense examination of feelings between pairs of friends or lovers have propelled the fictions of Sally Rooney into the stratosphere. The phenomenal success of Conversations with Friends and Normal People, along with her influential editorship of the