From Cleopatra to Elizabeth Taylor, women have found jewels irresistible

When workmen demolished an ancient building in Cheapside in 1912 they saw something glinting out of a broken wooden box. They had stumbled on what became known as the Cheapside Hoard – a collection of jewels dating from around 1600, its star, the Cheapside Emerald, a wonderful stone holding a miniature watch. It came from Colombia, still the source of the world’s finest emeralds, probably the world’s most ancient gems. The first recorded instance of them is on an Egyptian papyrus around 2400 BC. Their beauty and rarity made them the favourite of the élite, with Cleopatra probably their most famous fan. The Rockefeller Emerald fetched $5.5 million in 2017.

Live the high life… in a mid rise

How radically left-wing is Labour’s proposed ‘renationalisation’ of the railways? Though militant Mick Lynch of the RMT union ‘strongly welcomed these bold steps’, the real answer is: hardly at all. The revolutionary socialist group Counterfire agonised thus: ‘While it would be extremely obtuse to say that Labour’s policy is bad, it would be naive to say it was adequate, let alone particularly socialist.’ I’m struggling to disagree with that summary. The central idea of taking train operating franchises into public hands as they expire comes as no shock: LNER, Northern, Southeastern and the dreadful TransPennine Express have already met that fate, along with Scottish and Welsh trains, and those that

Dark days in Wales: Of Talons and Teeth, by Niall Griffiths, reviewed

This book has taken me far too long to read, and not for the usual reasons (that it’s too long, it’s rubbish, idleness, I lost it, etc.) but because I could only manage ten pages a day before getting a kind of mental nosebleed. And that is because it is so good, so different. There is a note at the back from the publishers, of whom I had not heard: ‘Repeater Books is dedicated to the creation of a new reality.’ There follows some invective about capitalist realism in historical fiction and ends: ‘We are alive and we don’t agree.’ I would say that this book fulfils their brief admirably.

Close to extinction: Venomous Lumpsucker, by Ned Beauman, reviewed

Ned Beauman’s novels are like strange attractors for words with the letter ‘Z’. They zip, zing, fizz, dazzle and sizzle. They are a bizarre bazaar of pizzazz. Some readers no doubt might find his form of literary hyperactivity exhausting. Personally, I find it exhilarating. In part this is because the novels do not just have propulsive plotting but the ideas are high-octane as well. Venomous Lumpsucker does not pause for breath, yet simultaneously induces a weary, melancholy exhalation. The venomous lumpsucker in question throws together two very different characters and works as an effective McGuffin for the novel. Mark Halyard is the environmental impact coordinator (Northern Europe) for the Brahmasamudram

The sweet and sour sides of growing up in a Chinese takeaway

Angela Hui was born into a life of service: Chinese takeaway service. Her parents had fled mainland China, where they experienced borderline starvation under the communist regime before arriving as exotic newcomers to provincial South Wales in 1985. There they become part of a Chinese diaspora, financially sustained by dozens of family-run takeaways dotted across the Valleys. The Huis set up in Beddau, a former pit town of 4,000 people that was still struggling socially and economically after the then recent closure of the mines. They call their restaurant Lucky Star. Hui’s mother is always trying to find ways to invite good fortune but as with most of her other

A scandalous cover-up: the El Bordo mining tragedy of 1920

On the morning of 10 March 1920, on the edge of the city of Pachuca in central Mexico, 87 miners died in a subterranean fire. Only no one is quite sure of the exact number because melted corpses are difficult to count. Nor is there any clarity on when the fire started or what caused it. What is certain, however, is that the mine owner was in no way responsible. No way at all. Few today remember the disaster at the El Bordo mine. In Pachuca there’s no statue, no plaque, no explicit commemoration of any kind. All that remains are two brief chronicles by survivors, a handful of press