If girls don’t like physics, it’s down to biology

I was delighted to see Claire Foy win an Emmy award for her portrayal of the Queen in the fine Netflix series The Crown. It may have helped assuage her annoyance at initially being paid £200,000 less than her co-star, Matt Smith, who did a fairly good impersonation of a young, brooding Duke of Edinburgh. Foy had more lines than Smith, is as capable an actor as Smith, was the leading role and, importantly, is at least as fit as Smith. This last point is vital because television often casts people on account of their attractiveness, because viewers like looking at attractive people rather than at hideous fat munters. Whatever,

Aimee Challenor and the danger of transgender politics

Aimee Challenor – in case you haven’t heard – has just stepped down as equalities spokesperson for the Green Party. I say Aimee – he was, until the age of 16, Ashley, whereupon he decided to challenge his gender by going to the school prom in a dress. From this point his career took a dynamic turn, as he became a Green Party candidate (spurned, alas, by the electorate), a runner for deputy leadership of the party, a member of Stonewall’s Trans Advisory Group, leader of Coventry Pride and subject of upbeat pieces in the Guardian as the fresh face of transgenderism. ‘Yes, I’m trans, but I’m a Green Party

Is it a crime to say ‘women don’t have penises’? | 19 August 2018

Is it now a crime to say “women don’t have penises”? A police force and a City mayor seem to think it might be. They are promising to investigate women who say so. That question arises because some women are putting up stickers in public places bearing those words. Some of those stickers are pink and shaped like penises. The point being made is that some people believe that if you have a penis, you’re not a woman. Other people believe that some women have penises. It is perfectly possible to be recognised in law as a trans woman while retaining fully-functional male genitals, and some estimates suggest the majority of

Boris Johnson resigns as Foreign Secretary

Boris Johnson has resigned. The Foreign Secretary becomes the second senior Cabinet Minister to quit over the deal agreed at Chequers, which he reportedly called a ‘turd’. At the weekend, those close to Boris were clear that he wouldn’t resign. They said that the only people who would benefit from his resignation would be Michel Barnier and co and that he intended to stay and fight against further concessions to the EU. So, what has changed? Well, a cynic would say David Davis’s resignation. But I understand another factor for him has been how he would defend this plan in public. The more he thought about it, the more he

Women, women everywhere

We had a long drive back from the north-east last weekend. Six hours or so, including a stop halfway, just past Britain’s most crepuscular town, Grantham. My wife does the driving because she thinks I’ll kill us all. My job is to feed album after album into the car’s admirably old-fashioned CD player. I rarely play more than three or four songs from the same album because my wife gets tetchy and says something like ‘This is too noisy’ or ‘This is boring, change it.’ So I’m kept pretty busy. Every time I remove a CD, the car’s ‘entertainment centre’ reverts to its default position of playing Radio 4. And

At last, a speedy police response

The founder of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson, turned up in Leeds on Thursday to film people going into a grooming trial. He did not speak, chant, accost anyone or do anything other than point his mobile phone at attendees, from a distance. Nor was he with a crowd. Still, seven coppers turned up and bundled him into a paddy-wagon accusing him of a breach of the peace. I’m not remotely a fan of Robinson. But I do not like the idea that simply being Robinson is enough to get you arrested. Or that writing something in defence of Robinson puts you somehow beyond the pale. Also, wouldn’t it have

Corbyn’s cranks aren’t interested in power

It ought to be a statement of the obvious that Labour is fighting a civil war between revolutionary socialists and social democrats, which goes back to the Russian revolution 100 years ago. The armies may have changed, but the battle line remains as static as ever. Instead of seeing what is in front of our noses, however, we lose ourselves in the familiar arguments of democratic politics. After last week’s local elections, Corbyn supporters claimed Labour had had its best performance since 1971 (which it had, but only if you exclude every part of Britain outside London). Their opponents said the results were a disaster, and “if we cannot beat

Knickerbocker glories

One September day the 16-year-old Tessie Reynolds got on her bike. In a homemade suit, she pedalled from London to Brighton and back, in eight and a half hours. It was 1893. The intrepid velocipedienne made the 190km journey in record time in an age of masculine heroics. But it was not her derring-do that scandalised the press into conniptions but her clothes: she was in short trousers. This was an era when women were shunned for egregious displays of ankle, meaning that Tessie’s dress was both revolutionary and overtly political. Behind the public tutting, her ‘rationals’ ignited women’s imaginations, showing a new way of moving and being in the

The soldier savant

Descartes is most generally known these days for being the guy who was sure he existed because he was thinking. But before he devoted himself to metaphysical meditations, he had spent a decade as a soldier-scholar travelling the hotspots of Europe. How might a greater understanding of this period affect our view of the great man? This is a fascinating if dry kind of pre-intellectual biography, which hopes to hint at how the philosophy grew out of the action. René Descartes was born to a family of minor nobility in 1596, and educated by Jesuits. He studied some mathematics in Paris and then acquired a degree in law, after which

School of Soho

This is an important, authoritative work of art criticism that recognises schools of painters, yet displays the superior distinctions of individual geniuses. Martin Gayford, The Spectator’s art critic, concedes that the identification by R.B. Kitaj, an American painter, of a ‘substational School of London’ was ‘essentially correct’, though in London there was no ‘coherent movement or stylistic group’.The only characteristic shared by London painters has always been merely that they live in London. There have been some influential personal relationships, even cases of a sort of cosiness, especially in the French Pub, the Colony Room and other drinking venues in Soho and Fitzrovia. In this comprehensive, intimate inspection of the

Look back, face forward

You will by now doubtless be familiar with the University of Toronto academic Jordan Peterson. He’s the unlikely YouTube star and scourge of political correctness whose book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos has become a worldwide bestseller, beloved of serious young men seeking intellectual challenge and good old-fashioned fatherly advice. Summary: ‘Sort yourself out, bucko.’ We don’t really need the likes of Peterson here: we’ve got Ferdinand Mount. The book we should all be reading to sort ourselves out, buckos, is Prime Movers. Mount is, admittedly, an unlikely intellectual hero. Modest and self-deprecating almost to the point of absurdity, in his memoir Cold Cream: My Early Life

Make or break?

My husband started reading Diana Evans’s third novel, Ordinary People, the day after I’d finished it. Three days later, I asked him how he was getting on. He said: ‘I’ve just got to the knifing.’ I said: ‘What knifing?’ I’d already forgotten about the knifing. A whole knifing in south London, complete with innocent dead boy and devastated mother. The incident’s strange forgettableness was a sign of the flaws of a novel so nearly very good, and admirable in many ways. It’s sprawling (like the suburbs of south London in which it’s set), and many of its extended scenes, though beautifully and richly imagined, lack the vital element of plot-forwarding

A brutal band of thieves

Mark Galeotti’s study of Russian organised crime, the product of three decades of academic research and consultancy work, is more than timely. In these days of ever more bizarre Russian attacks, it reads like the essential companion to a bewildering and aggressive new world, a world that is no longer confined behind Russian borders but seeks actively to penetrate and disrupt our own society. Essentially a history of the development of Russia’s unique form of organised crime, it constantly illuminates and clarifies the familiar, legal narrative of Russian history and the attitudes of Putin’s clique. The Russian mafia’s distinctive culture originally emerged during the years of revolution and civil war.

Trading crime for rhyme

I’ve interviewed a lot of rappers over the years and always feel a little grimy when I find myself nudging them to repackage a horrendous experience as a juicy anecdote with which to promote an album. Some natural raconteurs are happy to play that game — 50 Cent can now tell the story of the day he was shot nine times with the fluency of Peter Ustinov on Parkinson — but many rappers are understandably coy, at least outside the recording studio, about sharing the gory details of their previous lives. In that respect, this memoir by one of the nine original members of the Wu-Tang Clan lives up to

His muse and anchor

Misery memoirs are in vogue. There is much misery in this harrowing account of married life with John Bellany (1942–2013) CBE, RA, Hon RSA — to 20th- century Scottish art what his hero and acquaintance Hugh MacDiarmid was to Scottish poetry — but its inspiring message is that love conquers all. Helen Bellany is not a ‘quitter’, and her story triumphantly confirms it. It is a long book but does not drag. The past is so alive to her it seems only natural when she lapses into the present tense. She is a highlander from Golspie in ‘timeless and silent’ Sutherland, and the poetry of her descriptions encourages a visit

Into the woods

This is a novel about trees, written in the shape of a tree (eight introductory background chapters, called ‘Roots’; a ‘Trunk’; a ‘Crown’; some ‘Seeds’), and which unashamedly references every tree you might half-remember, from Eden to Auden (‘A culture is no better than its woods’). It revolves around various efforts to save trees, whether by seedbanks or political activism, and details the ways in which its group of protagonists becomes radicalised and willing to put their lives on the line, or even kill, to save the few remaining patches of old forest in the USA. One of these protagonists, Olivia, turns towards the forest when she has a near-death

Overs and outs

E.W. Swanton’s first published article appeared in All Sports Weekly in July 1926, soon after his 19th birthday. Thence, swiftly, into Fleet Street, covering public-school sports for the London Evening Standard and ‘rugger’ for the Times. In the summer of 1930 he made his Test debut, reporting the Ashes match at Lord’s in which young Don Bradman scored 254 out of 729 for 6 declared. Swanton had not been selected for the cricket XI at school. He forestalled any such humiliations in adult life by founding his own team, the Arabs, whose one absolute club rule was that E.W. Swanton should open the batting. As for the other players, according

Obsession and obfuscation

The target audience for David Peace’s new novel appears almost defiantly niche. Certainly, any readers in the embarrassing position of not being entirely up to speed on the life and works of the Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892–1927) seem destined — even intended — to find Patient X a less than alluring combination of the tediously baffling and the bafflingly tedious. Peace’s fact-based fiction has always demanded a fair amount of patience and concentration, with obsession serving as both his subject matter and his method. Yet in novels such as GB84 (about the miners’ strike) and The Damned United (about that other Yorkshire cataclysm, Brian Clough’s time at Leeds), the

Splendour and squalor

The château at Versailles remained the grandest palace in the whole of Europe from the moment that Louis XIV established his court there in May 1682 until his great grandson Louis XVI was forced to leave by a mob of 30,000 in October 1789. Such was its reputation that Lord Chesterfield earnestly advised his son that ‘an hour at Versailles is now worth more to you than three hours in your closet with the best books that were ever written’. Embassies came from as far afield as Siam and Persia. Leather-bound engravings of the palace served as diplomatic gifts and spread its reputation throughout Europe. Every sovereign, leafing through his