Wales is facing a US-style opioid crisis

In Europe at the end of the Noughties, the problem drug was krokodil. The semi-synthetic, necrosis-causing alternative to heroin was cheap. My father favoured it so much before his death that he started importing it from eastern Europe into Wales. Across the pond right now, the problem drug is fentanyl, which has made its way into much of the US drug supply. Indeed, it’s become so synonymous with death that many casual users have given up the bag all together (‘I love a line, but I’m not going to die for it,’ one Manhattanite told me recently). More than 75,000 Americans died from synthetic opioids in 2022. And now the

Toby Young

Who decides which politicians are liars? 

This week the Welsh parliament has been debating a law that would ban politicians from lying. Assuming it ends up on the statute books, any member of the Senedd, or candidate standing to be a member, found guilty of the new criminal offence of ‘deception’ will have to give up being a politician for at least four years. What could possibly be wrong with that, you ask? The vital question, as with all efforts to ban bad speech, is who decides? After all, part of the art of being a politician, dating back at least as far as the Roman Senate, is to massage the truth to promote whatever side

Think flute-playing Sir Keir will rescue opera? Look at Labour-run Wales

A tale of two opera companies from the Land of Song. After its distinctly gamey new Cosi fan tutte, Welsh National Opera has sprung dazzlingly back to form with a new production of Benajmin Britten’s final opera, Death in Venice. It’s directed by Olivia Fuchs, in collaboration with the circus artists of NoFit State, and in a word, it’s masterful. Fuchs’s Serenissima is a city of shadow, its landmarks glimpsed distantly in smudged, restless scraps of black and white film. The tourists and locals wear monochrome period dress; only Aschenbach (Mark Le Brocq) is in a noncommittal grey. The colour has drained from his world and from the peripheries of

She’s leaving home: Breakdown, by Cathy Sweeney, reviewed

The narrator of Cathy Sweeney’s first novel has finally cracked. I say ‘finally’ because there have been signs: drinking alone; disliking her daughter, or at least her type; having an affair with her friend’s son; opening a separate bank account in her maiden name when her mother died. But in the beginning we don’t know any of this. We don’t know what she’s doing, and neither does she. It’s an ordinary Tuesday in November when she leaves her comfortable home in the suburbs of Dublin, which she shares with her husband and their two almost-adult children: ‘I grab my handbag and keys, let the front door shut behind me. I

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.

Escape into the wild: Run to the Western Shore, by Tim Pears, reviewed

Quintus, an Ephesian slave, is in attendance on his master, Sextus Julius Frontinus, the Roman governor of Britain, when Cunicatus, the chief of one of many warring tribes in ‘this hideous island at the edge of the world’, seals a marriage alliance between Frontinus and his daughter, Olwen. She, however, rejects the match, escaping from the camp at dead of night and impulsively asking Quintus to accompany her. Despite having seen a recaptured fugitive in Gaul torn apart between four horses, he agrees to go. Tim Pears’s Run to the Western Shore follows the pair as they flee through south Wales, hotly pursued by Frontinus’s legionnaires. They encounter a host

Shades of Kafka: Open Up, by Thomas Morris, reviewed

Thomas Morris has a knack of writing about ordinary things in an unsettling way and unsettling things in an ordinary way. He described his debut collection of ten stories set in Caerphilly, We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, as ‘realism with a kink’. Open Up, a slimmer second offering of five stories, amps up the Kafka. One is narrated by a seahorse, another by a vampire. Morris’s attitude towards his characters remains central: while displaying their darkest secrets, you sense he’s on their side. Here, the narrators are all male. From a young boy to a thirtysomething, they negotiate masculinity’s contradictory demands, accused of being distant, passive and unambitious. Individually,

How Rishi Sunak should react to the Ely riot

‘There’s a lot of societal issues in Ely,’ said an anonymous caller to BBC Radio Wales the morning after the recent riots in that Cardiff suburb. ‘Motorbikes going up and down constantly. Open drug-dealing going on in broad daylight, that the police are aware of, and nothing gets done about it. Children in Ely – dare I say it? – probably don’t have aspirations. They only see what’s around them. There are young children going to school wearing Rolexes and rolling around on £6,000 e-bikes that their parents haven’t bought for them. So where’s the money coming from? There’s so many things at play that it’s shocking… things will start

Welsh rarebit: a slice of history for St David’s Day

I love St David’s Day. While it may not get as much attention as St Patrick’s, which seems to dominate the rest of March, it’s a great reminder that spring is on its way and an even better excuse to celebrate all things Welsh. When you think of Wales, you may think of our stunning scenery, rolling hills, choirs, rugby (although, if you are Welsh, probably best not to dwell on that one at the moment), breathtaking coastline, and of course Tom Jones. But we also have some pretty good cuisine – and I’m not talking about cheesy chips and gravy. Cawl, Welsh cakes, bara brith, leeks, laverbread and cockles

For sale, the £3m Welsh mansion with political foundations

Known as Wales’s first tycoon, the industrialist and Liberal politician David Davies was born in 1818 in a hillside tenement in the village of Llandinam, Powys. Davies, the son of a farmer and sawyer, went on to amass a fortune through bridge-building, railways, coal-mining and dock development, while also serving as an MP for Cardigan.   The teetotal Calvinistic Methodist, probably best remembered for founding Barry Docks in the 1880s, was known for his philanthropic deeds, although he did have one obvious indulgence. In counterpoint to his hill-darkened boyhood home, where he cared for several younger siblings, in the 1860s he constructed a light-filled family property that he named Broneirion –

I’m stuck in Surrey, get me outta here!

After most of Islington moved to Wales, it was foolish of me to think about following. But the need to escape from Surrey becomes ever more pressing by the day, with housing developments, racing cyclists and incompetent dog walkers bearing down on us so hard we cannot bear it much longer. The builder boyfriend has almost finished the renovations, with the top floor insulated and made into a storage area. We can’t afford to do the loft conversion for which we have planning permission, so we have lined and presented the space at the top of the house in all its empty glory so that buyers can see the potential

Jan Morris’s ‘national treasure’ status is misleading

Almost two years after the death of Jan Morris, the jaunty travel writer and pioneer of modern gender transition, her first post-humous biography has arrived. (I follow Paul Clements in using the feminine pronoun throughout.) It is lively and well written, but it’s not the finished product. It lacks access to the private papers of its subject and her wife Elizabeth. That extra layer of insight into a fascinating but elusive personality must doubtless await the authorised life by Sara Wheeler. In the meantime, Clements deserves plaudits. He has worked his personal knowledge and existing sources well. We learn more than before about Morris’s modest if comfortable upbringing, with Welshness

Seize the moment: Undercurrent, by Barney Norris, reviewed

Barney Norris’s third novel opens with a wedding in April. The couple tying the knot don’t matter; it’s the occasion that does, paving the way for a story about love, family and stories themselves, which is apt from a writer who is known for his dramas on the stage as much as on the page. Ed, who narrates half the novel, is there with his girlfriend Juliet, wondering why they’re yet to get married. It’s the expense, he supposes, and the not knowing what sort of ring to buy. And so he allows time to drift by, ‘just letting it happen to me, rather than me doing very much with

Mark Drakeford’s mission to create a Welsh super state

Few appreciate how mischievous Welsh devolutionists are when it comes to embedding themselves in the national consciousness. Take the Welsh translation for ‘first minister’, prif weinidog, which means ‘prime minister’. What was once a linguistic trick has now become an informal touch point in Wales. Regardless of his title, Mark Drakeford behaves, looks and sounds like a powerful national leader rather than a devolved minister. Few politicians exude such confidence but it should be no surprise: in the last year, Drakeford guided Welsh Labour to two triumphant victories in national and, more recently, local elections. He lectures the British Prime Minister on the future of the Union and then calls

Muddled, tricksy and cheap: The Corn is Green at the Lyttelton Theatre reviewed

The Corn is Green by Emlyn Williams is a sociology essay written in 1938 about a prickly tyrant, Miss Moffat, who tries to civilise Wales by setting up a village school where sooty-faced miners are taught to read and write. Miss Moffat is an unmarried English layabout who has money to burn and time on her hands and so, of course, she wants to ‘help’. You know the type? Director Dominic Cooke treats the script as a period joke and the actors are encouraged to mock their characters mercilessly. Hoots of cheap laughter echo around the theatre. The show is presented very weirdly as a sort of botched technical rehearsal

Covid is rising again. Should we worry?

For some time now, Covid has been rising in Scotland – there are now more Scots in hospital with Covid than at any time throughout the winter. A freak, or a sign of what’s to come nationally? The ONS survey answers that question today, confirming that Covid cases are rising nationally: some 4 per cent of England’s population, it says, would test positive. In Northern Ireland it’s closer to 8 per cent and in Scotland 5.7 per cent. Have waning vaccines created space for another wave – and do we need to worry? Just as Gauteng and South Africa then Lambeth and London were the early warning signs for Omicron’s rise

Letters: How the UK should respond to Russia

Soft options Sir: In relation to strengthening the impact of the Russian sanctions package (‘Tsar Vladimir’, 26 February), please may I suggest three enhancements? Firstly, to encourage the UK’s Dependencies, such as the British Virgin Islands, to enforce the UK’s sanctions on the government target list of Russian criminals who are operating within their corporate jurisdiction. Secondly, to define the Russian state, Putin and his cronies, as terrorists, much like the members of Islamic State. This is appropriate and proportional, and will enable institutions in the City, and elsewhere, to treat the Russians accordingly. And thirdly, to make the UK’s sanctions extra-territorial, much like the Bribery Act, which essentially enforces

Parallel lives: Violets, by Alex Hyde, reviewed

When Violet wakes up in Birmingham Women’s Hospital at the start of Alex Hyde’s debut novel her first thought is of what has happened to the enamel pail of blood, because she hates the idea of someone else emptying it: ‘Was that what it meant, lifeblood? Placental, uterine. She had seen the blood drop out of her into the pail. It came with the force of an ending.’ A messy business, miscarriage. Across the country in Wales, another Violet is dealing with a different sort of mess. ‘No, still nothing. Violet pulled up her knickers and swilled out the pan. Every time she would check. Every slight feeling of wet.’

The time has come to get on with our lives

If anyone had any doubts about the wisdom of tempting fate then they probably haven’t considered the case of Betty White and People magazine. Assuming that some Spectator readers are not also subscribers to People, I should inform you that the cover for the current issue features the last of The Golden Girls. ‘Betty White turns 100!’ sings the headline, with the subtitle ‘Funny never gets old’. But while funny may not get old, the issue soon did. White died a few days shy of her 100th birthday, just as People magazine hit the newsstands. It sits there still, the worst example of a cover tempting fate since November 2016,

Jan Morris’s last book is a vade mecum to treasure

Jan Morris, in all her incarnations, was always able to evoke a place and a moment like no other. As James Morris, the only journalist to cover the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953, he described Edmund Hillary returning from the summit as huge and cheerful, his movement not so much graceful as unshakably assured, his energy almost demonic… It was a moment so thrilling, so vibrant, that hot tears sprang to the eyes of most of us. Morris, who died last year, was married to Elizabeth Tuckniss for 71 years and had five children, one of whom died in infancy. She transitioned to live as a woman in