Alex Colville

The whole of China is in an eerie state of shutdown

 Shanghai ‘Do you want me to scan your temperature?’ asks the receptionist, brandishing an infrared thermometer. Arriving at my hotel in Shanghai, I have a hacking, chesty cough. I picked the wrong week to contract this year’s bout of normal, perfectly healthy winter flu. In China, there is now only one illness. Like Christmas in

The Edition podcast: has the great Brexit divide mended?

31 min listen

First, as the news agenda is dominated by things like Huawei, HS2, and public spending, could politics be – whisper it – returning to normal? In his cover piece this week, Rod Liddle writes how, for the most part, the election result has put a lid on the civil war between Remainers and Brexiteers. One

The third oldest profession?

Western attitudes to piracy have dripped with hubris. In his classic history of 1932, Philip Gosse confidently argued that European empires and technological superiority had ‘done away’ with pirates entirely. He and others regretted the sacrifice of these noble savages to the march of progress. Nostalgia imbued pirates with a romantic aura as happy-go-lucky rebels,

Genius and geniality

I cast my Readers under two general Divisions, the Mercurial and the Saturnine. The first are the gay part of my Disciples, who require Speculations of Wit and Humour; the others are those of a more solemn and sober Turn, who find no Pleasure but in Papers of Morality and sound Sense…Were I always Grave,

An eye in the storm

Ernst Jünger, who died in 1998, aged 102, is now better known for his persona than his work. A deeply confusing and controversial figure who loathed democracy and glorified German militarism, yet despised the Nazis, he not only bore witness to the industrial flesh-mangles of two world wars, but almost the entirety of the 20th

Lost cities in the sands

The main attraction in the Kenyan port of Mombasa is Fort Jesus, a vast, ochre-coloured bastion overlooking the Indian Ocean. Dominating a dusty skyline of palm trees, minarets and tower blocks, it was erected during the opening cannonade of European empire. In 1505 a Portuguese armada sacked and torched Mombasa, shortly after its ‘discovery’ by

The woman in the shadows

Despite his having one of the most famous names in the world, we know maddeningly little about William Shakespeare. His private life was lost in the swirling debris of the early modern world. Buildings such as the Globe or New Place (the house he retired to in Stratford) were demolished in the centuries after his

Fire and brimstone

Industrial factories huddle at the very edge of our world view. Most of us have never visited one, but we know what to expect. The ugly buildings. The dull work of the shop floor. The worker reduced to a mere fleshy extension of a machine, his existence condensed into a series of jerks, twists and

The true hero of Singapore

Accounts of the founding of the British Empire once echoed the pages of Boy’s Own, featuring visionaries, armed with a flag, a faith and a funny hat, arriving in exotic lands untouched by civilisation. Overcoming great odds, they would kick-start the regions’ histories, show the locals the proper way to live and extend the imperial