Dea Birkett

Dea Birkett is author of Serpent in Paradise, about her time spent on Pitcairn Island.

At last, a museum of real British culture

Pin yourself to the spinning wheel as the knife thrower aims his blades. Take a Northern Soul twirl on the talcum-powdered floor. Play ‘With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock’ on George Formby’s banjolele. At last popular entertainment, from Sooty to Strictly, is being given its rightful part on the nation’s stage. These fabulous artforms,

Will Elon Musk’s Starlink cause a mutiny on Pitcairn?

What difference does the internet make? Critics blame it for a range of ills, from social collapse and child abuse to obesity. So shouldn’t we greet with some caution and even sadness the recent announcement that Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite broadband is to reach tiny Pitcairn Island in the Pacific Ocean, home to the handful

What The Banshees of Inisherin gets wrong about Ireland

It’s a rocky rural idyll on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The craggy sea cliffs – Europe’s highest – are swathed in the orange setting sun. Animals – sheep, cows, donkeys – gambol rather than walk on the ancient bog and jump over the babbling brooks. The sand is golden, the ocean as green

Balancing act

In a British circus, you will no longer find big cats, dancing bears or sea lions balancing on balls. Anne, the last elephant, paraded around the ring for the final time almost a decade ago, after a circus career lasting more than 50 years. The only wild animals that continue to perform under the big

The death of the guidebook

Is it the end of the road for the guidebook? Since Mariana Starke wrote Information and Directions for Travellers on the Continent in 1820, with tips on the most ‘tolerable’ inns and how to hire a horse carriage, travellers have been packing a volume of advice alongside their identity documents before setting off for foreign terrain.

As circus gets serious, is all the fun of the fair lost?

What’s so serious about a red nose? How should we analyse the ‘specific socio-historical relations’ and ‘aesthetic trends particular to geographic context’ of the circus? How can we ‘codify’ equestrian performance in the ring? With the publication of The Cambridge Companion to the Circus, this artform has tumbled out of the Big Top and into

Why do we envy nomads but treat Travellers so badly?

Oh for the open road! Who doesn’t want to abandon the suffocating suburbs – waking to an alarm at the same time every single morning, hearing brown envelopes pushed through the front door, filling the dishwasher, paying that damned mortgage – and head out for endless sunsets falling over infinitely empty land? Nomadland, starring Frances

The Florence Nightingale museum has been abandoned

The Florence Nightingale Museum is unwell. Just as the government announced that Nightingale hospitals were being ‘reactivated’ to cope with the surge in coronavirus cases, the museum’s Director David Green also had something important to say. To prevent the museum becoming financially insolvent, their galleries are closing indefinitely. Any attempt to reopen in the coming

Has Covid killed off Punch and Judy?

They’re one of the country’s most famous married couples. You just need to spot his colourful jester outfit and the long tassle bobbing from his sugarloaf hat, and you know it’s Mr Punch and his wife Judy. But now, with the Covid restrictions, this familiar sideshow is under threat. Mr Punch may be swinging his

How to travel in the captivity of your home

We can’t travel with ease anywhere, anymore. First it was Spain, now Luxembourg is the latest holiday spot to require a two-week quarantine on return. But there is one destination that is guaranteed to be hassle as well as quarantine free: your home. If you’re wondering how you can make your 15-foot square lounge the

The curious history of Britain’s last circus building

Guess which theatre is the first to open to the paying public post-Covid? Not Lloyd Webber’s London Palladium, where small audiences have been invited on trials, nor any of the other West End giants. This weekend the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome — Britain’s last stand-alone circus building — is welcoming audiences to its ringside seats for

Museums should stay shut

It’s been a promising week for museums. In Denmark, Germany and Australia some of their most famous galleries – Potsdam’s Museum Barberini, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum – will all be open within a week. In the UK, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport established a taskforce ‘paving the

The faded charm of the Isle of Wight

I was worried my first trip to the Isle of Wight might be too late. These days, a holiday island would surely be no more than fanciful tearooms with hardening scones and flashing arcades. But alighting from the ferry at Ryde, I not only stepped into another place, but another time. It may not be

Why I’m sick of politics being described as a circus

Jon Sopel has a new book out this month – A Year at the Circus. But the BBC’s North America editor hasn’t spent the last 12 months taming roaring lions in a sawdust ring or swinging on a trapeze wearing a skin-tight sparkly leotard. He’s been covering Trump’s presidency. And the ‘circus’ he refers to

Fool’s paradise

Islands have a special appeal. We imagine that on an island we’ll somehow ‘get away from it all’. In the era of Brexit and climate concerns, Pitcairn Island in the Pacific, more than 3,000 miles from the nearest landmass, is flooded with requests from people hoping to settle there. I would advise them to think

A circus film with no circus

Dumbo is an elephant we can’t forget. More than 70 years since Disney’s 1941 film, the big-eared baby is still the most famous pachyderm on the planet. Director Tim Burton has dared to enter the ring with this iconic grey beast and remake the Disney classic not as a cartoon, but as live action. In

Doing it for themselves

They cut virgin paths through tropical forests, paddled dugout canoes over West African rapids, sailed along the Yangtze in a sampan, climbed the Rocky Mountains with a gun-toting guide, galloped across the Iraqi desert in search of sheikhs, slept under the stars and ate a lot of snake. It’s easy to be seduced by the

Big cats and acrobats

We’re celebrating 250 years of circus this year. In 1768, the retired cavalryman and entrepreneur Philip Astley, together with his trick-rider wife Patty Jones (whose act was to gallop around the ring smothered in a swarm of bees) took a piece of rope, laid it in a circle on a piece of marshy land at