Mark Mason

Mark Mason talks about trivia via books, articles, guided walks and the pub.

What a PM’s podium says about them

Farewell, Truss’s twisty lectern. Last week in Downing Street Rishi Sunak used one with a straight column. If he follows recent Tory tradition, he’ll have one made to his own design, paid for by the party (£2,000-£4,000 a pop) and loaned to the government. Each lectern (from the Latin legere, ‘to read’) has sent a message.

The beauty of a Wetherspoons pub

The J.D. does indeed come from J.D. ‘Boss’ Hogg in The Dukes of Hazzard. But Tim Martin’s reason for ‘Wetherspoon’ is slightly different from the commonly told version. Yes, it was the surname of one of his schoolteachers in New Zealand. But Mr Wetherspoon didn’t tell Martin he would never amount to anything – rather

The secrets of London by postcode: W (West)

It’s the area that unites James Bond, Rick Wakeman and both Queen Elizabeths. In the first of our series looking at the quirky history and fascinating trivia of London’s postcode areas, we explore the delights to be found in W (West) – everything from fake houses to shaky newsreaders to dukes who are women… Answer:

Is this the next glamping fad?

The spot where Forrest Gump gets offered a seat is pretty well where the shower is now. I’m spending the night at a campsite in Suffolk, sleeping aboard ‘Texas’, the first converted vehicle offered by American School Bus Glamping. Until this time last year the bus was transporting students to and from school in the

The legendary food at Lord’s

Whatever the problems faced by England’s Test cricketers on the field lately – and they are legion – the players know that one thing at least will go right in this week’s match against New Zealand at Lord’s: the food. The fare at the home of cricket is legendary. Ex-England and Middlesex batsman Mark Ramprakash

The truth about Three Lions

During last year’s European Championship, England football fans switched, for some reason, from ‘Three Lions’ to ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond (‘so good, so good, so good’). If anything can make them switch back it’s the Football Association, who this week said they were thinking of dropping the Baddiel and Skinner anthem as England’s official

In search of Britain’s oldest pubs

‘When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.’ So said Hilaire Belloc. Thankfully there’s little sign of England, or indeed Britain, being down to its last pub – but which was its first? As ever with these debates, a definitive answer is hard to

The marvellous reinvention of phone boxes

Britain’s legendary red phone boxes are in the news again. Of course they’re a symbol of the country’s past (about 2000 of them are officially listed buildings) – but what makes them really great is their capacity for reinvention. The story this week was about Ofcom preventing BT from closing down many of the nation’s

Why is the Ryder Cup so cringe?

And so to Whistling Straits, a venue with a name so ridiculous it could only be something to do with golf. The Ryder Cup is on us again, that biennial experiment to discover which overweight American is loudest at shouting ‘get in the hole!’ Golf shouldn’t be about artificial passion. Don’t get me wrong, the

Fraser Nelson, Michela Wrong and Mark Mason

25 min listen

On this week’s episode, Fraser Nelson starts by reading the leader. Britain has a labour shortage and our immigration system is a mess – why not have an amnesty for migrants without legal status? (01:00) Michela Wrong is on next. She found herself in the sights of Rwandan President Paul Kagame after she wrote a

London’s best pubs with rooms

‘Pub with rooms’ used to mean ‘backpackers’ hostel’, the sort of place with three bunk beds to a dorm and a pound deposit on your towel. But recently the capital’s pubs have realised that by raising their game, they could steal a decent chunk of the London hotel market. In a city where £400 a

Prison island: when will Australia escape its zero Covid trap?

39 min listen

On this week’s episode, we’ll be taking a look at the fortress that Australia has built around itself, and ask – when will its Zero Covid policy end (01:00)? Also on the podcast: is it racist to point out Britain’s changing demographics (14:35)? And is trivia just another way for men to compete (27:00)? With

Why men share trivia

It was halfway through lunch that something reminded my friend Marcus about Ray Charles and his plane. ‘Did you know he used to fly it himself?’ he asked the rest of us. ‘When it reached cruising altitude he’d insist on taking the controls. Obviously his passengers were terrified. They thought a blind man playing chess

Answers to The Spectator Diary 2022 Quiz

Since 1924, ‘Swifter, Higher, Stronger’ has been the motto of which international organisation? – The International Olympic Committee On the day Prince Philip died, the historian Guy Walters tweeted: ‘If anybody else on this planet has met both Winston Churchill and Tom Cruise, apart from the Queen, then I’ll eat my hat.’ He received replies

What does it feel like to fly?

Have you ever wanted to fly? For me the urge comes whenever I see a bird hovering directly over a hedge, flying into the wind so it can maintain a position and spot prey. It’s not the prey I’m interested in, just the sensation. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to defeat gravity? Like many of us,

The power of the pre-match playlist

If England go on to win Euro 2020, you might just have Ed Sheeran to thank. The pop star played a morale-boosting private gig for the squad last week at their St George’s Park training camp in Staffordshire. ‘A bit of food, a barbecue – he jumped on the guitar and played a few songs,’

Can song lyrics be considered poetry?

‘A notion at which we had but guessed.’ So said the poet Paul Muldoon recently, publicising Paul McCartney’s forthcoming book The Lyrics, an autobiograpy-through-the-songs based on conversations between the ex-Beatle and Muldoon. The notion in question was the one that ‘McCartney is a major literary figure who draws upon, and extends, the long tradition of