Nicholas Harman

The loss of enchantment

Children who have seen an electronic dinosaur wheel across the sky are not much amazed when a man with his sleeves rolled up takes the rabbit out of the hat. Manual illusions have been overtaken by the digital kind, and traditional conjuring is mostly for the nostalgia market. But it finds its niches; Michael Bailey,

The tyranny of nanny

Grumpy grand-dads do their job best when, behind the façade, they pretend to be really loveable. Michael Bywater, who accepts the irritating label of ‘baby boomer’ (born 1953), makes no pretence of loveability. Instead he is very, very funny. ‘Something has gone wrong,’ he says, and he knows what it is; the nannying that we

The making of a merry myth

Santa can still be a useful adjunct to the winter solstice. If there is a child whom you especially dislike, just ask it quietly what it hopes will be coming down the chimney and the little beast will cringe away, and stay away, in embarrassment. Otherwise Santa’s time is up. He cannot even safely go

Anyone for dunnocks?

As soon as the British had pretty much done for their larger mammals, they took up birds. The ones you shoot or eat had been protected from time immemorial, and in the 1880s people began to look after the ones that it was just nice to have around. Parliament began passing protective laws, lobbied by

The frogman who failed

Ian Fleming pretended they were glamorous, John le Carré claimed they were brainy and unscrupulous. Commander Crabb, in real-life 1956, made Britain’s spies into the figures of fun they went on being until the Iraq fiasco showed they could be dangerous, too. He was the middle-aged chap, tripping over his flippers in a baggy wet-suit,

Memoirs of a workaholic Scot

They are a puzzle, those Victorian ancestors, gazing through their beards stock-still to keep the image sharp. How did they move when the photographer had left, how uncomfortable were their bulky coats? The Airds found out. Charles (1831-1910) wrote a memoir in his retirement, and his grandson and great-granddaughter have piously transcribed and published it.

The reign of King Tobacco

It is half a millennium since tobacco was launched upon the world, on 2 November 1492, when Columbus’s men captured their first American and were saddened to find that his most prized possession was not gold but a smelly bunch of herbs. Now that the weed’s reign is almost over it is time for a

An old buffer at large

Were I Lady Nott — a position for which I am ineligible — I would be a bit miffed. Sir John’s new little book is unremitting about his mild longings for young women. This, to be sure, makes it more fun than his last publication, the ‘controversial’ memoirs of yet another ex-minister. But he does

What feats we did that day

Stalin’s admirers wanted it sooner, to help our Soviet allies. Others wanted it sooner, to give us a chance of beating the Russkies to Berlin (as we didn’t). But time and tide set the date, and the invasion of occupied France had to be in spring, at low ebb, after many months of planning, training,

A fine solo performance

The sort of young person who once drifted into publishing now fiddles about with computers instead. The trade has been transformed both by its wretched economics and by the wretched spirit of the times. Solo publishing in particular, an eccentric business or a business for eccentrics, should have died out many years ago. Michael Russell

Deceiving only those who want to believe

Forgery ranked with murder as a capital crime well into the 19th century. Faked texts and signatures could falsify wills and violate the sanctity of property, until photolithography, then typing, devalued the uniqueness of the handwritten text. But a modern forger can still make a decent profit by turning out the fake-historical or fake-literary stuff