Victoria Lane

Spectator Competition: Midsummer

In Competition 3357 you were invited to submit a passage or poem including the phrase ‘The sukebind is late this year’, or similar. In Stella Gibbons’s comic novel Cold Comfort Farm the sukebind is a mysterious vine that flowers in midsummer, driving people into a frenzy which often leads to mollocking. Hence the heightened tone of

Spectator Competition: Hearing things

In Competition 3356 you were invited to imagine a conversation between some objects that don’t normally talk. This was inspired by the funny/spooky ‘Green Candles’ by Humbert Wolfe (a popular poet in the 1920s and 30s), which ends with these sinister lines: ‘I know her little foot,’ grey carpet said: ‘Who but I should know

Spectator Competition: Blissfully ignoring

In Competition 3355 you were invited to write a romantic poem that did its best to gloss over something unlovely. I think I imagined odes to beautiful sewage-filled rivers and so on, but should have phrased the challenge more clearly, since many understandably decided a love poem was in order. Either way there was much

Spectator Competition: Outta Palo Alto

In Competition 3354 you were invited to put yourselves in the shoes (or head) of a tech billionaire. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Elon Musk provided the most inspiration. Paul Freeman had him intent on world domination: That bozo Bezos and schmuck Zuck will serveas jesters to my court. They’ll daily tastemy food in case some traitor has

Spectator competition: Running on full

Comp. 3353 invited poems about ‘dining and dashing’ – thanks to Paul Freeman for the suggestion. There was a very large postbag/inbox full of delicious offerings and I am especially sorry not to have had room for W.J. Webster condemning the crime for its name alone: ‘it isn’t just pedantic/ To say its source is

Spectator competition: About turn

In Competition 3352 you were invited to submit a passage about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, or vice versa. Hitler, the Hindenburg, tiddlywinks and chess all featured, as did Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak, and it was sad not to have room for D.A. Prince’s cat having victory literally snatched from its jaws.

Competition: Vote for us

In Competition 3351 you were asked to send in an election manifesto in verse (lucky timing). The entries threw up plenty of bold ideas for strategists to pick over, though a degree of cynicism was in evidence – the general mood captured by Basil Ransome–Davies’s ‘Opportunist party’: ‘If you favour easy answers,/ Vote for us, the

Spectator Competition: Beg to differ

In Comp. 3350 you were invited to write a refutation of a well-known line from literature. Ian Jack once imagined quibbling with Jane Austen over ‘a truth universally acknowledged…’: ‘“Universally”, Miss Austen, even among pederasts with good fortunes, or among the heathen races?’ Poetry dominated, which is reflected in the winning entries (£25 to each).

Spectator competition: Marking time

Competition 3349 invited you to write a poem riffing on the line ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’, from ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, but substituting something else for the spoons. You came up with rubbish collections, brands of jeans, obsolete technology, library fines, biros, toothpaste tubes, meds, lovers, visits to Wetherspoons,

Spectator Competition: A tale of one city

In Comp. 3348 you were invited to submit an extract in which Charles Dickens writes about today’s London. It was perhaps a slightly smaller haul than usual but full of nuggets. In Dorothy Pope’s rendition, the great author is gratified to discover that ‘my Oliver is playing in one of the many theatres’; while Paul

Spectator Competition: Nursery crimes

Comp. 3347 invited you to write a hard-boiled nursery rhyme. This inevitably led many to think of Humpty Dumpty, hence his multiple appearances (the consensus is he didn’t fall, he was pushed). Philip Marlowe was smouldered at by various femmes fatales including Little Bo Peep and Miss Muffet. A special mention goes to David Silverman’s

Why Madeira is like Swiss cheese

Three days on Madeira can feel like a week – not because time ­­drags, but because the place is so varied with its many different weathers. From the aeroplane you could be circling over the Caribbean, an impression given by the lush scrambling vegetation and orange rooftops jostling up the mountains. We landed at Cristiano


Savannah GA is supposed to have lots of ghosts, but I’d forgotten that. It was an April morning and sunlight filtered through the Spanish moss. As I arrived at Wright Square, someone fell into step with me and we crossed the road together. At the other side I glanced to see who it was. No one.

Baby love

I like Radio 4 — you can have it on in the background burbling away for hours and hours without taking in a word, and then there comes a moment when you’re making a cup of coffee and find yourself plunged into the story of how, during the first half of the 20th century, premature


The last time I stayed in Courchevel it was in a tatty roadside chalet a long way down the mountain. One detail sticks: pickled cockles piled high on a platter at the closing banquet, à la Fanny Cradock. That was more than a decade ago. This time, we were staying at 1,850 metres, which is another

Notes on …The Tarn Valley

Why didn’t I know about the Tarn Valley? I’d often been right next door. But here, north-east of Toulouse, between the baking fields of Gers and the rocky mountains around Carcassonne, is this best-kept secret. It’s a lush region of great rivers, rolling green hills and towns with magnificent red-brick gothic architecture and is sometimes

‘Morocco is a diabetic’s nightmare’

Fleeing streets of slush, we touch down in a north African spring, where we are driven through the desert scrub outside Marrakech, passing dusty ochre expanses filled with old plastic containers and half-built hotels and the odd donkey before turning down a track which runs alongside a walled garden. Tantalising green fronds poke above the

Aeolian joys

It’s 5 a.m., a splashy grey dawn, and we’re out of here on easyJet. Palermo is another world of heat and brightness but we’re not stopping; at the port we board a catamaran which churns its way towards the Aeolian islands, the volcanic archipelago off the north-east corner of Sicily. The islands are named after

Incredible string band

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are performing at the Albert Hall: playing their tiny instruments in a very big space. There must be 5,000 people here, but the orchestra’s friendly jokes, the modesty of the ukulele sound and the familiarity of the audience make the concert seem intimate. The Ukes have been going for

Brown study

Stage hypnotists need the trust of their audience, but also a whiff of danger. So Derren Brown calls his show Svengali, though he is not really an evil puppetmaster but a gentle, coaxing, mostly ethical puppetmaster. That show, which opened for its first run at the end of 2010, is back for a short time