The Uses of Literacy (1957) by Richard Hoggart, who died on Thursday, was a book that shaped how many Britons see their culture and politics. Published the same year as Michael Young’s Family and Kinship in East London (1957), it showed the rhythm and cadence of lives in industrial communities, which had been muffled by the haughtiness of Britain after the second world war. As the historian David Kynaston tells us in Modernity Britain (2013), Alan Bennett said The Uses: “made me feel that my life, dull though it was, might be made the stuff of literature”.
Not everyone felt that way. Kynaston also quotes from Kingsley Amis’s typically lordly and disdainful review of The Uses: “It would be pleasant to say of the book written out of such obvious earnestness and decency of feeling that it represented an achievement, but it is only an attempt.” You can see where Martin gets it from. Read more
Every week or so, in my previous job as comment editor, I would chat to Sir Samuel Brittan about his column. “Sam”, as he prefers, would have two or six suggestions and he was too polite to let on whether the conversation was mere courtesy. Despite his uncanny ability to arrive at my desk five minutes before deadline, it was invariably one of my favourite moments; the FT can be a special place to work.
I would occasionally suggest to Sam that he write about, say, the latest development in the eurozone crisis or the most recent announcement by the UK government. He would give the uncanny impression of someone contemplating what I had said. But soon enough, I had been enlightened as to the irrelevance of the emphemeral. More than once, Sam explained as follows: “I’m more interested in ideas.” Read more
During an eight-day visit to London in 1862, Fyodor Dostoevsky visited The Crystal Palace, which he later described as that “terrible force that has united all the people here, who come from all over the world, into a single herd”. The Russian writer was as horrified by the glitzy universalism of the international exposition as he was by the poverty he saw along “catastrophic” Haymarket and booze-addled Whitechapel.
I thought of this indiscriminate attack on London when reading Ben Judah’s acidic op-ed on Saturday in the New York Times, which comes a few months after the grey lady published a trenchant piece by Michael Goldfarb on how overseas investment in the capital’s property has allegedly led to an exodus of the English middle classes. Judah’s London, like Dostoevsky’s, is ubiquitously effete and dreadful, a city laid supine at the foot of the Shard and its real masters, the oligarchs of Mayfair. Read more
Roger Angell is 93-years old. His body has “become sort of a table potato”. He is a “a world-class complainer”. And his essay on life as a nonagenarian is the best writing I have read in a long time. Angell gently destroys aged stereotypes about aged people, with the panache one would expect from E.B. White’s stepson. No slouch, this guy.
Beginning with his physical condition and trips to the hospital (“my human-wreckage gym”), the New Yorker writer describes life in the nineties in a way that undermines the conventional notion of ageing as decline. He is still working and, yes, loving, or at least thinking about loving. Sure, an eye is blurry and a knee is busted. But why do we think physical wear and tear means decline? Here is an old man that is living in every sense that remains possible. Decline? Try ascent. Read more
One Sunday last year I was walking through London Fields and a pretty couple stopped and asked if I would like to buy some Camembert. They had a bicycle and a basket and a baguette and French accents. I have been offered more exotic bootleg goods in Hackney but this was a pleasant, if suspiciously stereotypical, reminder of the growth in London’s French community. Read more
At least since Michael Goldfarb’s incendiary op-ed in the New York Times, there has been discussion about a “great exodus” from London. This chart shows that there is nothing new in recent history about net internal emigration from the capital; young people come for work and to find love, and they leave – if everything goes to plan – with a job, a mortgage adviser, and a partner. Read more
What do Britons really think about immigration? The subject is rarely away from the news, including the truth-promising BBC. But I find it hard to untangle the fabric of hysteria.
In recent report, Ipsos-Mori, a polling firm, assembles a lot of data about attitudes to immigration. It provides a clear yet nuanced account of public opinion. Below, I have selected the 20 charts I found most telling about Britain and immigration. Read more
The little known fifth series of Blackadder takes place in the department for education. Blackadder is the secretary of state. In this scene, he is joined by his two special advisers – Baldrick and George. Read more
When triumphant supporters of Colorado’s legalisation of recreational marijuana tried to organise a celebratory party, they called it Cannabition. Perhaps weed makes puns funny. Regardless, the evocation of the prohibition era is apt; there are parallels between the treatment of alcohol in the period from 1920-33 and that of marijuana today. Read more
Britons are having less but more varied sex, according to the third installment of a large-scale national survey published today by the Lancet medical journal.
Compared with results from the first and second surveys, which were based on interviews conducted in 1990-91 and 1999-2001 respectively, the likelihood of respondents saying they had sex in the past four weeks (a tried-and-tested research question) decreased significantly. In part, this reflects changes in demographics over the period, for example more single person households. Read more