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3-4 September


The genre that defines our age

Amazon’s new Lord of the Rings show “looks every cent of the billion dollars Jeff Bezos reportedly spent making it”, says James Marriott in The Times. “Steepling cliffs of brilliant blue ice. The white sails of a thousand elven ships crossing a dark ocean.” The whole thing just “feels wealthy” – it’s like stepping into “the Kensington of Middle-earth”. We shouldn’t be surprised. Fantasy has become “the central genre of our time”. The highest grossing film of the century is Avatar, “about a planet full of cyan humanoids with pointy ears”. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings “made more money and won more Oscars than any film trilogy in history”. Game of Thrones, adapted from George RR Martin’s bestselling books, was a TV phenomenon. Even many of the top video games are “Tolkien-influenced”: The Elder Scrolls, The Witcher, World of Warcraft.


New York’s high-society bank robber

George Leonidas Leslie was “one of history’s most prolific bank robbers”, says Zachary Crockett in The Hustle. Born in 1842 in Ohio, he led an extraordinary double life. By day, he was a “distinguished architect who hobnobbed with New York City’s elite”. By night, he and his crew carried out more than 100 heists that yielded more than $7m ($200m in today’s money). Incredibly, the authorities estimated that between 1869 and 1878 he was responsible for “80% of all bank robberies in the entire US”.


The death of clubbing

“The days of a good night out are over,” says Zoë Grünewald in The New Statesman. A few weeks ago I piled onto a bus in Brixton “with ten other young, drunk people at 2am”. I had been waiting half an hour, alone, for an Uber which had cancelled on me three times “before the price inexplicably doubled”. On the bus, the man beside me “gently drooled onto my shoulder” and no amount of “shoulder-jerking” would shift him. Forty-five minutes later I arrived home, “having spent almost £100”. This, I realised, “just isn’t fun anymore”.

Quirk of history

In 1971, Rep. Tom Moore introduced a resolution in the Texas House of Representatives to honour Albert DeSalvo – more commonly known as the Boston Strangler, who murdered 13 women in the early 1960s. The resolution praised “this compassionate gentleman’s dedication and devotion to his work” in the field of “population control and applied psychology”. It was passed by the House unanimously – whereupon Moore withdrew the bill, explaining that he wanted to prove that his fellow legislators didn’t read a word of what they voted on.

Eating in

Just like fashion, says Laura Pitcher in The Face, “baked goods are rejecting ultra-polished aesthetics” and becoming “experimental, ugly and chaotic”. There are wilting flower cakes, “iridescent but sinister” wedding cakes, slimy jelly cakes, lopsided cakes, and cakes that look like “a kid’s alien-themed science experiment”. Businesses specialising in these ghoulish gateaux are popping up across the world, with popular “disorderly cake accounts” in Berlin, New York, London and Taipei. Obviously, the rise in “ugly cakes” is just a reaction against “the millennial-curated aesthetic online”, and before long we’ll all get fed up with it. But the current mood has called for “more playful, celebratory chaos” – and cakes have managed to deliver that in our time of need.


quoted 3.9.22

“One is never as unhappy as one thinks, nor as happy as one hopes.”

François de La Rochefoucauld


“Literature’s history is a history of mistakes, errors, misapprehensions [and] simple typos,” says Ed Simon in The Millions. Especially vulnerable, it seems, is The Bible. A 1631 edition of the King James version left out the word “not” in Exodus 20:14, so that it read: “Thou shalt commit adultery.” An 1823 version replaced “damsels” with “camels”; in 1944, a reference to women’s “own husbands” became “owl husbands”. Before the printing press, scribes sometimes apologised in the margins for their errors. One “particularly creative fellow” in the late 13th century made up for mistakenly deleting a line by drawing in the page’s borders “a little peasant using a pulley to hoist the missing sentence back into its correct spot”.


The West is mutilating its culture

Western societies are being ravaged by the idea of “decolonisation”, says Robert Tombs in The Daily Telegraph. It’s mutilating our culture: cutting Shakespeare and Chaucer from curricula; labelling the contents of our museums as “loot”. Everything from science to gardening is allegedly tainted by the stain of “imperialist oppression”. Until recently, anti-Westernism was an extremist stance: even anti-colonists like Nehru and Mandela wanted to model their newly independent societies on their former imperial overlords. But the new vogue for decrying the West for our “catastrophic errors” and waning ascendency has caused us to turn on our own cultural identity.


Maternal instinct is no myth

Assiduous egalitarians at The New York Times have been peddling a new theory, says Mary Harrington in UnHerd: maternal instinct is a “chauvinist myth” designed to oppress women. Motherhood, they write, is akin to psychological torture and betrays the Leftist commitment to “absolute equality”. It’s nonsense. Even the studies they cite as evidence only go as far as saying that fully engaged fathers “may” experience “similar” biological effects as gestational mothers. Besides, just look at other animals: female field birds will let a tractor roll over them before leaving their eggs; cows bellow when calves are taken away. Anyone “can see there’s something there” – something more inbuilt than “male-chauvinist propaganda”.


Reading is not a pleasure, it’s a need

The best authors describe a world “without hope, ravaged by misfortune”, says Michel Houellebecq in Le Figaro. Tormented by their vision, they are “almost always alcoholics” and often possess other “even more dangerous” habits. And yet we are right to admire them: not because literature increases academic knowledge, but because it aids human well-being “in a way no other art can claim”. During the French revolution, as jailed aristocrats awaited the “unprecedented moment when the blade would cut their necks”, they would devour books. And when “seized by the executioner’s helpers” and dragged to the scaffold, many would take a moment to place their bookmark. They were so immersed in their novel that they momentarily forgot their grisly fate.


I gave naked hiking a try over the summer, says Jane Mulkerrins in The Times. It was a blast. Sure, the group consisted of me and 20 “late (to very late) middle-aged men”, some of whom made rather “clumsy” comments. “You might lose a few pounds this afternoon,” said one, in reference to the heat. But they had some great lingo: they call stripping off “getting into our uniform”; people who wear clothes are “textiles”. And walking naked through the countryside in the sunshine really did “feel good”. By the end, I was “almost reluctant to put my clothes back on”.

Eating in

At a 1984 dinner party in Alaska, palaeontologist Dale Guthrie served up a “once-in-a-lifetime delicacy”, says Atlas Obscura: 50,000-year-old bison. The beast, nicknamed Blue Babe, was discovered after mining equipment melted part of the gunk it was frozen in. Guthrie and his colleagues managed to pry its head and neck from the icy surroundings – and decided to make a meal of it. The neck, which provided enough for eight portions, was cooked with “generous amounts of garlic and onions”, before adding carrots and potatoes to make bison stew. It tasted “like what I would have expected, with a little wring of mud”, commented the chef. “But it wasn’t that bad.”



Behind a stucco-fronted period building in Kensington, west London, lies this former ballroom, cleverly converted into a two-bedroom apartment. The modern design incorporates original details, and makes use of the dramatic 13 ft ceilings and beautiful south-facing french windows. The first-floor property also boasts a private balcony terrace with views over a vibrant church garden that’s accessible to residents. Gloucester Road tube station is a three-minute walk. £2.25m.


This Grade II listed manor house, nestled in the heart of pretty Harlington village, dates back to the late 14th century. With 10 bedrooms, the main house extends to over 8,300 sq ft internally and includes 1,905 sq ft of outbuildings. Despite various renovations, the historic house – Charles II is said to have stayed in one of the bedrooms – retains original features including Tudor fireplaces and some early 17th-century panelling. Harlington station is round the corner with direct trains to London St Pancras in 44 minutes. £1.85m.



quoted 4.9.22

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz