How I love the cheery chaos of Naples

😈 Brutal biographers | ⛪️ The Sanctuary | 👋 Farewell, conservatism

The great escape

Lovely, noisy Naples. Getty

How I love the cheery chaos of Naples

Naples is dirty, noisy, haphazard and “full of kamikaze scooter drivers” – and I love it, says James Jeffrey in The Spectator. It’s so sensual, liberating and jolly. Take a walk in its San Ferdinando district, a maze of cobbled alleys that throbs with “sweaty humans living cheek by jowl”. The apartments at street level have their doors thrown open and you can’t help but observe people napping on beds or sitting around in a vest watching TV. Just over there, a young woman is doing her make-up while “texting her lover”. At the corner, grandmothers in billowy summer dresses gather on fold-out chairs to chew the fat. And despite the reputation, there is no need for CCTV here. Instead, set in the walls are endless Marian shrines “looking out over the community”. It’s all delightfully “alive and kinetic”.

This cheery chaos isn’t to everyone’s taste. Many prefer things to be ordered, measured, “all uncertainty removed”. They prefer a city like Singapore, where everything is tidy and works. But perfect cities like that don’t engage and inspire like Naples does. Here, everyone is sticky and ruffled, and “no one cares about a sweat patch breaking out”. We’re all straining, moving, overheating – and we need that grit to keep us vital. Singapore’s pristine streets might allow you to glide through life with increasing effortlessness, but it’s bland and soulless. I like how on a muggy Naples night my body responds to the heat and mess, reminding me that I’m not just “a machine that eats and types on a keyboard”, but part of something living. I’ll take “nonsensical Naples over sterile Singapore” any day.

Property

THE SANCTUARY Tucked away on the Pembrokeshire coast, this Grade-II listed church has been carefully converted into a beautiful two-bedroom home. It has all the modern amenities – including a striking open-plan kitchen-dining room and contemporary bathroom – housed in a building with a history spanning nearly 1,000 years. The church is surrounded by an ample lawn and spectacular views of the rolling countryside, while some of Britain’s most beautiful beaches are a short drive away. Haverfordwest train station is a 10-minute drive. £500,000.

Books

The Beckhams in 1999. Dave Hogan/Getty

Carlos the Jackal of contemporary biography

The innocent reader might assume that writing a biography is “an act of love”, says Sarah Ditum in The Times. Writers know better. “The biographer at work,” wrote Janet Malcolm of The New Yorker, “is like the professional burglar, breaking into a house, rifling through certain drawers that he has good reason to think contain the jewellery and money, and triumphantly bearing his loot away.” For some, this is a flattering comparison. Tom Bower’s literary hit jobs – Tony Blair, Simon Cowell, Harry and Meghan – have earned him the nickname: “Carlos the Jackal of contemporary biography”. His most recent assault, on the Beckhams, was described as “399 pages of slaughter”.

Bower is part of a “grand tradition” that goes back more than a century. Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, published in 1918, “demolished the entire mythology of the Victorian era as a time of high-minded public service”, and tore apart the reputations of secular saints including Florence Nightingale, who he described as “demonically possessed”. More recent biographers have torn into actual saints. “Who would be so base as to pick on a wizened, shrivelled old lady, well stricken in years, who has consecrated her entire life to the needy and the destitute?” asked Christopher Hitchens in his exposé of Mother Teresa, The Missionary Position. “The answer, of course, was that he would,” persuasively depicting her not as a servant of the poor but as a “self-promoting fraud”. Many biographers seem to hate their subjects “with unusual passion”. Roger Lewis’s “semi-deranged” work on the writer Anthony Burgess – a “pretentious prick”, in his eyes – was panned by critics as not a “proper literary biography”. “That’s the last thing you want,” Lewis hit back, “because Anthony Burgess was a great charlatan.”

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Comment

Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (1839). Universal Images Group/Getty

I missed the last train of the old life

“Conservatism has died,” says Peter Hitchens in UnHerd. And it has died because “there is no call for it any more”. Some of us do still want conservatism – which is more than can be said for its “loud, overdressed cousin” the Conservative Party – but nobody cares that we want it. The same has happened to most of the things I like, from the forgotten Aztec chocolate bar to the railway dining carriage. I thought there were quite a few of us left with a preference for “poetry and sylvan beauty” over noise and concrete, for twilight over noonday, for autumn over summer and wind over calm, “for the deep gleam of iron polished in use over the flashy sparkle of precious metal”. I was wrong.

My problem is that I “missed the last train of the old life”, but I saw it go. I arrived, out of breath, on the platform, just in time to see it depart. I saw official London when it was still “black and battered”, a great imperial capital. I saw the Church of England when it still possessed “majesty, dominion and power”. And I saw, “on a sultry August day in 1960”, the final astonishing relic of British global naval might: the Royal Navy’s last battleship, towed to the breakers, “a modern version of Turner’s Fighting Temeraire”. The scene was made more melancholy when the colossal vessel, “reluctant to die”, grounded on the Portsmouth mud. “A great lump rose to my throat, and I still feel a sense of deep half-understood loss when I recall it.”

Inside politics

The Starmers arriving at No 10 on Friday. Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty

What kind of government will Keir Starmer lead, wonders Kamal Ahmed in The Daily Telegraph. From what we know, it will not be hubristic, and its tone will be “nicer” than the “often-ridiculous fury of the Conservatives”, obsessed with splits over age-old battles that few can remember the origin of. “Simple niceness is a quality much under-valued in politics.” Starmer will be polite and studious where the Tories were often loud and incompetent. He will lead a “technocratic, rather passionless” government, but “it will not be socialist”. He will want a more active state; a focus on NHS performance “not just more money”; and much more house and infrastructure building. He will succeed or fail on whether Labour’s “growth plan” is really worth the 24 pages of the manifesto it is written on. We’ll soon find out.

Quoted

“Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water.”
WC Fields remembering an African safari

That’s it. You’re done.