If I longed for release, it was a matter of professional honour not to show it… It was not until the end of June that I sent off the last batch of pages for the last time. I added a more chatty covering fax than usual. I ended by saying, “Do you know the story about the man  who was having a pair of trousers made by a Jewish tailor and it was taking forever? Two months, three months, six months. Finally, he said to the tailor, ‘It took the good Lord six days to make the world and you it takes six months to make a pair of pants.’ And the tailor said, ‘So look at the world, and then just look at this pair of pants.’ Why does this story occur to me at this stage? Best regards, Freddie.”

Frederic Raphael: “Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut”.

Posted in Film | Tagged

Power play

bloomberg signing award winner pic

The Mayor as Renaissance Prince? Michael Bloomberg at a bill signing ceremony, January 2013. Joshua Bright’s shot  for the NY Times is one of the winners in the National Press Photographers Association Awards. [HT:  Amélie Baron]

Posted in Photography, US politics

The real John Wayne

Seems there was more to him than we thought.  A new biography wins praise from Peter Bogdanovich:

The portrait Eyman paints very much resembles the Wayne I knew for nearly 15 years: extremely likable, guileless, exuberant, even strangely innocent. Hawks, who cast him in “Red River” , the major role for the second half of Duke’s career, once said to me that he felt everything that had happened to Wayne had gone a little “over his head.” Indeed, part of the charm of the man who was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, in 1907, was his lack of pretension or self-importance. Among the most interesting things I learned from this book are how well Wayne expressed himself in prose, how cogently he formulated his thoughts and what a good student he was. He had wanted, at one point, to be a lawyer, and the few writings Eyman quotes are quite impressive, especially because Ford liked to give the idea that his main star (whom he picked on mercilessly during shoots) was somewhat of an unlettered boob. One time, when I told Ford I was going to give Duke a book for a birthday present, Ford growled, “He’s got a book!”

Posted in Film

The toilet roll as sketch book

spencer glasgow toilet roll

Classic Stanley Spencer: a scene from painter Lachlan Goudie’s thoroughly absorbing TV documentary about the Clyde shipyard paintings. (You can watch a short clip on the programme’s website.)  About 15 years ago, another of Spencer’s famous toilet rolls, from a slightly later period, came up for auction at Christie’s. As well as drafts and doodles, it contained some of his rambling, chatty letters to his first wife, Hilda (who was, I think, dead by that time.) I was tempted to go along and put in a bid – the reserve price was only about £80, as far as I recall. But where would you keep an artifact like that? So I stayed home. In the end, the roll went for three or four times the original estimate.

Posted in Art, History


Etonians, it is alleged, have problems with such banal conventions as the traffic code. In the old days they disregarded licensing laws. Among Etonians (the accusation has been levelled at myself) the existence of a servant class is taken for granted.  I have an Etonian friend whose routine, even when young, was invariably, on arriving in any bar or hotel, to ask for something not available. “God,” he would moan, as the hapless waiter went in search of it, as if to say that nothing could be relied on. If the commodity or service was produced, he felt satisfied at having insisted on maintaining standards; if it wasn’t, he experienced a mild sense of thwarted superiority. Perhaps so much savoir faire does imply ownership of a kind.

“Etonians are good to be around,” the psychologist Oliver James (also an Etonian) says. “They have a fundamentally optimistic view of life. Temperamentally, they’re Bertie Woosters. If the sun shines on you for so much of your early life, you tend to think it has been put there for that express purpose.”

Nick Fraser, “The Importance of Being Eton”.

Posted in Class, Education, Notebook

Christ Church

Christ Church, Oxford

Peering in, Oxford.



Posted in Architecture, Photography


Then he said meanwhile, what about we take in a film this evening? But that was no good to me, because you don’t go into Soho to see films, because Soho is a film, and anyway, most times I go to cinemas I walk out half way through because all I see is a sheet hanging up there, and a lot of idiots staring at it, and hidden up behind all this there’s just a boy operating the machinery with a fag hanging in his mouth even when he puts the record on of the “God Save”, and the cattle down there rise up on their corns, but not he, no! Life is the best film for sure, if you can see it as a film.

Colin MacInnes, “Absolute Beginners”.

Posted in Literature, Notebook


Elizabethan Sessions

I spent yesterday evening at Hatfield House — home to the Folk By The Oak festival —  where Bella Hardy, Martin Simpson & Co premiered The Elizabethan Session, the fruit of a week-long “incarceration” in a house in deepest Herefordshire. It was a phenomenal performance in which past and present intermingled, and one superb song followed another. I’ll post a link to my Times review when it appears. In the meantime, here’s an atmospheric photo posted on Twitter by Neil Pearson, artist development and programming manager at the English Folk Dance and Song Society, the project’s co-sponsors.

Posted in History, Music | Tagged , ,

The murder of Kitty Genovese & the making of an urban myth

Nicholas Lemann, incisive as ever, in a New Yorker article about the 50th anniversary of the case that changed the way New Yorkers looked at their city and themselves:

The fact that this crime, one of six hundred and thirty-six murders in New York City that year, became an American obsession—condemned by mayors and Presidents, puzzled over by academics and theologians, studied in freshman psychology courses, re-created in dozens of research experiments, even used four decades later to justify the Iraq war—can be attributed to the influence of one man, A. M. Rosenthal, of the New York Times.

Unfortunately, as Lemann makes clear, Rosenthal got the facts wrong:

When it comes to assessing the media, it’s hard to get riled about press-generated hysteria over insubstantial matters like Justin Bieber’s legal troubles or Mayor de Blasio’s car running stop signs (unless, perhaps, you’re directly on the receiving end of it). Stories like that of the silent witnesses to Kitty Genovese’s murder represent the real danger zone in journalism, because they blend the power of instinct—which is about whether something feels true, not about whether it is true—with the respectable sheen of social science. In his book, Rosenthal groused, “I did not feel, nor do I now, that the sociologists and psychiatrists who commented contributed anything substantial to anybody’s understanding of what happened that night on Austin Street.” But, if he hadn’t assigned a second-day story consisting of quotes from such people, his version of the Genovese murder would not have taken the shape that it did. The experts transformed a crime into a crisis.

Curiously enough, Rosenthal – who was something of a homophobe – has a less than flattering cameo in “Sexplosion”, the book I reviewed for the Indy a few weeks ago.  Author Robert Hofler couldn’t help noting that the once all-powerful executive editor of the Times now lies buried under a tombstone that reads “He kept the paper straight.”

Posted in History, Journalism, US politics


Jeremy Denk brings his version of the Goldberg Variations to London soon. Can’t wait. Here he is, indulging  in a little of his “nerd speak”.

Posted in Music