Great Britain

England’s Asylums

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When I was a child we went to visit a friend of my mother’s in Holloway Sanatorium, near Virginia Water in Surrey. I remember long, wide airy rooms overlooking rolling grasslands and a few patients dotted about, very docile and silent. What I don’t think I saw was its astonishingly colourful interior (as shown on […]

Blue Sky Thinking

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North-East England isn’t a very sunny place. Perhaps that’s what inspired the CPI, a product development organisation, to come up with this genius idea. The CPI is one of seven bodies under the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, an umbrella group which receives government funding to drive growth in manufacturing. The aviation industry has a problem. How […]

Ebola: This Is How We Always React

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It’s a criterion of growing older, that we start to think these are the end of times. For my grandparents, the war removed innocence and decency. For my parents the Cold War and the arrival of nuclear power heralded Armageddon. For us the loss of identity, the rise of fundamentalism, climate change and roller-coaster economics […]

No Longer A Nation Of Shopkeepers?

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In an act of good will that spectacularly backfired, my well-meaning brother took my mother back to her home town of Brighton to relive happy memories of her childhood. Instead, she spent the day in tears, horrified by the destruction that successive town councils had wrought. The dirty, rundown, poorly rebuilt chaos that greeted her […]

Is This Really Britain After Dark?

The nightlife in Cardiff, UK.

João Magueijo has lived in Britain for 25 years. The Portuguese author’s comic take on the country, ‘Undercooked Beef’, about how awful the British are, seems to have ruffled a lot of feathers. But literature is peppered with writers criticising the countries they’ve either adopted or left. Most famously, John Osbourne’s vitriolic letter back to […]

Going Up: Would You Live In A High Rise?

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In one sense high rises are very egalitarian. The resident in the 16th floor of a council tower block gets the same view as someone in an equivalent floor of the Shard – but JG Ballard’s novel ‘High Rise’ imagined a block divided by its Have and Have-Not residents until a full class war broke […]

The Victoria Really Does Vanish

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It seems the plot of ‘The Victoria Vanishes’ didn’t go far enough. Pubs are disappearing for good, if the latest CAMRA press release is to be believed (ie. they’re not). But the rate at which British pubs are closing down has now accelerated to 31 a week, and 3% of pubs in the suburbs have […]

Let Them Know Less

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When I lived in the US I was amazed how people organised against propositions of which they didn’t approve. It seemed wonderful to me that voters knew they could still stop bad things from happening. By comparison, British rights get eroded by stealth. The way we vote is now changing; everyone has had a letter […]

Ideals On Wheels: Why Mobile Libraries Need Your Help

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There’s a vague feeling in the UK that libraries have had their day, that Oxfam and Kindle have jointly conspired to eliminate the need for borrowing books. It suits our present government to believe that private enterprise has proven effective and can reduce state spending, but if you reduce the visibility of books, you remove […]

Smithfields Wins A Reprieve

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Conservationists are celebrating a surprising victory after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles threw out a “wholly unacceptable” £160 million scheme to redevelop much of Smithfield Market. The decision came after a high-profile campaign to halt the proposed scheme, which would have turned the western end of the market into an office, shop and restaurant complex. It was […]