Great Britain

The Enigmatic Codes


I’ve always felt an odd connection to the Alan Turing story, mainly because of my father. As a young man he was employed in an experimental research group to try to understand the structure of strengthened glass, to make it and then find a way to seal wiring inside. Valves and wiring were too clumsy and […]

Food From Hell


Notice anything weird about this burger? (Answer at the end of the column)   Gold-Coated Cockerel, Anyone? My mother has no taste. I mean that literally; she’s 90 and says she can’t taste anything unless it’s incredibly sweet. It’s a medical fact that we veer to sweet from savoury in old age. I was thinking […]

The Witches Of Knole


My mother lives very close to 600 year-old Knole House in Sevenoaks, Kent, and on a sunny day we visit the house. Knole is vast, complex and full of hidden treasures. Originally an Archbishop’s palace, the house passed through royal hands to the Sackville family – Knole’s inhabitants from 1603 to today. There are paintings by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Van Dyck, 17th-century […]

England’s Asylums


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

Top shot of two rows of pagganger seats. Aircraft interior in business class.

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


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?


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?


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

jerusalem tavern london 4

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 […]