The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s Notes

22 September 2016

1:00 PM

22 September 2016

1:00 PM

When I read that Martin Roth, the director of the V&A, was resigning from his job because of Brexit, I sensed it was not quite true. I did not doubt the sincerity of Dr Roth’s views: he has his German generation’s horror of anything which could be presented as ‘nationalism’. It was rather that it did not make sense as a motive for leaving his post. Brexit won’t actually happen until roughly the time when Dr Roth would have left anyway, so it could not have impeded his work. Besides, the collections of the V&A are not at the slightest risk of attack for being ‘decadent’ art under the May regime. My hunch seems to be right. It turns out that Dr Roth had decided to leave anyway — to see more of his family in Germany and Vancouver, to rest from his many arduous years of running distinguished museums, perhaps for other reasons too. He told the slightly bewildered trustees that his departure had nothing to do with Brexit. But the story acquired a life of its own. After a bit, Dr Roth became a Bremoaner hero, especially in his native Germany, where his courage in the cause of Europe has been widely lauded. Finding himself in this almost accidental eminence — rather like William Boot in Scoop — Dr Roth has decided to accept his medals in this Kulturkampf, and speaks of future ‘political’ engagement. He is already president of the Institute of Foreign Relations in Stuttgart. This week, Chris Dercon, the former head of Tate Modern, called for him to become minister of culture in Germany. Back at the V&A, staff laugh about ‘Rexit’, and look forward to welcoming a director who is interested in the collections.

It is a relief to discover that there will not, after all, be a government inquiry into the Battle of Orgreave during the miners’ strike in 1985. Widespread protest last week seemed to have killed it. But how does such a subject get on to Mrs May’s agenda at all? Perhaps because she wishes to remind us that she does not like ‘the nasty party’ which she invented in a speech in 2002, she adopts a few right-on causes. Once you are Prime Minister, though, you have to be extremely selective. It is a good basic rule about inquiries which — ever since 1997 — we have forgotten that, unless you really need one, you really don’t need one.


Scanning the pages of Who’s Who for somebody else beginning with C, my eye was caught by the name Calegari. Danny Calegari is professor of mathematics at the University of Chicago. His recreations are ‘jogging, walking, used books, spanking’. Is ‘spanking’ a slang term for something mathematical in Chicago, or is Professor Calegari, who gives his email, searching for people who share his leisure activity? If the latter, funny to do it via Who’s Who, rather than the no doubt numerous apps available.

My own recreation in Who’s Who is ‘hunting’. Last week, I realised, was the 50th anniversary of my first time out. I was nine years old, and went cub-hunting at 7 a.m. before turning up at my nearby prep school in time for the first class of the day. Snipe, my Dartmoor pony, was wildly excited and shed so much weight that the saddle (whose girth I forgot to check) span round and put me on the floor. This humiliation still tinges my memory of an otherwise golden morning. Last Saturday, I went out with the same hunt at the same hour, a few miles from where we had met half a century earlier. How has the sport changed? As in the rest of society, protocol is less strict. Rules of dress are rather more relaxed and it has become extremely unusual to be sent home for offences such as overtaking the Master. Less Pony Club training means that children do not necessarily know to turn their horses’ heads to hounds. Mobile phones mean that people rarely get absolutely lost. Women often carry hip-flasks. There is more ‘coffee-housing’, less hierarchy; more friendliness, but too much noise. The big bane is traffic. New people are more welcome and the huntsman tries harder than of old to provide entertainment. Having left the sport for about 25 years and then returned to it, I find it more fun now than then — more fun, in fact, than nearly anything else. I almost forgot to say that, unlike in 1966, it is banned; but somehow we manage. As we moved off from last week’s meet, I was inwardly congratulating myself on this happy half-centenary when my new horse bucked mountainously and threw me off on my back — proof that pride literally comes before a fall. So nothing essential has changed in 50 years.

A Methodist church in Hinde Street, London, is exhibiting ‘You cannot pass today: Life through a dividing wall’, a reconstruction of a border control point between Israel and the occupied territories. The purpose, needless to say, is not to show how to deal with a terrorist threat, but to attack Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. A Jewish human rights group which has written to protest has been told, soapily, by the minister, ‘I respect your passionate concern for these issues…This exhibition… has been carefully curated… to promote reflection and prayers for peace.’ I have noticed these wall protests popping up on campuses etc., and they never seem either reflective or prayerful. They are propaganda. Serious, bitter issues certainly surround the whole question of Israel and its wall, but for churches to focus on this in the Middle East at this time is myopic. Not many miles away, their fellow Christians are being persecuted, expelled and murdered by Isis, their cries virtually unheard in our comfortable pews.

Hillary Clinton hazarded that half of Donald Trump’s supporters are a ‘basket of deplorables’. The Kaiser called the BEF a ‘contemptible little army’, Aneurin Bevan called the Tories ‘lower than vermin’ — and in both cases, those so named took up the insult as a badge of pride: the Old Contemptibles, the Vermin Club. I hope the Deplorables will organise as such, and march on Washington in their millions.

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