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The Uncommon Reader

Alan Bennett: A Story, 8 March 2007

... knew that. Have you come far?’ ‘Only from Westminster, maam.’ ‘And you are …?’ ‘Norman, maam. Seakins.’ ‘And where do you work?’ ‘In the kitchen, maam.’ ‘Oh. Do you have much time for reading?’ ‘Not really, maam.’ ‘I’m the same. Though now that one is here I suppose one ought to borrow a book.’ Mr Hutchings smiled ...

The Cookson Story

Stefan Collini: The British Working Class, 13 December 2001

The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes 
by Jonathan Rose.
Yale, 534 pp., £29.95, June 2001, 0 300 08886 8
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... the middle of the 20th century. Can there be a proper history of working-class reading? Jonathan Rose believes that there can be, and after five hundred pages, 24 tables and more than 1600 footnotes it’s clear he has a point. His introduction (still more the publisher’s blurb) makes much of the book’s ‘innovative research techniques’, the need to ...

Ex-King Coal

Arthur Marwick, 31 March 1988

The History of the British Coal Industry. Vol. IV, 1913-1946: The Political Economy of Decline 
by Barry Supple.
Oxford, 733 pp., £50, December 1987, 9780198282945
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... You never seem to be able to get the numbers right in this industry,’ lamented Sir Norman Siddall, who bravely filled the gap between the Coal Board chairmanship of Sir Derek Ezra, supreme servant and subtle bureaucrat of consensus, and that of Sir Ian MacGregor, vieux terrible of confrontation. ‘There is either too much or too little ...


Paul Foot: The Impotence of Alan Clark, 5 August 1993

... In office, but not in power’. It seemed unlikely that anything ever said by Norman Lamont would make history, but this phrase from his resignation speech struck a chord. A common charge against Labour governments throughout the century has been that they have been at the mercy of other people’s power; that the combined influence of hostile bankers, businessmen, judges and media moguls ‘blew them off course’, as Harold Wilson put it ...

See the Sights!

Gillian Darley: Rediscovering Essex, 1 November 2007

The Buildings of England: Essex 
by James Bettley and Nikolaus Pevsner.
Yale, 939 pp., £29.95, May 2007, 978 0 300 11614 4
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... and Basildon to write inevitably self-congratulatory entries. No doubt he would have invited Norman Foster to provide one for Stansted. Pevsner’s own six or eight-week journey around the county was made slightly less uncomfortable than it might have been, and even more economical, by the use of a caravan, loaned by his eccentric editor at the ...


Kathleen Jamie: High and Dry, 3 August 2006

... at lower altitudes, all scrambled down over steep, weed-slathered rocks to the landing place. Norman, the mate, brought the tender over to carry us back to the boat. The Poplar Voyager is a 90-foot steel motor yacht, built apparently for some millionaire whose wife decided she didn’t like it. Now it belongs to Bob Theakston, who’s been sailing these ...

The Queen Bee Canticles

David Harsent, 6 January 2011

... were honeycombs and her womb a hive. The Queen in Rapture A summer of storms. A stone-built Norman church. Hives in the graveyard. The priest an incomer who preached only sin and redemption. There you have it. Oh, and on one of the corbels a bee in flight, flanked by a jack-in-the-green and a manticore. They swarmed in heavy weather, low-slung and ...

How to Be a Knight

Diarmaid MacCulloch: William Marshal, 21 May 2015

The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power behind Five English Thrones 
by Thomas Asbridge.
Simon and Schuster, 444 pp., £20, January 2015, 978 0 7432 6862 2
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... was felled. Carpentry can often be far older than anyone imagined. At Chepstow Castle, a mighty Norman fortress designed to intimidate south Wales and western England, the great wooden door of the gatehouse – which is still in place – was until recently thought to be 15th century. Dendrochronology, however, has shown that it was installed around the ...

A Rumbling of Things Unknown

Jacqueline Rose: Marilyn Monroe, 26 April 2012

... distinguished her from every other celebrity he had ever met. Most simply, however high her star rose, Monroe never let go of her roots. ‘I would have never thought that our ordinary lives would have interested someone like her but they did,’ Lena Pepitone, her personal maid in the last years of her life, said in Marilyn Monroe – Confidential, written ...


Lulu Norman: In Ethiopia, 4 September 1997

... baring their wounds and sores. After Abula, in Wolo province, the earth became more arid as we rose higher and the mountains grew younger; in these monotone lands the brightly painted wooden churches stand out like fairground attractions. Scrub desert soon gave way to the monumental flat-top ranges and canyons, reddish brown and majestic. The mountains and ...

In Service

Anthony Thwaite, 18 May 1989

The Remains of the Day 
by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Faber, 245 pp., £10.99, May 1989, 0 571 15310 0
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I served the King of England 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Chatto, 243 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 7011 3462 3
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Beautiful Mutants 
by Deborah Levy.
Cape, 90 pp., £9.95, May 1989, 0 224 02651 8
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When the monster dies 
by Kate Pullinger.
Cape, 173 pp., £10.95, May 1989, 9780224026338
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The Colour of Memory 
by Geoff Dyer.
Cape, 228 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 224 02585 6
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Sexual Intercourse 
by Rose Boyt.
Cape, 160 pp., £10.95, May 1989, 0 224 02666 6
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The Children’s Crusade 
by Rebecca Brown.
Picador, 121 pp., £10.95, March 1989, 0 330 30529 8
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... were in the Fifties. But on the whole this ‘album of snaps’ is an artless and glum display. Rose Boyt’s Sexual Intercourse is both a chillier and a more original performance. She evidently read Julian Gloag’s Our Mother’s House in her childhood, and I suspect she has become an admirer of Ian McEwan since then. In the brochure which Cape has ...

Enemies For Ever

James Wolcott: ‘Making It’, 18 May 2017

Making It 
by Norman Podhoretz.
NYRB, 368 pp., £13.98, May 2017, 978 1 68137 080 4
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... one to miss a party, popped into the reception being thrown by Commentary’s editor-in-chief Norman Podhoretz and his wife, the writer and editor Midge Decter, one of the power couples of the Upper West Side intelligentsia – the junior version of Lionel and Diana Trilling. Kazin, a Commentary contributor going back to 1945, found himself in a bobbing ...

Cadmus and the Dragon

Tom Paulin, 8 April 1993

... real autochthonous thing – we’re the Cruthin aye a remnant of the ancient British people who rose again in ’98 in 1912 and ... ack I forget what date it was but let Ballylumford be our rath and fortress we’re not the ’RA we’re the ’DA know what I mean like? this is Dadmus and the Cragon or With the ’DA in Craigavon if this seems a shade ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘A Star is Born’, 25 October 2018

... marker of her love and gratitude as well as her civil status: ‘Hello, everybody, this is Mrs Norman Maine.’ The film ends before she starts to sing. It’s true that Gaynor says the same thing in the 1937 version, but she’s not a singer and the film cuts to and ends on a typed transcript of the occasion, her arrival at the Oscars ceremony. We may not ...

At the V&A

Jenny Turner: Ballgowns, 5 July 2012

... curtains sewn on at the thigh. Downstairs, the dresses are softer and more romantic – rose and dove and primrose and oyster, tulle and organza and puffy silk. Of my fellow spectators on a Thursday morning, pretty well all are female and white and upper-bourgeois-looking, and many have come in pairs: mothers and daughters of various ages, old chums ...

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