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Fatema Ahmed

Fatema Ahmed is senior editor at Icon and editor of the Paris Magazine.

P.G. Wodehouse

Fatema Ahmed, 3 November 2005

On my father’s bookshelves, tucked between yet another novel by Somerset Maugham and J.B. Priestley’s account of a journey to Mexico with his archaeologist wife, was a copy of Carry On, Jeeves. I had never heard of P.G. Wodehouse and racing through these stories of a master and his manservant I was surprised to find that, so far as I could tell, they were seriously funny and...

James Salter

Fatema Ahmed, 5 February 2004

In his memoir, Burning the Days (1997), James Salter tells a story about an encounter between William Faulkner and an officer from the local airbase in Greenville, Mississippi in the early 1950s. They talk of the excitement of flying, and Faulkner drunkenly reminisces about his days as a pilot in France during the First World War. He then offers to write a story about the Air Force in...

From The Blog
3 July 2017

In Psmith, Journalist (1915), P.G. Wodehouse’s most enterprising character stumbles into the world of New York journalism and transforms a sleepy and sentimental family paper, Cosy Moments, into a campaigning publication. He sacks all the regular columnists and launches a crusade to improve the living conditions of tenement dwellers and unmask their anonymous landlord, despite threats encouraging him to stop: ‘Cosy Moments cannot be muzzled!’ he declares.

From The Blog
14 December 2016

The Casey Review into opportunity and integration was published last week. Among the platitudes (‘integration is a nebulous concept’) and non-sequiturs (it quotes opinion polls extensively without explaining why they are important or relevant, or considering if the questions were worth asking), Dame Louise Casey asks: 'Why conduct an integration review?' Because 'numerous reports on community cohesion and integration had been produced in the preceding fifteen years but the recommendations they had made were difficult to see in action.’

From The Blog
18 November 2016

In the middle of Room 23 (‘Empire and Expansion’) of the National Portrait Gallery, between the explorers and officers on one side and Florence Nightingale receiving the Crimean wounded on the other, is a selection of cartes de visites and group photographs of visitors to the Houses of Parliament. The calling cards include those of the Parsee intellectual Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian to become an MP (for Central Finsbury in 1892), and ‘Mr Stanley, in the dress he wore when he met Livingstone in Africa’.

From The Blog
7 May 2016

I wasn’t expecting to be so pleased about Sadiq Khan being elected mayor of London. I was underwhelmed when he won the Labour nomination, and even more underwhelmed when the Conservatives chose Zac Goldsmith. Neither candidate seemed as if they’d rather run London than hold any other political office, and despite the mayor’s limited powers, the Londoner in me feels, unrealistically, that they should. (Perhaps unfortunately for both the city and himself, the only candidate who has ever fitted that description is Ken Livingstone, who made an uncharacteristically graceful concession speech in 2012; if only the rest had been silence.)

From The Blog
22 May 2015

There was a sign on the floor of one of the boats abandoned off the coast of Aceh this week. ‘We are Myanmar Rohingya,’ it said in white capital letters. Its occupants may have been picked up by Indonesian fishermen, or they may have drowned. In the last couple of days, Malaysia and Indonesia have agreed to give temporary shelter to 7000 or more people stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea, some for as long as four months. The Malaysian navy has also begun to look for boats in its own waters. Thailand won’t be joining them, though it has agreed not to turn the boats away for the moment. ‘Our country has more problems than theirs,’ the Thai prime minister said. He may well be right: a mass grave was discovered in the south of Thailand earlier this month, containing the bodies of 26 Rohingya. There are probably more. On 29 May, there will be a meeting in Bangkok of 15 countries including the US, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Burma, which is attending on condition that no one use the word ‘Rohingya’.

From The Blog
27 April 2015

In Patrick Keiller’s film London (1994) there’s only one moment at which the camera moves: on the up escalator in the old central court of Brent Cross Shopping Centre, a once magical attraction for children all over north-west London. The fountain you can see in the court and the panels of rainbow-coloured ‘stained-glass’ in the cupola above aren’t there any more. They disappeared in 1996, in an ‘improvement and expansion’ scheme.

From The Blog
7 April 2015

Dior and I, a documentary following Dior’s new creative director Raf Simons as he prepares his first haute couture collection (autumn-winter 2012), tries to summon up the fashion house’s ghosts while ignoring several elephants in the room.

From The Blog
8 August 2014

The text of Boris Johnson's speech at Bloomberg headquarters on Wednesday has the following helpful subheadings: 'The European Nightmare', 'The Solution – Reform and Referendum', 'But Be Prepared for a New Future', 'The Dream'. The first part of the speech is devoted to the nightmare of EU health and safety regulations (truck drivers must not drive for more than nine hours a day etc), but Britain could have ‘a great and glorious’ future if it leaves the EU. London is already ‘the America of the European Union’ (because it's a place of ‘massive opportunity’, not because it’s one of the most unequal cities on earth).

From The Blog
13 May 2014

The ‘deconstruction’ of the main part of the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle is well underway. Since last autumn, it has been almost completely hidden by scaffolding; to a passerby, it might have looked as if the blocks were being built rather than being taken down. But now that any asbestos and all the fixtures and fittings have been removed, cranes are removing the concrete panels from the block nearest the Walworth Road. It’s an unspectacular demolition, and a quiet one. There won’t be a specific moment of explosive collapse; the 1974 structure will just be gone by the end of the year.

From The Blog
6 December 2013

Last week, Boris Johnson gave the third annual Margaret Thatcher lecture, organised by the Centre for Policy Studies. Most of the spluttering that followed has focused on what the Mayor of London is supposed to have said about the impossibility of equality, his remarks about IQ, and his comparions between people and cornflakes.

From The Blog
27 July 2013

On 15 January, in a six-hour meeting that ended just after midnight, Southwark Council’s planning committee voted to turn the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, where 2800 people once lived in 1212 flats, into a ‘mixed-use development’ of 2500 homes for 4000 people, plus shops and restaurants and some ‘community space’. It was asked why the scheme would be an improvement on what’s already there. ‘It’s better because it’s an improvement,’ came the non-answer. Nearly 300 fully grown oak trees will be cut down to make way for a privately managed park. A quarter of the land will be given over to car parking, on a site that has the best transport connections in London.

From The Blog
3 May 2013

‘While China is starting to lose its attractiveness in this realm the sourcing caravan is moving on to the next hot spot,’ McKinsey’s Apparel, Fashion and Luxury Practice division reported in 2011. The ‘realm’ is the readymade garments industry and the ‘next hot spot’ is Bangladesh.

From The Blog
31 January 2013

The first edition of The Bell Jar to appear under Sylvia Plath’s name was published by Faber in 1967, with a cover designed by Shirley Tucker. This month Faber have brought out a 50th anniversary edition of the novel (it was first published by Heinemann in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas), with a cover about as far from Tucker’s Bridget Rileyish concentric circles as you can get: a stock photo from the 1950s of a woman with a powder compact. As Dustin Kurtz, a marketing manager at Melville House, tweeted, ‘How is this cover anything but a “fuck you” to women everywhere?’

From The Blog
19 December 2012

The Scottish poet, artist, gardener, toymaker, publisher, provocateur and agoraphobic Ian Hamilton Finlay died in 2006. His afterlife has been tended mainly by the art world, which may have come as a surprise to Finlay, an art-school dropout, who wrote to a friend some time in the 1950s or 1960s: ‘The art racket must be broken... O Fat old dealers, O Art School Professors, O shoddy virtuosos – you are all going to hell.’ This attitude gave way over time to a vendetta against ‘state-aided’ art. His enemies included the Scottish Arts Council, Strathclyde local authority and Catherine Millet (now better known as Catherine M.), the editor of the French magazine Art Press. ‘People have always found me challenging,’ Finlay said in a 1996 interview. ‘I don’t know why, when I am only being myself.’

From The Blog
31 May 2012

Last month Seth Siegelaub gave a tour of The Stuff that Matters, an exhibition at the Raven Row gallery devoted to his collection of rare books about textiles and some rare fabrics too. ‘The history of textiles,’ he said as we looked at his Renaissance damasks and silks laid flat in display cases, ‘is the history of the wealthy... and the history of those objects which are the least used.’

From The Blog
5 May 2012

I stayed up until about 3 a.m. on Thursday night, listlessly watching the BBC coverage of the local elections in England and Wales (the graphics get more elaborate every year; the presenters more desperate in their pretence that they’re broadcasting to anyone but politicians and insomniac election nuts). But, parochially, there’s only one race I’ve been following: the London mayoral election. Ken Livingstone may be unlikeable in some people’s eyes – ‘Vote Reptilian Stalinist!’ was a rallying cry going round, only half-jokingly, on Twitter recently – but he’s been the most, some would say the only, recognisable figure in London politics for a generation. There wasn’t much going on in my life in 1986 when the Greater London Council was abolished, and since it was what the politically obsessed adults around me were talking about, it seemed worth writing down in my Hello Kitty notebook.

From The Blog
3 February 2012

On 16 January the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, gave a lecture on ‘Total Policing’ at the London School of Economics. By chance, earlier that day, London saw the first directly elected Police Commissioner take up his post (the title will be less confusing in the rest of the country, where they have Chief Constables). Any Londoners worried that they missed the chance to vote for this important figure needn’t be: the job automatically went to Boris Johnson. In light of his other duties as Mayor of London (and columnist for the Telegraph), he’s delegated most of his policing powers to his deputy Kit Malthouse, who as long ago as 2009 said: ‘We have our hands on the tiller.'

From The Blog
26 January 2012

Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist has been nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It was produced in France but got out of Best Foreign Language Film jail because, being silent, it doesn’t have a ‘predominantly non-English dialogue track’. It’s always described as a silent film, but it’s more closely related to movies of the sound era about the transition from silence to sound:

From The Blog
19 October 2011

Oxford University announced earlier this month that it has appointed the Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron (Tate Modern, the National Stadium in Beijing) as the architect of the new Blavatnik School of Government. Last year the Russian/American ‘billionaire industrial philanthropist’ Leonard Blavatnik gave Oxford £75 million, a gift it has described as ‘one of the most generous in the University’s 900-year history’. Oxford is making a sizeable contribution of its own: £26 million and land for the new school in ‘the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter’, a ten-acre site in the centre of the city, masterplanned by the office of another starchitect, Rafael Viñoly.

From The Blog
3 October 2011

The submission period for the 2012 PEN American Center’s literary awards is now open and this year there are two new prizes: one for ‘an exceptional story illustrated in a picture book’ ($5000), the other the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction ($25,000), which was set up by Barbara Kingsolver in 2000; it’s only ‘new’ in the sense that PEN took over the administration of it this year. But what is it actually for? ‘Socially responsible literature,’ according to the prize’s ‘founding documents’ (note the slide from ‘engaged’ to ‘responsible’), ‘may describe categorical human transgressions in a way that compels readers to examine their own prejudices.’ In case that’s not clear:

From The Blog
8 August 2011

The other evening I was on the roof of a bar on the tenth storey of Peckham multi-storey car park. Frank’s campari bar has been going for three summers, and it’s been written about more than 'locals' who feel smug about it would like. It has the best view of London I’ve ever seen. The city looks like the place I wanted to get to from the boring north London suburb where I grew up. I don’t know what’s going on outside in Peckham Rye right now – except through Twitter and the lamestream media – but the police helicopters are still overhead.

From The Blog
5 April 2011

As a child formed by classic studio films – I didn’t realise when I was six that The Philadelphia Story was made and took place in the past – I spent a lot of time wondering what colour the black-and-white stars’ clothes were. Edith Head had glasses with blue lenses to give her a sense of the way colours would look in shades in grey, but there was no magic device to reverse the process. (From 1948, when Costume Design was added to the list of Oscar categories, until 1957 there were separate awards for black-and-white and colour films.) Costume was one of the many areas where realism went out the window: actors on screen wore whatever photographed well. No matter how delusional Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond gets, when she snakes towards the camera for her close-up at the end of Sunset Boulevard, she’s wearing a black dress with a pale beaded shawl draped across her right shoulder: the craziness of the effect comes from the way it's worn, not the outfit itself.

From The Blog
12 January 2011

When the Artful Dodger first takes Oliver Twist out ‘to make pocket-handkerchiefs’, Oliver gets caught while the Dodger escapes back to Fagin’s den in Saffron Hill, in what is now the southern end of the London Borough of Camden. The campaigning website 38 Degrees recently paid for newspaper ads depicting the chancellor of the exchequer as the Artful Dodger because of his tax avoidance. But some of George Osborne’s other sleights of hand are much sneakier. The 27 per cent cut in central government funding to local councils, combined with what the local government secretary, Eric Pickles, has called ‘the most radical shift in power to local government for a generation’, means that though the cuts are being imposed by Westminster, local authorities have to decide which services are to be affected – and therefore, or so the government hopes, take the blame (this seems to be what Pickles really means by a ‘shift in power’).

From The Blog
26 November 2010

I’ve been more or less living out of a suitcase for several months now, so when I saw that one of Europe's first geodesic domes was for sale I rushed to bid for it with the last of my savings. The Aviodome, as the former National Aviation Museum at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport was known, was designed by R. Buckminster Fuller and completed in 1971. With 2700 m2 of floor space, a radius of 34.14m and height of 23m, the aluminium dome at Schiphol was the largest of its time.

From The Blog
19 August 2010

In an interview with Back Cover earlier this year, Richard Hollis, the graphic designer, writer, teacher and now publisher, said that when he was starting out fifty years ago, Designers were more like doctors then. A client would consult them, and say: 'My problem is, I’ve got to tell these people about this and that.’ Looking at books in British bookshops for the first time in a while, I began to wonder what symptoms the patients, four different publishers in this case, complained of to get these cures:

From The Blog
3 May 2010

Last Monday, the Belgian prime minister handed in his resignation to King Albert II and another Belgian government fell. The cause: the withdrawal of a small Flemish party from the Christian Democrat Yves Leterme’s five-party coalition. New legislative elections have yet to be called but in the meantime Belgian politicians have managed to find something they can all agree on. On Thursday, the lower house of parliament voted almost unanimously (136 deputies out of 138, with two abstentions) to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil, or niqab, in public places. The legislation doesn’t anywhere actually mention the veil – merely forbidding 'all clothing completely or mainly hiding the face' – but no one has suggested that it’s aimed at motorcycle couriers or people whose idea of a good night out is a masked ball.

From The Blog
9 April 2010

The highlight of the April issue of Cahiers du Cinéma is an interview with Slavoj Žižek. Following up on a piece he wrote about Avatar, reprinted in the March issue of Cahiers, he confesses to his interviewers that he hasn’t seen the film; as a good Lacanian, the idea is enough, and we must trust theory. Žižek promises that he will see the film and then write a Stalinist ‘self-criticism’.

Letter

Not Just Any Place

8 April 2015

David Robert Mitchell’s film It Follows is as elliptical as Michael Wood suggests, but a broken sign at the swimming baths in the finale does eventually confirm that it is set in Detroit (LRB, 9 April).
Letter
E.M. Forster is not always as facetious as Frank Kermode says he is (LRB, 6 October). The description of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in Howards End may be ‘an embarrassing couple of pages’ but it’s unlikely that Forster is ‘gently sneering at people who profess to like music without knowing how to do so’. Everything else he wrote about music suggests that he really...
Letter

Mistakes

9 October 2003

The state of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) was declared in December 1971, not 1974 as Sukhdev Sandhu suggests (LRB, 9 October).

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