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Cameron’s Crank

Jonathan Raban: ‘Red Tory’, 22 April 2010

Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix it 
by Phillip Blond.
Faber, 309 pp., £12.99, April 2010, 978 0 571 25167 4
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... It’s been a quarter-century since I last listened to The Archers on Radio 4, so I’m out of touch. I read in the papers that Phil Archer, or at least Norman Painting, who played him, died recently, but is Jill still around? Where’s Shula? What’s with Eddie Grundy? Old Walter Gabriel must be long gone, but what happened to his scapegrace son, Nelson? Are the village shop and post office still open, or does everyone in Ambridge have to drive to Borchester to shop at Tesco? Is The Bull now part of the portfolio of Punch Taverns plc? I ask these important questions because, last week, clicking on the podcast of another Radio 4 programme, I found it beginning with the closing notes of The Archers’ maddeningly memorable, merry-men-of-morris theme music, and since then they’ve been chiming insistently with my reading of Phillip Blond’s Red Tory and my listening to David Cameron’s ‘big society, small government’ speeches ...

Diary

Jonathan Raban: I’m for Obama, 20 March 2008

... I want a hero: an uncommon want When every year and month sends forth a new one, Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant, The age discovers he is not the true one. Byron, Don Juan For the last few weeks, I’ve left the blue-sheathed national edition of the New York Times out in the yard, where it’s tossed over the gate at 3 a.m. each morning, and gone straight to the paper’s website, because news printed nine or ten hours ago is too old to keep up with the fast-moving course of the Democratic nomination battle ...

Planes, Trains and SUVs

Jonathan Raban: James Meek, 7 February 2008

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent 
by James Meek.
Canongate, 295 pp., £16.99, February 2008, 978 1 84195 988 7
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... James Meek’s last, bestselling novel, The People’s Act of Love, published in 2005 to great critical acclaim, was set in 1919, in ‘that part of Siberia lying between Omsk and Krasnoyarsk’. Anglophone readers who can locate ‘that’ part of Siberia without a good atlas deserve spot prizes. The historical date and exotic location gave Meek a fictional and cultural space in which extraordinary events and people could seem believable, when placed inside a landscape rendered in exact and first-hand detail ...

Trouble at the Fees Office

Jonathan Raban: Alice in Expenses Land, 11 June 2009

... Following the great parliamentary expenses scandal from afar has been to view my home country through the wrong end of a telescope: so many scuttling figures, comically diminished in scale, like poor, tiny Douglas Hogg, with his flat cap and backpack, breathlessly hurrying down the street pursued by a giant fuzzy insect in the form of a microphone. ‘That is not correct ...

Granny in the Doorway

Jonathan Raban: Sheringham, 1945, 16 August 2017

... We were​ an inseparable couple, my mother and I. Our address was: The White House, Hempton Green, nr Fakenham, Norfolk. Here we stove in the shells of our breakfast eggs with teaspoons to prevent witches from using them as boats (the eggs came from Mrs Atherton, who helped my mother in the house and kept chickens at her nearby cottage). Here we listened to the News on the wireless twice and sometimes three times a day ...

Martian Arts

Jonathan Raban, 23 July 1987

Home and Away 
by Steve Ellis.
Bloodaxe, 62 pp., £4.50, February 1987, 9781852240271
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The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper 
by Blake Morrison.
Chatto, 48 pp., £4.95, May 1987, 0 7011 3227 2
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The Frighteners 
by Sean O’Brien.
Bloodaxe, 64 pp., £4.50, February 1987, 9781852240134
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... In 1972 the final issue of Ian Hamilton’s Review was given over to a symposium on ‘The State of Poetry’. Only fifteen years on, it has the flavour of a yellowed historical document. The symposium’s tone is embattled: it finds enemies and traitors on every bookshelf, with the whole future of English poetry threatened by sinister forces. ‘American Poetry’ is seen as the big, bad colonial influence by more than half the 35 contributors, few of whom bother to make it clear whether they mean Robert Lowell, or Allen Ginsberg, or the Black Mountain imitators of William Carlos Williams ...

Summer with Empson

Jonathan Raban: Learning to Read, 5 November 2009

... My mother taught me to read in the summer of 1945, between VE Day and VJ Day, when I was turning three. Time lay on her hands: my father, a major in the Territorials, was away in Palestine, battling Irgun and the Stern Gang in the latter days of the British Mandate, and wasn’t due to be demobilised from the army until the end of the year; and I was a pushover for her deck of home-made flash cards and a game I found more fun than our previous sessions of Animal Snap ...

Cut, Kill, Dig, Drill

Jonathan Raban: Sarah Palin’s Cunning, 9 October 2008

... Sarah Palin has put a new face and voice to the long-standing, powerful, but inchoate movement in US political life that one might see as a mutant variety of Poujadism, inflected with a modern American accent. There are echoes of the Poujadist agenda of 1950s France in its contempt for metropolitan elites, fuelling the resentment of the provinces towards the capital and the countryside towards the city, in its xenophobic strain of nationalism, sturdy, paysan resistance to taxation, hostility to big business, and conviction that politicians are out to exploit the common man ...

Belt, Boots and Spurs

Jonathan Raban: Dunkirk, 1940, 4 October 2017

... The war​ rescued my father, Peter Raban, from his first job as a probationary teacher in the West Midlands and restored him to his proper station as an officer and a gentleman. He had hoped to go on to university (Oxford or Cambridge) from his boarding school in Worcester but his dismal Higher School Certificate results nixed that ambition ...

Just Two Clicks

Jonathan Raban: The Virtual Life of Neil Entwistle, 14 August 2008

... As Barack Obama never tires of saying, America is a country where ‘ordinary people can do extraordinary things.’ In January 2006, Neil Entwistle, a seemingly ordinary 27-year-old Englishman with an honours degree from the University of York, who had been living in the US for barely four months, shot dead his American wife, Rachel, and their baby daughter, Lillian, with a long-barrelled Colt ...

An American Romance

Edward Mendelson, 18 February 1982

Old Glory: An American Voyage 
by Jonathan Raban.
Collins, 527 pp., £9.95, October 1981, 9780002165211
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No particular place to go 
by Hugo Williams.
Cape, 200 pp., £6.50, October 1981, 0 224 01810 8
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... Old Glory – the book written by Jonathan Raban – is an altogether different book from the Old Glory that was praised in the reviews, but it is no less wonderful for that. The book the reviewers wrote about does not exist at all, except as the ghost of an intention. This phantasmal Old Glory is the book which Raban originally planned to write, and which he expected would be little more than an elegant travel diary: the record of a passive drifting journey down the Mississippi in the track of Huckleberry Finn ...

Funny Water

Frank Kermode: Raban at Sea, 20 January 2000

Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings 
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 435 pp., £16.99, November 1999, 0 330 34628 8
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... Jonathan Raban is afraid of the sea, saying it is not his element, which is probably why he spends so much time on it. He does not claim to be a world-class sailor, though he is obviously a competent one. One good reason for sailing is that, being a writer, he likes to write about having sailed. Sailing is guaranteed to provide alarms and achievements for his pen to celebrate ...

Thank God for John Rayburn

Mark Ford, 24 January 1991

Hunting Mister Heartbreak 
by Jonathan Raban.
Harvill, 428 pp., £14, November 1990, 0 00 272031 0
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... Travelling,’ Jonathan Raban once remarked, ‘is inherently a plotless, disordered, chaotic affair, where writing insists on connection, order, plot, signification.’ Even the best contemporary travel writing is haunted by the self-consciousness that grows out of this contradiction. It’s embarrassing to read about seemingly spontaneous encounters with exotic people in far-flung countries, and then suddenly to remember that the whole thing has been set up just so the author can convert it into so much copy for his or her book ...

Tracts for the Times

Karl Miller, 17 August 1989

Intellectuals 
by Paul Johnson.
Weidenfeld, 385 pp., £14.95, October 1988, 0 297 79395 0
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CounterBlasts No 1: God, Man and Mrs Thatcher 
by Jonathan Raban.
Chatto, 72 pp., £2.99, June 1989, 0 7011 3470 4
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... and Waugh’s, are not the only traditions we have. There are others and they are in danger. Jonathan Raban presents himself, in his CounterBlast pamphlet, as an intellectual who perceives, in the Prime Minister’s ‘scant’ address last year to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, meanings that plain people might miss. Mrs ...

When Dad Came Out Here

Stephen Fender, 12 December 1996

Bad Land: An American Romance 
by Jonathan Raban.
Picador, 325 pp., £15.99, October 1996, 0 330 34621 0
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... I am not a travel writer,’ Jonathan Raban said in a recent interview. ‘For me, “travel writer” means someone who samples other people’s holidays – you talk about the food, the hotel, throw in a bit of local colour. If I thought that was the business I was in, I’d slit my throat.’ Bad Land, Raban’s new book about Montana, examines the present remains and historical origins of the last great wave of American western settlement, the migration of homesteaders to eastern Montana in the first decade of this century ...

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