The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, March 5th 2014

    Some of the best stories Tudor England ever gave us came not from execution, adultery or gilded obesity, but from travel. This was an era of English adventure, of the quest for El Dorado and doomed searches for the Northwest passage. It was the era of William Hawkins, a ship’s captain from Plymouth, who sailed to Brazil in 1532 and brought home a king with bones pierced through his cheeks. Many of these stories were collected by a courtier to Elizabeth I called Richard Hakluyt in the late 16th century. His "Voyages and Discoveries" is a compendium of letters, ship’s logs, trading reports and exotic traveller’s tales. In its original form it stretched to more than 1.5m words. Penguin Classics published an abridged version in 1972, a little over 400 pages long and containing 66 pieces. The shortest of them I read between Tube stops—a single paragraph by a Belgian cartographer called Gerardus Mercator setting out English discoveries in northern Finland and Russia, including the exact latitude of Moscow. The longest—Sir Walter Raleigh’s account of his discovery of Guiana—took up a lunch hour.

    read more » BooksOther Books We're ReadingplacesSimon WillisTravel

    ~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, March 4th 2014

    It was billed as a coup. The BBC had bagged Damon Albarn, Blur frontman and "musical polymath" (if recent press coverage is to be believed), to headline the first 6 Music Festival on Friday night. He promised a set of never-heard-before tracks from his first solo album, “Everyday Robots”, which is due out next month. 

    But on the night, as the hour-long set drew on, the audience grew restless. “When’s he going to play ‘Song 2’?” the man beside me asked, before singing the Blur song's refrain with his mate: “Woo-hoo!” Instead they got the title track to Albarn's new album, “Everyday Robots”, a violin squeaking discordantly in the background. Albarn moved onto a melancholy acoustic number, “Hostiles”, and then “Lonely Press Play", his current single. The sound, which was patchy at best, could not drown out the chatter. Space opened up behind me as people filtered out the back.

    read more » BBCfestivalHazel SheffieldManchesterMusicRock

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, March 3rd 2014

    Last week I blogged about the odds being offered on this year’s Oscars results. The bookmaker William Hill declared that Sunday’s Academy Awards would be the most predictable ever. As confident as William Hill was, though, I’m still a little surprised by how accurate its in-house fortune-tellers were. Every one of their major forecasts came true.

    read more » FilmgamblingHOLLYWOODmoviesOscars

    ~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, February 26th 2014 

    A hundred years ago, on the morning of March 10th, a small woman wearing a fitted grey coat and skirt walked into the National Gallery in London with a meat cleaver. The cleaver was not visible to the gallery attendants, nor to the policemen who had been drafted in because the gallery was on red alert for a suffragist attack. The woman made her way to the room where The Rokeby Venus (pictured), the only surviving female nude by Diego Velázquez, was on display. It was a work of art that was in the public eye, having been purchased for the nation just eight years earlier. The required £45,000 had been raised by donations from art lovers, the depth of whose pockets varied—"An Englishman" gave £10,000 and "A Young Student", two shillings—but the message was the same: this painting mattered to people.

    read more » activismArtcrimefeminismRebecca Willis

    ~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, February 24th 2014

    I’m not a big fan of petitions, but in 2010 there was one I had to sign. It was the campaign to save Radio 6 Music when the BBC threatened it with closure. It turns out I wasn’t alone: of the 600,000 listeners the station had at the time, 25,000 wrote letters and many more signed the petition. The campaign worked. Now, with an audience close to 2m, 6 Music is hosting a festival, and for the first time a few thousand of the faithful will come together in a Manchester warehouse to look one another in the eye.

    read more » activismBBCFestivalsHazel SheffieldRock

    ~ Posted by Samantha Ellis, February 21st 2014

    When we improvised a play at school, about the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison throwing herself in front of the king’s horse, I played the horse. Still, I soon decided I was a feminist. It was the Eighties, not feminism’s finest hour, and I hated Margaret Thatcher saying she owed nothing to what we were still calling “women’s lib”. I liked the fierce Second Wave feminists, and even more, I liked the suffragettes, who fought hard and won through, and did it all in pearls and picture hats.

    So I’m hugely excited about the forthcoming film "Suffragette", written by Abi Morgan, directed by Sarah Gavron and starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai, Anne-Marie Duff—and some men. And, the papers say, Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst!

    read more » activismfeminismFilmsHISTORYhuman rightsSamantha Ellis

    ~ Posted by Charlie McCann, February 19th 2014

    "The problem with philosophers today," Alain de Botton told an audience at the National Theatre earlier this month, "is that no one pays any attention to them." Just look at the numbers. He put the daily visitors to the Daily Mail website at 40m and the total readers for the average new book of philosophy at 300.

    read more » celebrityCharlie McCannnewspapersphilosophy

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, February 19th 2014

    Another transformation in India
    Re: Camcorders for justice (pictured)
    This article about the Flip camera highlighted how a simple tool can bring about real change in the lives of many. I was interested because I am aware of another transformation in India. Twenty years ago a handful of yogis set up an ashram in the small hamlet of Rikhia, in Jharkhand. Now part of the Bihar School of Yoga, the ashram attracts thousands of visitors each year and has helped bring the local Santali tribe into the modern era. Schools have opened, water and electricity have been supplied and there is a resident doctor. Young women in particular are benefiting—previously the lowliest and least cared for in this society, many now lead programmes in English. But the question remains: how can more people be inspired to look beyond their own lives to transform the lives of others?
    Barbara Pidgeon

    read more » LettersReader comments

    ~ Posted by Hope Whitmore, February 14th 2014

    Brown patches stain the chart, as though from tea leaves, but the writing remains legible. The "Bills of Mortality”, also known as "The Table of Casualties", were weekly lists of the causes of death in London from 1647 to 1659. This sombre document is one of the earliest to appear in "Beautiful Science", a new exhibition at the British Library, which opens on February 20th. Some of the causes of death seem quaint to a modern reader—people died from "fainting in bath" or "The King’s Evil"—but the chart also shows high infant mortality and people dying as "lunatiques". Scanning these columns, it's possible to see at a glance what was killing people and when: in 1660, for instance, 3,414 died from consumption and nine people died of fright.

    read more » ExhibitionshealthHISTORYmapsSCIENCE

    ~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, February 13th 2014

    If you've ever found yourself lying on a gurney in a mountain hospital—and maybe even if you haven't—watching the Winter Olympics is not an entirely comfortable experience. The danger level, compared with the summer games, is high: most of the activities involved would be excluded from the average insurance policy. If you fall over when you're sprinting round a track, you might injure yourself, or break a bone, but it's unlikely to be fatal. If you fall over doing 60mph on the ski slope, it just could be—there's a reason for the expression "breakneck speed". To me, watching the winter games feels like sitting beside a motorway to see if an accident happens, only more so.

    read more » healtholympicsRebecca WillisRussiaSPORTS