The World Cup – that unquenchably sweet festival

As I write, we have already embarked on the “business end” of the 2018 World Cup, a tournament which so far has exceeded most people’s expectations, from footballing, experiential and, it would seem, security standpoints. On the pitch, the quality has frequently been excellent. Even in games when objectively it hasn’t, such as Argentina vs Nigeria, the drama has been absorbing. Yet living in “the West”, if that term carries any meaning in today’s fragmented world, one has for a long time felt coerced into feeling outraged that Russia was awarded this year’s tournament. Read More »


When quizzing was dodgy

On Sunday, Richard Goodwin passed away. He had a distinguished career, partly spent as an advisor and speechwriter in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the 1960s. However, my primary interest in Goodwin centres on his role as a Congressional investigator into the Twenty One quiz show scandal in the 1950s, which was dramatised in the 1994 Robert Redford film Quiz Show. As an erstwhile quizzer of very minor note, obviously it’s a movie I have a particular interest in. However, I’ll go further. Quiz Show is one of my very favourites, a bona fide prestige film. It’s much better than the romantic comedy Starter for 10, notionally based around University Challenge, yet hampered by a paucity of actual quizzing (in fact, the whole movie could have been better had it been reoriented around the Benedict Cumberbatch character, but that’s a whinge for another time). Read More »

The un-Britishness of Brexit

“Two World Wars and one World Cup, doo-dah, doo-dah”. Did they really mean it? On one level I had always assumed they didn’t. About the World Wars, that is. Even as a child, with limited awareness of the war, it struck me as obtusely solipsistic and historically dubious. But there are often moments when I’ve been left wondering. At the time of writing, the UK government is conducting an intense internal debate about customs union options that are either impractical or delusional, and in any case have been rejected by the European Union. Just as they have previously rejected the cherry picking “three baskets” proposal. That being one of many phrases, along with the likes of “ambitious managed divergence” and “Canada plus plus plus”, that have fallen by the wayside over the last few months. As one observes this farcical nonsense unfolding, an obvious thought is to wonder how it came to this – yes, of course, it is in large measure the dilettante Cameron’s fault. But another thought is to behold how many members of the cabinet, along with the architects of the Leave coup, are so unlike my experiences of the British people over a decade. There just seems to be something fundamentally un-British about this whole Brexit caper.Read More »

Fraying at the edges?

This writer has been observing goings on in Catalonia with a degree of interest over several months, and is still far from reaching a definitive position on the topic of Catalan independence. But there are still sub-positions to be taken, tending on either side of the debate, and which this blog will take this opportunity to ruminate on here. In a general sense, cultural, culinary and linguistic differences, even the vagaries of divergent political traditions, are things that can be celebrated. On the other hand, while chewing this nationalist cud, I have to acknowledge my bewilderment at contemporary identity politics in most of its forms, even while observing that it is a big deal for many people.Read More »

What place does technology have in creating an inclusive future?

We are living through a period that is experiencing a step change in technological capability. It is happening at a more rapid rate than previously witnessed in human history, and it is happening against a turbulent backdrop where we could be on the cusp of systemic economic and political change. The context in which this change is taking place is important to understand, as the further diffusion of technology is viewed largely with fear, as it is held to be a force that will exacerbate trends that are already fomenting so much dissatisfaction in the world today. Yet technology cannot be suppressed or wished away, and it’s important to remember we have a certain agency in shaping it. Technology will have a strong bearing on what whatever new system emerges, and how that new settlement affects people’s everyday lives.Read More »

Remembrance of sleaze past

The Crimson Feather has been stifled for the last half year, but is ready to flutter again, with a return that can be described as a tentative first examination of what continue to be turbulent conditions. As we move into 2018, reflecting on the year just past makes for chilling reminiscence. Thus I will stay inside a comfort zone of sorts, and use the first column of the year to compare the present era unfavourably with the last time the Conservative Party was in power in the UK during the sleaze-ridden 1990s, as gruesome as that period seemed at the time. For yes, the miseries of today really do make the 1990’s feel like the good old days, a decade that one needs to be brave to stick up for. A lot of the music stank, even allowing for exuberant Britpop nostalgia and other niches of quality. Haircuts have aged very badly. There is a dearth of great movies from that time, and one of the best might be forever more sullied not just by the extensive predatory antics of one of its leading stars, but also its director.Read More »

Sock! Pow! Biff! Take that, contemporary superhero franchises!

This writer might previously have admitted that he feels somewhat out of step with his time. He has certainly been effusive in his contempt for the contemporary movie franchises clogging up the multiplexes – in its way, a dismal manifestation of rentier capitalism. Perhaps the most significant cultural fault line is that which separates people who take superhero movies seriously, and those who are mystified by popcorn tosh po-facedly masquerading as a window into the human condition. Nowadays we are expected to regard “origin stories” with the utmost seriousness, and to admire the conscientious mapping out and curating of a cinematic universe of characters, even though it saps all the mystery and wonder that make these stories interesting. This mainstreaming of weird, anoraky obsession is almost wholly without merit or charm, but it’s where our popular culture has ended up – an incontinent deluge of essentially interchangeable and quickly forgettable movies, and a concomitant conference circuit of stupendously risible self-importance.Read More »

The meaning of sporting baubles

“Is this important?” is a question I am sometimes asked as I sit down to watch a game of football. It fills me with dread, not simply because it could be interpreted as a coded challenge to my commandeering of the television. It is actually a deeply philosophical question, which induces a kind of agony as I flounder in search of a response. Sometimes the question will come with a qualification. “I meant, is this for something?”, or “Is there something being handed out at the end of this?”. There is a need to know whether this game I want to watch isn’t just part of the same endless football cycle. The answer to whether a match could ever be important is obviously no, however much people approvingly quote Bill Shankly in these matters. The answer to the supposedly more benign version of the question is also no, and sometimes no less of a squirm-inducing experience.Read More »

Roger and me

Private Eye is very good at sending up journalists who write what are ostensibly tributes to recently deceased celebrities, but which are actually self-aggrandising articles about themselves; “The Bowie I knew”, and so on. Recalling my one encounter with Roger Moore, I admit I couldn’t help appropriating the title of Michael Moore’s breakthrough film. However, I largely do so to confess I didn’t really excel myself in that moment, which came during a date in a speaking tour by Roger Moore when he visited the Cambridge Union. I wanted to ask him something, but I was struggling for a good question of my own. In the end, I asked him almost the same question that Alan Partridge once asked him but couldn’t get an answer to – who would win a hypothetical fight between James Bond and The Saint? Moore took a moment to consider the question, then turned towards me with eyebrow raised archly (naturally) and replied, “It would depend on who was playing Bond”.Read More »

Will there still be a Labour Party on June 9?

Democracy is in as much trouble in Britain as it is in many other places that would style themselves as such, no matter the frequency with which its citizens are invited to the polling station. And they are being invited again, by a government that is intending to deploy a national poll as a weapon of mass electoral destruction. It has the appearance of a blatantly opportunistic move to decimate the Labour Party, but let’s not be too precious about that. Politics is a contact sport, and it makes sense to kick an opponent when they’re down, to make sure they don’t get back up again. Let’s just not swallow the fiction that there’s anything patriotic or necessary about this. For the Prime Minister, an election might remove some limitations to her freedom of action to operate domestically, but it will make negligible difference to her negotiations with the EU27 over the coming two years, as has already been pointed out.Read More »