‘Honesty’s all out of fashion.’ So runs the chorus in ‘The Rigs of the Time’, an English folk song dating back to the Napoleonic Wars. The rigs in the song are little ruses employed by the butcher, baker, publican and farmer to squeeze up the price of their products. The examples investigated here may be rather more elaborate than watering the beer, sliding a hand onto the scales, or putting too much yeast into a loaf to make the flour go further.
Pre-election street theatre by Public Against Violence, Bratislava, May 1990
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Another reflection on the western travellers who crossed the Iron and Bamboo Curtains . . .
Alan Sugar and his dreadful would-be apprentices aside, is it likely nowadays that the British media would support a serious inquiry into the all-devouring creed we have come to know as ‘management’?
More than 300 years ago, under the Puritans of the Long Parliament, the celebration of Christmas was made illegal in Britain. In late November 1991, I went to the Highlands and Islands of northwest Scotland to talk with the heirs of the Puritan tradition who are fighting a rearguard battle against an overwhelming festival they regard as English, Roman and idolatrous. Published in The Independent Magazine, 21 December 1991.
In December 1987, I stepped into an opulent new building on Fifth Avenue in New York City and found myself face to face with Donald Trump. Our eyes did not meet, but I did write this article about the man, his just published autobiography and his Tower. Published as ‘The man who would be Christ’, New Statesman & Society, 17 June 1988
A review of Witold Rybcyzinski’s book Home: A Short History of an Idea, which makes a wider argument about the rise of the English country house as a polemically-powered symbol of superior culture during the post-war period. I later incorporated much of this material into ‘Brideshead Relocated’, a chapter of A Journey Through Ruins (1991). Published in the London Review of Books, 2 June 1988.
I visited a number of British business schools while working for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in the nineteen eighties, and found two books in particular turning up in conversation. One was Martin Wiener’s English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit 1850-1980, which argued that aristocratic values had stifled entrepreneurialism in modern Britain. The other was In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies – a US bestseller promoting a creed that would play a decisive role in British life over the decade to come. This article was my first attempt to track the course of ‘Excellence’ as it reached into British public life. Published in the London Review of Books, 21 May 1987.