Last August, the Guardian's Northern correspondent Helen Pidd invited Yasser, a 34-year-old Syrian refugee, to live in the spare room of her Manchester flat while he waited for his wife and baby daughter to join him. Helen and Yasser tell their sides of the story, from navigating the UK's welfare bureaucracy to the English's perplexing fondness for cookbooks and bare floorboards, a family Christmas near Morecambe and a topical Halloween costume. [more inside]
Why I have resigned from the Telegraph; an open letter by Peter Oborne, until now the chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, alleging that the conservative-leaning British broadsheet has allowed advertisers to veto its editorial policy, a process which culminated in the suppression of stories about the recent tax avoidance scandal involving the HSBC bank, itself a major Telegraph advertiser.
A survey by a high-end estate agent has revealed that there are more domestic servants in the exclusive London district of Mayfair now than 200 years ago, and indeed, in the élite London neighbourhoods which have been bought up by absentee oligarchs, often only the lights in the servants' quarters are on at night. For those who fancy a life of serving the super-rich, there are courses to prepare them for catering to their masters' exacting whims. But it's not all rosy at the top; the prices of luxury goods (including foie gras, Patek Philippe watches, paintings by artists such as Cézanne and Rothko) in the basket used to calculate the Affluent Luxury Living Index have been rising at a rate exceeding inflation.
In 1985, McDonalds sued left-wing activists in the UK for libel over a pamphlet accusing the multinational food giant of environmental destruction, abuses of workers' rights and selling junk food. The ensuing trial became the longest-running civil trial in English history, ending in 1997 in a Pyrrhic victory for McDonalds, who had lost millions of pounds in pursuing the case, and won £40,000 for their trouble. (The judgment was later overturned in the European Court of Human Rights.) Now, it has been revealed that the leaflet in question had been co-written by an undercover police officer assigned to infiltrate Greenpeace. The officer in question, Bob Lambert, had previously spent years infiltrating environmental groups, even fathering children with activists before disappearing. [more inside]
This St. George's Day sees news of the next attempt to redress Britain's superhero shortage: Englishman, who looks like Iron Man crossed with a mediaeval crusader. The series promises “brand new, quintessentially English characters, including Greenbelt and Dry Stone Wall”. [more inside]
In the New Statesman, Nelson Jones argues that prejudice against red-haired people in Britain should be addressed by hate crime legislation. [more inside]
The 2012 Turner Prize for modern art has been awarded to video artist Elizabeth Price for her work The Woolworths Choir of 1979 (excerpt). Price beat a number of contenders, including visual artist Paul Noble (nominated for a series of pencil drawings of a fantastic metropolis named Nobson Newtown), Luke Fowler (with a film titled All Divided Selves, about the controversial Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing) and the splendidly named performance artist Spartacus Chetwynd. Before winning the Turner Prize, Price was best known as a member of 1980s indiepop band Talulah Gosh, though is by no means the only former member to have a notable post-band career.
Depressing million-dollar London property. Even in the economic crisis, £635,000 doesn't get you much inside the M25: you can take your pick of a worker's cottage near a football stadium, an Australian backpacker-style apartment near Earl's Court, a 2-bedroom house right near the ring road or various other similarly dispiriting residences.
Good news for Nick Clegg, deputy Prime Minister of the UK and leader of the Liberal Democrats: he's more popular than the Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron. Perhaps not so good news for the Liberal Democrats' image: that's with Tory party activists. Meanwhile, Cameron has professed his love of Macs and iPads in an interview, undoubtedly causing Apple to become instantly uncool in much the way The Smiths and Paul Weller did a few years ago.
The Guardian has an article on Pimm's, a traditional gin-based English summer drink. Invented by one James Pimm in London in 1840, Pimm's soon became associated with upper-class institutions and the British Empire; its popularity declined somewhat in the decades following World War 2 (apart from a few revivals as part of ironic constructions of "Britishness"), though it has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity. Recipes for serving Pimm's vary, though they typically involve mixing it with lemonade and/or ginger beer in a jug and adding oranges, strawberries, sliced cucumber and mint. While the formula remains a secret, knockoffs do exist (both Sainsbury's and Aldi sell their own substitutes, though Sainsbury's had to change the label on its to look less like the original), or you could try making your own.
In 1937, the London News Chronicle published a photograph of five boys at the gates of Lord's cricket ground; two stood aloof in top hats and tails, with their backs to a group of three working-class lads. The resulting photograph became famous as a metaphor for the class divide in Britain, appearing in newspaper stories about school reform, inequality and bourgeois guilt and on the covers of books. The photograph appeared in the Getty Images archive as "Toffs and Toughs", and even was printed on a jigsaw puzzle in 2004. The identities of the three working-class boys were unknown until a journalist tracked them down in 1998; here is an article on the history of the photograph and the lives of the five boys in it.
Originally developed for military tasks, amphibious buses have found a niche running tourist services in various cities around the world. But now, Scotland is about to get the first timetabled amphibious bus passenger service, replacing a ferry route in Glasgow and extending it inland to a nearby town and a shopping centre. [more inside]
The British government has announced plans to make Ordnance Survey map data freely available online. The Ordnance Survey is the government-funded agency which maps the country at high resolutions. Unlike the US Geological Survey's public-domain data, Ordnance Survey maps are proprietary, and licensed only under restrictive terms and for hefty fees, including to local governments; setting the data free is said to produce a £156 net economic gain. (Previously) [more inside]
The British postcode system, one of the things which Britain arguably does better than anyone else, is 50 years old. The system divides the entire UK into alphanumeric postal districts organised in a hierarchy, with the first one or two letters denoting a postal area (typically a city or the environs of one, though London has several). Unlike systems elsewhere (such as the US, Australia, and most of Europe), it doesn't stop at the neighbourhood level, with each 5-to-7-character full postcode denoting a segment of a street. This makes it useful for applications other than addressing mail, such as navigation; as such, you can enter a postcode into Google Maps or a satellite navigation unit and be shown exactly where it refers to. [more inside]
Roxy Freeman was born into an Gypsy family. For years, her family travelled around Ireland in a horsedrawn wagon, without electricity or formal schooling, getting by on picking fruit and selling horses they bred, before settling in Norfolk. Roxy taught herself to read, devoured books, and, after travelling the world for a number of years, decided to go to university, a move which would require her to completely change her way of life. Living in a flat in Brighton, a way of life which she finds bizarre and alien, she has written about her childhood, her family's culture and the difficulties and prejudices she encountered, for the Guardian. [more inside]
The Guardian ran a series of articles looking at the state of high-speed rail travel today. France intends to double its length of track over the next decade, and China is planning a massive rail-building programme, including a high-speed line which will halve the travel time between Beijing and Shanghai to 4 hours. In Germany, domestic air travel is rapidly going extinct, and Spain's network has made day trips between Madrid and Barcelona a possibility. The USA, which has long neglected its rail network, is planning up to 10 high-speed lines. Meanwhile, Britain's only high-speed line goes to France, but there is talk of a 250mph line from London to Birmingham and beyond, possibly by the early 2020s. Meanwhile, the CEO of France's rail operator, SNCF, weighs in on what the UK should do.
Controversy has erupted in Britain after it emerged that Prince Charles used his personal influence with Qatari royalty to sack modernist architect Richard Rogers from a development in London. Charles has been an outspoken critic of modern architecture and advocate of neo-traditionalist styles, and even created a model village to showcase his ideas about "proper" architecture. Charles' preferred replacement for Rogers is Quinlan Terry, known for his neo-classicist leanings. [more inside]