Alastair Benn

notre dame france rebuilt

Macron’s France is remaking itself again

The French Republic had to be built but then it had to be preserved. Its very attempts to conserve itself in the face of constant instability however, is what creates the tension and magic of France.

Denethor settles down to eat some delicious cherry tomatoes as his son rides into battle. Credit: AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo

In defence of Denethor

For all his qualities as a filmmaker, Peter Jackson’s representation of Denethor shows how he is unable to fuse the genius of Tolkien and the rich sensibility he brought to bear in what he termed ‘the cauldron of story’ – the common weal of imagination that produced the great sagas, Old English epics and folklore – into his own art.

An eighteenth century etching of a group of young men enjoying a game of Pallone col Bracciale.

Real Tennis and the elemental thrill of ball games

All the joy has gone out of modern Tennis, which privileges power and mathematical strategic thinking. It’s time to rediscover what makes ball games so much fun – comedy, lightness and a sense of play.

Why we make lists

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to endless list-making and tally-counting. History shows us that this is a fundamental human need.

Blinded by the light

Blindness offers a metaphor for the perils of worldly delusion. And the physically blind can sometimes discover new ways of seeing.

The enduring spirit of cricket

Cricket was one of the few sports that was played near-normally this summer – its modern form is a welcome emblem of global connection.

Once Upon a Time in Iraq

That was once upon a time in Iraq

In the BBC’s documentary Once Upon a Time in Iraq, we are invited to not avert our eyes from the long catastrophe of Iraq and to leave grand judgments about the rights and wrongs of intervention and dictatorship to one side.

Portrait Ettrick Shepherd

The Ettrick Shepherd stands watch

The pioneers of Enlightenment believed a new spirit of human sympathy could provide a lasting basis for political association – the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg, satirized that ethic in grand style.

Manchester street nineteenth century

Crowded out

In an era of social distancing, the city is stripped of its landscape of adventure and danger, its quality of ‘sheer life’.

The limits of scientism

The mantra ‘following the science’ has become a commonplace of the coronavirus vocabulary. And indeed, social distancing represents a virtually unparalleled opportunity for scientists to

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