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Paul Morgan

Barry Jones is a proud member of the Awkward Squad, one who follows his own convictions rather than the exigencies of day-to-day government. He confesses that in Parliament, ‘I was always aiming for objectives that were seen as beyond the reach of conventional politics’. The memo about ‘the art of the possible’ clearly never reached Jones’s desk. His time as a minister between 1983 and 1990 was a strain for both him and the then prime minister, Bob Hawke. Jones recounts with some glee that Hawke once referred to him as ‘Barry Fucking Jones’.

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Every era imagines its own future. We always get it wrong, of course; often comically, sometimes tragically. The year 2001 was emblematic of ‘the future’ for decades, thanks to Stanley Kubrick’s visionary film of the same name. Videophones! Robots! Spaceships elegantly ascending to a Strauss waltz! With the approach of the ...

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Peak: Reinventing middle age by Patricia Edgar and Don Edgar

April 2017, no. 390

We are often told that baby boomers reshaped every stage of life they passed through. They are the most liberal-minded, creative, self-assured – and most of all, lucky – generation in history. Pop music, the sexual revolution, environmentalism, the internet – there is little, it seems, they have not been responsible for in the modern world. As they approach th ...

Imagine a child falling ill. Her fever worsens. Becoming paralysed, she screams in pain. Rushed to hospital, she is separated from her family for months. She undergoes agonising treatments: strapped in splints, encased in plaster, weeping as her limbs are stretched on rack-like machines. She may be encased in an 'iron lung' to breathe, like a coffin with her head po ...

Many public figures are fated to be remembered for a single incident rather than a lifetime's work (think of Gough Whitlam's ad-libbing outside Parliament house, or his nemesis's trousers, forever lost in Memphis). Often, almost perversely, it is one event that stays in the mind. For Keith Murdoch (1885–1952), that phenomenon was the so-called 'Gallipoli letter' o ...

Who was Stephen Ward? And why does his fate matter today? The Profumo affair, with its mixture of sex, politics, aristocracy, and espionage, has become the archetypal scandal. In 1962, Jack Profumo was British Secretary of State for War (ministerial titles were more frank in those days) ...

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The trial of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton in 1870 might have been designed for the media to whip up public outrage in a familiar mix of moral disapproval and prurient detail. As Neil McKenna’s Fanny and Stella reveals, this was indeed the intention of the British government of the day.

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The cover of Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire shows a vast and terrible conflagration. Flames reach high into the sky, devouring the air and seeming to set the wide river alight. In the distance, an eerily familiar pair of ghostly towers rises above the smoke. In the foreground, tiny human figures move around as a boat sets off towards the fire, perhaps in some desperate attempt at rescue. The painting is The Burning of the Houses of Parliament by J.M.W. Turner. Shirley Hazzard chose this image herself for the cover of the novel, which won both the Miles Franklin and National Book Awards in 2003.

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We are all exiles. In time, if not in space, we are inevitably parted from what is most familiar and dear to us. ‘Loss’ is stamped in all our passports. Vladimir Nabokov understood exile better than anyone. Heir to a wealthy landowning family in Imperial Russia, he escaped the communist revolution of 1917 to a life of genteel poverty in a Berlin boarding house. Eking out a living as a tennis and language tutor, he built a reputation by the 1930s as one of the best Russian writers alive. With his Jewish wife, Vera, Nabokov fled from Germany to France, and then to the United States. His father, a prominent liberal, was shot by a right-wing assassin in 1922. His gay brother, Sergey, was murdered in a concentration camp in 1945.

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The business of growing up starts with distancing ourselves from our parents. It ends (as far as it ever ends) with drawing them close again. Rather than disappointing giants, we recognise them at last as fallible, unique human beings. We recognise them in ourselves, and so they become real to us.

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