Laughing Along With Jeremy Paxman

PAXMAN. The name comes from the Latin, meaning “man of peace”, which does not fit the pugilistic image of its best-known living bearer. Neither did it suit him to discover, as a recent subject of the BBC’s genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are? , that this moniker was contrived by a distant ancestor – a politician called Roger Packsman, who replaced two prosaic Anglo-Saxon letters with that magic “x” to enhance his appeal among the 14th century electorate.

A Polite “No” To The Aliens: David Mitchell

IN the woods west of Amsterdam, between the dunes of the North Sea shoreline and the vast floral-industrial greenhouses where world-famous hypercolour tulips are grown, there is a small working village of intellectuals. Current residents include experts on forgotten medieval cities, a team of linguists attempting to reconstruct the earliest human language, a German philosopher, a former adviser to Russian president Vladimir Putin and the novelist David Mitchell, who recently arrived to begin research for a new book.

The Looks And The Movement: Paul Greengrass

PAUL Greengrass was driving around Los Angeles a few weekends ago, conducting a private surveillance of the cinemas screening his new film The Bourne Supremacy. He found it gratifying to watch people buy tickets, for his own “egotistical reasons”. Every other film that Greengrass has directed was made for British television, and he says they were… Read more »

“Put A ‘Fuck’ In The Wrong Place …”: Ian McShane

American historians don’t know too much about Ellis Alfred Swearengen. They’re pretty sure he came from Chicago. In 1876, he built The Gem Saloon and Theatre on Main Street in the illegal gold- mining settlement of Deadwood, South Dakota, where he was proprietor until the place burned down in 1899. Given that The Gem became the local centre for “vile entertainment” in that time, raking in over $5000 a night in a town that averaged one murder per day, you could bet your horse that Al Swearengen was a bad man.

Noisome Ways: An Interview With Stephen Fry

SOME physicists subscribe to the theory of parallel universes, which supposes that all possibilities are being played out across an infinite range of alternative worlds. Stephen Fry’s father wasn’t that kind of physicist. “He was interested in single atoms, the particles inside the particles, ” Fry tells me. “In taking everything apart to see how it works.” His mother, meanwhile, had “a mind packed with verse”, and bequeathed Fry her love of poetry.

Calmness In Outrage: Naomi Klein

NO Logo was published in January 2000, and addressed the new century directly. The argument advanced by Naomi Klein seemed to promise a new world to go with it. From the perspective of those holding high office in tall buildings, this seemed more like a threat.

Elegy For A Dog Named Roo

FOR all the tricks and habits that humans teach them, there may be something we can learn from dogs. We consider ourselves their owners and masters, but there is no way to know what they think, and we are only guessing when we say they dream of rabbits. On occasion, between frequent, inscrutable relapses into primaeval wolfishness, tongue-lolling lunacy, and dung-eating degeneracy, they act as if they might possess the secret of happiness. Harry Horse’s dog Roo was no different, except that she could actually tell him about these things.

King Of Crows: David Peace

TOKYO is plagued by crows. They are thieves and murderers, stealing the eggs of meeker birds and biting through high-speed internet cables. Walking through Ueno Park to meet David Peace this morning, I watch one of them drag a plastic bag of food away from a sleeping homeless man. There is another screaming on a bare branch outside Peace’s office in Nezu, and it continues for the duration of our interview. “I actually quite like them,” says Peace.

Me V Spike Lee

WAKE UP. Spike Lee keeps repeating this. Watch any of his movies, or ‘joints’, as he calls them, and at some point you’ll start to feel that you’re missing the point, or that there isn’t one, or that there are too many to grip. He admits that he doesn’t make films that are about “just one thing” – he’ll throw five or six basketballs on the court, and you’re free to play with as many of them as you can. But essentially, he is telling you to wake up.

Drawing Blood From Oliver Stone

PRIVATE Bill Stone requested combat duty. Serving with the United States Army in Vietnam between April 1967 and November 1968, he killed enemy soldiers with grenades and was badly wounded twice. He also formulated certain doubts about America, which he repeats today: “How can you send only the poor to fight? If you’re going to war, go with everybody.” Stone himself was never poor, and had enlisted under his middle name because he thought “Oliver” sounded too soft and monied. Later, he became a world-famous, Oscar-winning film director with a Vietnam war movie called Platoon (1986), which drew on his most lucid memories of physical pain and animal fear, but also of some other, less material dimension he detected in the jungle. Oliver Stone leans forward to show me the white scar in the back of his head.