When my mother’s mother began to die of a mysterious, undiagnosable neurological illness, the first thing she lost was her sense of taste. For most families, perhaps, this would be a rather inconsequential loss, but this had severe repercussions for us. As the matriarch of our heaving, multi-generational family, she had always helmed the kitchen with an efficient, if somewhat despotic, hand. Because all the food in that household was cooked by her—years earlier, an attempted takeover by one of the uncle’s wives had been swiftly and tyrannically rebuffed—my grandmother was, in fact, the ultimate arbiter of taste. For decades, this had been a relatively stable and blissful arrangement: she was an acutely talented cook. But as her taste buds numbed, week by week, the food turned from mild to well-seasoned to intolerably spicy. It was, perhaps, a kind of neural compensation for her—the way people with early hearing loss often begin to speak more loudly—but the fish curry now went off on the palate like a thermonuclear bomb. The lentils exfoliated the tongue. The fried spinach was an incinerating terror; the okra, an endurance sport. When even the white rice, the final refuge of the Asian tongue, began to arrive at the table with halved Thai bird peppers on top, the seeds squinting above it, we squirmed in terror. But we steeled ourselves and kept eating: numbness begetting numbness.
The art of adapting Russian plays – and novels and stories – for the stage: The Spectator
I recently met an A-level English student who had never heard of Pontius Pilate. How is it possible to reach the age of 18 — to be applying to university to read English and European Literature — and never to have come across the man who asked the unanswerable question: what is truth?
This student had completed a course in theatre studies, having read hardly any Shakespeare, nor any of his contemporaries, none of the Greeks — Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides — nothing from the Restoration, no Ibsen, no Shaw, and certainly no Schiller — though he had been given the role of Hippolytus in a school production of Phaedra’s Love, which had to be cancelled when the head teacher came across a copy of the script lying on the staffroom table. Phew! Continue reading