An Establishment Man: R.I.P. Victor Sandelson, 1928-2017


I was saddened to see in The Times that my family friend Victor Sandleson has died.

My memories of Victor are mainly from my childhood at Fiske & Co’s old summer parties on the Pavilion Terrace at the Palace of Westminster. He was one of my father’s Cambridge friends and you always could find him chatting, cigarette balanced delicately between upturned fingers (with a portable solid gold ashtray in the other hand), staring down at waters of The Thames, his words drifting between subjects with his friends, medicine or the sea with our GP Sir Nigel Southward (then Apothecary to the Royal Household and later Vice Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron), business or horses with Sir Martyn Arbib (then owner of both Invesco Perpetual and racehorses like Snurge who won the St Leger) or history and politics with the Marquess of Ailesbury (then a member of both the House of Lords and the board of Fiske.)

Victor’s brother Neville had been a Member of Parliament, one of the infamous Labour MPs who helped set up the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and then defected to it in 1981. Victor would always speak of his brother as “the clever one”, even though it was he had been invited back to Cambridge University to teach. Older than my father, he had poached him Sandelson & Co from Panmure’s (with David Cameron’s father Ian), until my father left for Fiske, a briefly acrimonious split which got them both in the pages of Private Eye more than once.

My fondest memory of Victor, though, is one of intellect and generosity at a dinner party of my parent’s in Eaton Square when I was twenty. I just had just begun my Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) degree course at Oxford and while researching some essay or other I had come across Hugh Thomas’s 1959 book of essays The Establishment. Lord Thomas is now better known as a historian of Spain, but in those days he was a noted journalist and had coined the phrase “The Establishment” in 1954. He’d asked Victor to contribute a chapter on The City, and with characteristic wit Victor had titled it ‘The Confidence Trick.’

More than the content of the piece I remember his delight that it was still being read almost four decades later, and after I brought it up we spent a memorable evening in a discussion which began with finance, moved on to the nature of power and elites, and then and ranged everywhere from the philosophy of fin de siècle Vienna to the fate of the Jews in Europe in the 20th century – Victor was proudly a Jewish English gentleman.

Most of all from that night, I came away with a realisation that discussions of great depth could also be carried out with humour and charm if you possessed his particular lightness of touch, something I have still yet to master. This was further reinforced by my return Oxford a few days later, where I found a handwritten letter waiting at the Porter’s Lodge of my college thanking me profusely for my company at dinner and containing a book token for £100 so that I could buy at least a few of the many he had mentioned in passing. It was a gesture which I have never forgotten.

The world is less without him.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

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Bull-Running In The Land Of Buffalos

I will be talking about the encierros – the ‘bull-runs’ – of Pamplona on Classic FM South Africa at 10a.m. local time, which is 8.a.m. GMT, which gives me about ten minutes to make a coffee. For more details on the subject, read the eBook guide I edited and co-authored with contributions from everyone from the Mayor of Pamplona to John Hemingway, grandson of the great author and bulls aficionado Ernest Hemingway, The Bulls of Pamplona – click here for more details.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Merry Christmas

Caspar David Friedrich - Winter Landscape (1811)

Caspar David Friedrich – Winter Landscape (1811)

Some say that ever ‘gaint that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long.
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abraod.
The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is that time.

Hamlet, Act One, Scene One

Xander

My shortlisted story for Le Prix Hemingway 2016

le-prix-hemingway

I have had put up the original English version of my short story, ‘The Unbroken’, which was a finalist for the twelfth Le Prix Hemingway in France this year. The anthology of the best dozen of the shortlisted stories was published yesterday in which it features under its French title, ‘Les Invincibles.’ It is set in the Paris of 1958 and Pamplona of 1959, and features many real characters from that time, including the author Ernest Hemingway, the New York Herald Tribune columnist Art Buchwald and the WWII veteran of Iwo Jima and bull-runner Matt Carney. It is at ‘The Pamplona Post’ online here. le-prix-hemingway-2016

P.S. I have also put up a ten thousand word essay on the history, ethics, technique and art of bullfighting at ‘The Last Arena’, online here.

THE LAST ARENA: A Runner’s Breakfast

the-last-arena-logoAs I pack my bags for the encierros – ‘bull-runs’ – of San Sebastián de los Reyes and Cuéllar, I was about to happily announce a new tradition, that of an international Runners’ Breakfast in the latter, the oldest encierros in Spain. Here is how I put it in an article to be published in El Norte de Castilla on Sunday.

As part of this spirit of cooperation between local and foreigner, I have asked the principal pastor, Enrique Bayon Brandi, to join with me in arranging a “breakfast of runners” following a tradition begun in Pamplona by the great runners, and our good friends, Julen Madina and Joe Distler thirty years ago. We hope to bring a new international tradition to the oldest encierro in Spain. As a mark of respect to the bulls and those who work with them, this first will be held in honour of the memory of Victor Barrio and attended by the matador David Mora the morning before he faces the same risks himself with the bulls with which we have just run.

Julen Madina in the traditional red and white (with blue elbow support) leads the bulls into the ring in Pamplona

Julen Madina in the traditional red and white (with blue elbow support) leads the bulls into the ring in Pamplona

To read on click here.

The Sun Also Rises


Today my first ever article came out in The Sunonline here. Before I have always written for ‘broadsheet’ British newspapers like its News International sister paper The Times. However, after reading endless false stories about the tragic death of the Spanish matador Victor Barrio, I could not turn down the offer of a voice in Britain’s biggest selling national newspaper. 

Inevitably there are ‘casualties of truth’ in a situation like this. I was commissioned to write at 3pm to complete the piece by 6pm. In Pamplona. Having run with the bulls that morning. And drunk all day. After four identical days. 

I am not a matador, which is a professional title, which was explained in my writing, if not in the printed ‘copy’, I was a torero, a ‘bullfighter’. However, it is a churlish complaint when describing the arcane and esoteric to expect the sub-editor doing the headline on the edited copy – which has lost these nuances – to know the differences.

What is more, at least I did not lie. 

The article attached to my article from the League Against Cruel Sports – for balance, which I respect – has no such compunctions nor attachments to research and truth. 

I’ve been on every major ranch and in every major bullring and fought myself. When was a bull’s eyes ever smeared with Vaseline? Where is their evidence for this claim? A half blind bull would charge a blur of man and cape, rather than the specific part of the cape the matador dictates, and many, many more would be dead. The same goes for starving – nonsense, I have photos of them eating in the corrals of the bullring itself… guys, the blood is in the ring, you don’t need to make it up. 

If anyone really wants to read about the morality of bullfighting, read my speech at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as a blog post here

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

My new project…

Blog

… has a new blog. http://www.thelandofwolves.com I intend to find out, and write about, everything you ever wanted to know about wolves and dogs and humans. Let’s see how far I get.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Method Authors: A New Literary Movement – from The Independent

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Note: For details on the classes, go to our website http://www.theactofwriting.co.uk

I’ve been meaning to write a post on author Thomas W. Hodgkinson’s mooting of the “new literary movement” (ahem) of ‘method writing’ since he first spoke about it on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme a week or so ago. (You can listen to it excerpted on the BBC here.)

However, ironically, I was too busy practising what he was preaching, as I was living in the Montparnasse apartment of one of the real-life protagonists of a short historical fiction I was writing to enter in the Prix d’Hemingway in France.

So it wasn’t until I returned to London late last night that I discovered he had launched the intended project in this morning’s The Independent (online here.)

author-photo-alexaner-fiske-harrison (2)

My Research

Thomas tells an abridged version of the story of why I am one of his three “method authors” in the piece.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison… trained as a matador in Spain as research for his book about bullfighting, Into the Arena. He is also an actor who, like Dustin Hoffman, has honed his technique at the Actors Studio. So for him, nothing was more natural, when he sat down to write, than to don the same black “country suit” and short jacket he’d worn in the arena. Between bursts of typing, he would move about the room, performing what is known as toreo de salon.

[Read more…]

THE LAST ARENA: Noel Chandler, Prince of Pamplona: A Tribute

From my bullfighting blog ‘The Last Arena’.
AFH

Noel Chandler and Alexander Fiske-Harrison, Pamplona, July 2013 (Photo: David Penton)

Noel Chandler and Alexander Fiske-Harrison, Pamplona, July 2013 (Photo: David Penton)

It seems it is my season for tributes to dead friends: I lost a near-sister on September 14th, and a true friend one month later on October 14th. Noel Chandler, though, was a few weeks shy of his 80th birthday, where Antonia Francis died just before her 40th. There is quite a difference.

The Spanish newspapers have been suitably effusive – for example his Pamplona local Diario de Navarra headlined with Welshman Noel Chandler dies, illustrious visitor to the feria of San Fermín’. However, they all seem to have propagated certain errors, starting with his age. Noel died at 79 not 76.

For that reason among others I am pleased not only to include my own memories of Noel, interspersed with a little journalistic research (about, for example, his service in the army), but also an interview he did with the secretary of the Club Taurino of London, David Penton, for their magazine La Divisa in 2013 which I suggested someone should do before it was all forgotten. However, nothing will ever capture the man in full. As even David noted when he forwarded the piece:

I promised to send you… the Lunch with Noel article which you prompted me to do. I hope you think it does him justice. Sadly he asked me to take a number of things out – mostly related to his generosity.

I’ll raise a glass to that.

AFH

Noel John Chandler

On his way to the great encierro (Photo: Jim Hollander, 1981)

On his way to the great encierro (Photo: Jim Hollander, 1981)

15 November 1935, Newport, Wales – 14 October 2015, Madrid Spain

B.A. (Hons.) Law, University of Bristol, 1958.

Lieutenant, Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own), 1961.

Managing Director, ICL Singapore Pte Ltd. 1994.

 

After the corrida on the final day of my first feria de San Fermín – July 14th, 2009 – a few hours before pobre de mí– when I was… (ahem)… tired and emotional having run with bulls that morning and drunk whatever was handed to me during the day until I had seen them killed very badly that evening, I bumped into a pretty young woman called Ivy Mix – a good name for such a famous bartender – who led me to a bar called Al Capone where in the doorway was standing Noel Chandler.

I had heard of Noel, of course, but in my research for my book Into The Arena: The World Of The Spanish Bullfight I had courteously avoided British and American aficionados as I did not want to inherit non-native prejudices or to see Spain second-hand. (The only reason I had gone to Pamplona was because my first teacher of toreo, Juan José Padilla said he would run with me and his bulls.)

Miss Mix introduced me to Noel saying I was writing a book on the world of the bulls. Noel looked into my eyes – which were a little blurry on the third day of my first Pamplona fiesta – through his own – which were… well, he was ten days into his forty-eighth fiesta – and said:

“What the fuck do you know about bulls?”

To read on, click the logo below…

the-last-arena-logo

In Memoriam: Antonia Raissi, née Francis, 4 February 1976 – 14 September 2015

Antonia Programme I

I have come to hold the belief that one of the most powerful and definitively human compulsions is that of being remembered: that when the physical reality of self has perished, that echo of appearance, the memory of self in other minds, should be confirmed in defiance of death. Hence the funeral, the oration, the headstone, the monument, the memorial service, the obituary and this, the personal memoire. That, and an expiation.

So I am not writing claiming I knew Antonia better than others – her mother and stepfather, her husband and her sons, her other family and many of her other friends had that privilege – but we had our moments over twenty or so years. I want to write down those I remember, and those I can repeat, before my recollections of them change and mutate any more than they already have. To ‘re-member’ to, as the word suggests, is to piece back together the members, the parts, of a dismembered whole. At best this is a jerry-rigged fiction that just about passes muster and at worst an outright lie, fuelled by want, and perspective, and sorrow.

AFH

*                    *                    *

Oxford

It was in her room in the top floor of Matthews Building I first met her, second on the right. A single bed, a desk, armchair and a basin in cupboard, divided by no more space than you could lie down in, loo and shower down the corridor. St. Peter’s College, Oxford, wasn’t exactly as glamorous as Brideshead Revisited, but Antonia was. Tall, lithe, exquisite faced which she fought against – admiring the strong more than the pretty – speaking with clipped St. Mary’s (Calne) tones and Eton-cropped black hair, which I would later cut to make her look more like Irène Jacob in Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs : Rouge the film we all fell in love with that year. Just as we all fell in love with her.

RedIn that tiny room we were all packed, a group, almost exclusively male at its core, and regarded as deeply, almost hilariously pretentious even by the standards of Oxford undergraduates. However, looking back one can see it was just curiosity and fascination and youthful gaucheness.

There was Hugh Dancy, George Pendle and Paul Curran, all studying English under Dr Francis Warner, Dominic Elliot studying Archaeology and Anthropology, and Steven France studying Philosophy under Dr John Kenyon. Antonia would within her first year abandon Geography for English, and I would only make it to the end of my second before switching from Biology to Philosophy under Kenyon.

Me, matriculation day, October 1994

Me, matriculation day, October 1994

One of her first stories to me, a story which would have perhaps annoyed the more sophisticated and subtle person she became, was of her summer holiday, just prior to coming up to Oxford, in Kenya. I remember still the image she conjured so well of her sitting, dressed in white, smoking Cartier cigarettes, the only non-male, and indeed only non-Masai sitting around a camp fire in The Mara. She would have been eighteen years old.

I wonder if she viewed us like Masai too. She certainly preferred the company of us men, and although she was not a tomboy in the sense of climbing trees, her way of speaking was… well, like anti-aircraft fire – not always deadly accurate, but incessant and intimidating to fly amongst, the dark crumping bursts of her conversational shells peppering the night sky. And it was usually night sky – we sat up late into the night talking and talking, me smoking Marlboro, her Lights, me Coke, her Diet. She wasn’t much of a drinker, disliking the silliness, the loss of control, or so she claimed. When I did see her tipsy for the first time I was surprised at how girly she became. I think that was what she feared most.

Antonia's 19th Birthday Party, L-R, George Pendle, Dave ? & gf, Steven France, Hugh Dancy, Dr. Genevieve Connors, ?, John Mühlemann, ?, David Collard, David Budds, Biranda Ford, Lucy, Antonia, Caroline Early, Cat Bagshawe, Joshua Steckel (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Antonia’s 19th Birthday Party, Gloucester Green pizza restaurant, clockwise from bottom left: George Pendle, Dave – & ?, Steven France, Hugh Dancy, Genevieve Connors, ?, John Mühlemann, ?, David Collard, David Budds, Biranda Ford, Lucy -, Antonia Francis, Caroline Early, Catherine Bagshaw, Joshua Steckel (Photo by Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Detail from above (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

Detail from above (Photo: Alexander Fiske-Harrison)

It was inevitable that I would fall head over heels for her – I mean I was only a few months out of an all boys boarding school, grew up without sisters and had never had a girlfriend. And here was this stunning and exotic creature, fitting no standard feminine norm that I knew of – never a skirt or dress, but black boots and jeans on those very long legs, and almost invariably a black polo neck, channelling Juliette Greco with a hint of Audrey Hepburn. Of course, now in retrospect I can see that Antonia wasn’t oblivious to the effect she had on us boys – and we were just boys – wrangling us to some extent with those quirks honed to charms, equalising the gender imbalance using that weapon among all the others at her disposal. [Read more…]