On BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme today: me.

Back in London from updating the Wallpaper* City Guide Madrid, when the BBC sends me a message saying only “we’d like to talk to you about poshness”.

It turns out that one of the former members of the flagship ‘Today’ programme team on Radio 4, Steph McGovern, had said in an interview – in response to a question on the gender pay gap no less – that social class was an often ignored contributing factor to inequality in the work place.

So, their research team trawled the internet and came across a piece I’d written for The Spectator a couple of years ago headlined (by the editor) – “[James] Blunt Is Right. Being Posh In The Arts Is Career Suicide.” It is online here.

So it turns out that my debut on the Today programme is not for my travel writing, not for my forthcoming book The Bulls Of Pamplona (with chapters by John Hemingway, Ernest’s grandson, and Beatrice Welles, Orson’s daughter, and a forward by the Mayor), nor the book I am just prepping to research on wolf conservation, reintroduction and how they made us human just as we made them into dogs – provisionally titled The Land Of Wolves – but instead because I was sent to an expensive boarding school.

Oh well. The one thing I can say without reservation is that what Ms McGovern’s complaints are, with a six figure salary at 35, she is certainly being paid more than this Old Etonian freelancer at 41. For this interview, I don’t get a dime. (At least they’re sending a car.)

Anyway, in case anyone is interested, below is my most recent interview – and product placement – on the wolf project. Already been out to the last great virgin forest in Romania, and to revisit Paul Lister’s reintroduction site in the Scottish Highlands with the great biologist Prof. Doug Smith, next stop the site of Doug’s own reintroduction, Yellowstone Park…

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

@fiskeharrison

SPOKEsman // Alexander Fiske-Harrison: Always carry a blade…

 

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THE LAST ARENA: Iván Fandiño: We Who Are About To Die Salute You…

Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

(from Tennyson’s Ulysses)

The 36-year-old Basque matador Iván Fandiño was killed by a bull in the ring yesterday in Aire-Sur-L’Adour, near Mont de Marsan, in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of southwestern France.

The hierro, ‘iron’ or brand, of the ranch of Baltasar Ibán along with its colours.

The bull, Provechito No. 53, was born in March 2013 in El Escorial in the province of Madrid, on the well-known as respect ranch of Baltasar Ibán – founded 1920 – whose herd is of the Contreras bloodline – whose origin is the historic Murubé line – with a touch of Domecq – whose origin is the historic Parladé line.

It was the third of six bulls fought that evening, and was actually being fought by the matador Juan del Álamo when Fandiño stepped in to perform a quite upon it – a sequence of artistic manoeuvres with cape done after the bull has faced the mounted picador with his lance.

This is not an uncommon occurrence in the centuries-old scripted sequence of a corrida. The corrida is not a sport, nor a fight (even though I use that English verb as “torear” has no proper translation) – nor thought of, discussed or reviewed in the papers as such. It is a tragic spectacle culminating in a ritual sacrifice.

Fandiño had already been awarded an ear from his own bull, the first of the evening as most senior matador – he became a full matador in 2005 in Bilbao (he was the only Basque matador at the time of his death) – and clearly thought this bull special enough that he could do something to entertain, impress or move the audience with it.

July 11, 2013-Pamplona, Spain- Matador Iván Fandiño does a pase de pecho with a bull from the ranch of Torrestrella of Álvaro Domecq (Photo © Jim Hollander / EPA)

To read on click here

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

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

image

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…]