Brian John Spencer
Artist - Writer
Belfast | Dublin | London
  • "[Ulster Unionist Party candidate] Fighting Tom Teevan has organised a “monster rally” [November 25 1950] to burn effigies & generally impede the progress of civilisation."
  • "I should have liked a glimpse of Irish politics, as the nearest thing I shall ever see to the drawings of Mr Hogarth."
  • Philip Larkin describes Belfast

    Larkin described Belfast 8 weeks after his arrival there:

    "A wide and cobble-streeted town, lined with frowning buildings in the late Victorian manner & some indifferent shops. I’m already fed up with anything called Ulster, Northern, Victoria, etc., also with the Irish male face (craggy, drink-flushed, with greasy black curls and a too-tight collar & the Irish female face (plump, bad-teethed, pinkly powdered, with a diamante lizard on the lapel)."

    In full here:

  • "One reason for writing, of course, is that no one’s written what you want to read."
  • "George Orwell was the wintry conscience of a generation which in the thirties had heard the call of to the rather assumptions of political faith. He was a kind of saint and, in that character, more likely in politics to chasten his own side than the enemy. His instinctive choice of spiritual and physical discomfort, his habit of going his own way, looked like the crankishness which has often cropped up in the British characters; if this were so, it was vagrant rather than puritan. He prided himself on seeing through the rackets, and on conveying the impression of living without the solace or even the need of a single illusion."
  • "I’m a writer by profession and it’s totally clear to me that since I started blogging, the amount I write has increased exponentially, my daily interactions with the views of others have never been so frequent, the diversity of voices I engage with is far higher than in the pre-Internet age — and all this has helped me become more modest as a thinker, more open to error, less fixated on what I do know, and more respectful of what I don’t. If this is a deterioration in my brain, then more, please. The problem is finding the space and time when this engagement stops, and calm, quiet, thinking and reading of longer-form arguments, novels, essays can begin. Worse, this also needs time for the mind to transition out of an instant gratification mode to a more long-term, thoughtful calm. I find this takes at least a day of detox. Getting weekends back has helped. But if there were a way to channel the amazing insights of blogging into the longer, calmer modes of thinking… we’d be getting somewhere."
    Andrew Sullivan, ‘Collecting Our Thoughts’ (here:
  • Jenni Russell (@jennirsl) - Fewer than 2% of UK students go to Oxbridge, but its graduates account for 59% of the cabinet, 1/2 of our diplomats, and 1/3 of BBC executives

    She wrote in the Times:

    "This time three years ago I had just spent a day lobbying universities to give a place to a working-class boy who had narrowly failed to make one of his grades. He had retaken his A levels by himself, while doing a temporary job, after terrible teaching at his sixth-form college. The first four universities I tried, including Queen Mary, his top choice, were completely implacable. His offer was AAB, and his results were ABB, and that was that.

    Read More

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  • Christopher Hitchens said about George Orwell:

    The point was made better by Lionel Trilling. The remarkable thing about Orwell and the encouraging thing was he is not a genius. He lived to only 46 years. He never went to university. He never had a steady job. He usually didn’t have a steady publisher. He will never be forgotten because he managed to disprove imperialism, Stalinism and fascism in one lifetime and made some imperishable raids on its territory that no-one is ever going to forget. All the time ill. All the time poor. It shows how much difference a person of really average integrity and intelligence and education can make if they have a little courage and a little intellectual honesty. The shortcomings of the individual you can see in him too. But he basically won his own battle against his own prejudices. This is an example for all time. You don’t get the sense for example when you’re reading Proust or Nebokhov or George Eliot that you shouldn’t be in the writing business. All the people in history who said alas there was nothing I could do are lying or at least discrediting themselves. They could have. They just chose not to.

    In full here:

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  • "The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy… The one that wants control over the inside of your head."
    - Christopher Hitchens

  • "I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness."
    Christopher Hitchens (via craiganthonywells)
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  • "Literature is a better source of ethics than religion."
    Christopher Hitchens (7m30, here:
  • "This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases… can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetises a portion of one’s brain."
    George Orwell
  • "What was frightening about these [Moscow show] trials was not that they happened – for obviously such things are necessary in a totalitarian society – but the eagerness of Western intellectuals to justify them."
  • "A writer once said to me, If you ever go to America, go either to the East Coast or the West Coast: the rest is a desert full of bigots."
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  • "Deep down I think foreign languages irrelevant… A writer can have only one language, if language is going to mean anything to him."