Peter Hitchens wins Orwell Prize

The veteran political journalist is commended for his foreign correspondence.

The columnist and reporter Peter Hitchens has been awarded this year's Orwell Prize for journalism. Hitchens won the prize for his foreign correspondence, published in the Mail on Sunday, of which the Orwell judges said:

In choosing this year's winner, we went back to Orwell. In one of his essays, he wrote of Charles Dickens: "When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page . . . It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry -- in other words, of a 19th-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls." It is with this in mind that we award the Orwell Prize to Peter Hitchens.

Hitchens is nowadays known for his conservative views. Here he is on his resignation from the Daily Express when it was bought by Richard Desmond in 2000. But last year, in a review of his book The Broken Compass: How British Politics Lost Its Way, the former New Statesman editor Anthony Howard (who edited the magazine between 1972 and 1978) recalled a time when the writer, in his youth, ascribed to a very different kind of politics.

In my mind's eye I can see him now, a clutch of copies of Socialist Worker under his arm, as he advanced slightly nervously into the dingy light of a wine bar in Holborn that the staff of the New Statesman used to frequent once the day's tasks were over.

Elsewhere the Book Prize went to Keeper, Andrea Gillies's account of caring for a relative with Alzheimer's, and special mention went to the NS contributor Laurie Penny, who was pipped to the post in the Blogs category by the pseudonymous social worker Winston Smith.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

Iain Cameron
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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.