On my radar: Marina Wheeler’s cultural highlights

Marina Wheeler is a British lawyer specialising in public and human rights law and an author. Born in 1964 in Berlin, she first studied at the European School of Brussels and later at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. She has four children with her ex-husband, Boris Johnson. Wheeler’s new book, The Lost Homestead: My Mother, Partition and the Punjab (Hodder & Stoughton) details her family’s past and the forced fleeing of their home in the Punjab and is out now.

1. Music


Robyn’s Dancing on My Own.

I very much like dancing. Nothing formal or skilful, like the tango or foxtrot, just plain dancing – to Beyoncé, Dua Lipa or whatever is current in Bollywood, streamed over Spotify. While there are no clubs or discos or birthday parties, the dancing is solo. The Crown depicts Princess Diana dancing alone in Buckingham Palace, to confirm her loneliness. But since that time (according to one of my daughters) there has been a cultural shift. In Robyn’s song, “dancing on my own” signifies defiance and freedom: just crank up the volume and kick off the shoes.

2. TV

Fauda (Netflix)


Fauda: ‘Gripping and thought-provoking.’ Photograph: Netflix

Fauda (meaning chaos in Arabic and Hebrew) is an accomplished political thriller centred on an Israeli undercover unit that tracks and kills terrorists in the Palestinian West Bank. The cycle of violence and vengeance is brutal and searing – the writers’ aim is to show that everyone pays an almost unbearable price. Some object that the show soft-pedals life in the occupied territories. Nonetheless, I find it gripping and thought-provoking. Last week, reading former President Obama describe his targeted-killing policy in Pakistan as “necessary” work in which he “took no joy”, it feels topical too.

3. Food

Issho-Ni, Bethnal Green Road, London

Issho-Ni: ‘The food is beautiful.’

Issho-Ni: ‘The food is beautiful.’ Photograph: Issho-Ni/Instagram

I discovered Issho-Ni some months ago, as a new resident exploring the area. Walking past, I was drawn in by the eclectic decor – exposed metal rafters, twists of decorative cherry blossom and a wall painted with a convivial scene. It made me smile, and I have now been many times. The food is beautiful: colourful, delicately laid out and adorned with petals. And it tastes good too. Exquisite, in fact – snow crab salad and wagyu beef, especially. Summer cocktails included the “Japanese porn star”; now it’s hot mulled sake, to take away.

4. Book

Vasily Grossman: Life and Fate

Vasily Grossman in Berlin in 1945.

Vasily Grossman in Berlin in 1945. Photograph: Estate of Vasily Grossman

For at least a decade, this enormous, hugely acclaimed Russian novel, set during the siege of Stalingrad, sat on my bookshelf. I had tried and failed to read it, twice. Its presence felt like a reproach, until lockdown, when I persevered. I am so glad I did. The characters, who inhabit a bleak world, blighted by fascism and communism, are richly drawn and complex. But the central message is a simple one: believing there to be one way to organise the world is a huge mistake. Ideology usually breeds catastrophe. The individuals who behave humanely shine a bright light in this astonishing and epic read.

5. Hobby

Flower arranging

Calla lilies.

Calla lilies. Photograph: Davies and Starr/Getty Images

I have always enjoyed cut flowers in my home. I started out shoving a bunch of tulips in a vase then found Freddie’s Flowers, which delivered, each week, a box of incredibly fresh and lovely flowers with a guide to arranging. Now, having moved near a flower market and grown more confident with my “designs”, I select the blooms myself. I experiment. I contrast tones and textures. The calla lily, in pink and mauve, is a current favourite. Lockdown has shut the market, but someone sent me exotic chocolate orchids to celebrate the book, so I am not complaining.

6. Place

Regent’s Canal, London

Regent’s Canal in London.

Regent’s Canal in London. Photograph: Jo Hale/Getty Images

The Regent’s Canal, with its towpaths and locks, spans 8.5 miles of north London. At one time, I lived on the Islington stretch. I’ve since moved a little further east, so stayed with a place full of colour and history that I love, but at the same time found something new. Some crisp winter mornings, I run to Victoria Park, past disused gas works and coffee houses squeezed implausibly into reclaimed spaces. Barges moored on the water give off a smoky, woody scent and occasionally someone emerges with tea. Later in the day, runners, cyclists and strollers weave around each other, sharing this popular path.

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