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17-18 September

Behind the headlines

Reports of Britain’s demise are greatly exaggerated

The Queen’s lifelong task – “did she ever quite realise it?” – was to preside over a country in decline, says AN Wilson in The Spectator, and create the illusion “that the nightmare was not happening”. When she was born in 1926, Britain commanded “the mightiest, richest empire in the history of the world”. By the time she died, it had ceased to be even what Gore Vidal once called it: “an American aircraft-carrier”. It was simply a “muddle of a place”, which had lost “most of its manufacturing industrial wealth”, all its political influence in the world, and “any sense of national identity”.


The menswear monarch

King Charles is Britain’s “menswear monarch”, says Samuel Hine in GQ. His longstanding love of clothes is not only a source of pride for traditional firms like shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser and shoemaker John Lobb, “who undergird London’s status as a fashion capital”. The King has also long exemplified an approach to dressing, now very much in vogue, that minimises waste. Charles has a tweed Anderson & Sheppard coat he’s worn in four separate decades; he turned up at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding in a morning coat he first wore in 1984.


We could use a meddling king

I’m not so sure King Charles should give up the campaigning he did as Prince of Wales, says Andrew Marr in The New Statesman. The government is full of ministers with a record of hostility to “green crap”. Like most of the rest of us, the King feels differently: he was one of the first to recognise the climate crisis as the “central question facing mankind”. Not being an elected politician, he can afford to think in “centuries rather than electoral cycles”. And when he “gets his teeth into something”, friends of his tell me, he doesn’t let go. An “injection of long-termism” by the King into our politics could be a powerful argument for monarchy.


How World War One shaped our bestselling author

Agatha Christie has sold more than two billion books, says Lucy Worsley in the FT – “more – as the cliché goes – than any others save Shakespeare and The Bible”. In researching a biography of her, I’ve become convinced that the First World War was the “vital experience” that made her a detective novelist to begin with. Born into an upper-middle-class family in the then-elegant seaside resort of Torquay, she grew up familiar with the quintessential Christie setting: the country house. “Of course there had been no question of her working.” She describes her girlhood as spent simply “waiting for The Man”


When Prince William and Kate Middleton got engaged in 2010, it “ushered in a modern era of earnestly approving coverage of the British monarchy” over in the US, says Clare Malone in The New Yorker. The new cast of royals were “young and hot”, with access to the kind of jewellery American audiences might be lucky to see at the Oscars. In 2011, readers gawped at Kate walking down the 300-foot red carpet at her wedding wearing a tiara made of exactly 888 diamonds. “What could make old-Hollywood obsessives salivate more?”


quoted Holland 17.09.22

“The great thing to remember is that things aren’t as bad as they were in the 14th century.”

Historian Tom Holland


How Godard made Marxism sexy

Jean-Luc Godard, the revolutionary French New Wave film director who died aged 91 this week, was not always the easiest man to work with. Shortly before filming began on his first feature, Breathless, he scrapped the entire screenplay, forcing him to write scenes on the hoof while the camera was rolling. Union rules stipulated he employ a make-up artist, but he forbade her from applying any; the script supervisor was physically locked out of the shoot so she couldn’t keep track of continuity. Godard’s volcanic temper eventually landed him with a court case after he slapped a 69-year-old employee of one of his producers.

Quirk of history

The Tsar who went to war with whiskers

Peter the Great launched his infamous beard tax in “classic Peter the Great fashion”, says The Retrospectors podcast. During a banquet being held in his honour in 1698, the Russian tsar suddenly brandished a “huge barber’s razor” and proceeded to “personally shave all of his bearded guests”. The bizarre levy was part of an effort to westernise his agrarian country. During a secret tour of Europe – he went disguised, somewhat implausibly, as “Sergeant Peter Mikhailov” – Peter had decided that beardless faces were a mark of sophistication.


Starmer is heir to the Queen’s “brilliant blandness”

Among the Queen’s many qualities was a “brilliant blandness”, says Emma Duncan in The Times. “Her presence was unforgettable, and her words unremarkable.” We only had “occasional glimpses” of her witty, charming private self – a clip of a G7 reception in 1991, for instance, in which she ribs a pompous Ted Heath, who’s been talking over her. But these are scarce, for she “took great pains to keep her real self under wraps”, knowing it would make her a better monarch.

Eating in

Su filindeu, which literally translates as “threads of God”, is the “world’s rarest pasta”, says Atlas Obscura. For the past two centuries, the dish has been made just twice a year, for the biannual Feast of San Francesco in Sardinia. It is available only to pilgrims who complete a 20-mile overnight trek from the city of Nuoro to the village of Lula. While the ingredients are simple – water, salt and semolina wheat – the technique is near-impossible, with just three women able to make it. Engineers from the Barilla pasta company tried, and failed, to create a machine to do the work for them. Jamie Oliver threw in the towel after two hours of trying. The key is “understanding the dough with your hands”, one master says – but that can “take years” to achieve.



This modern riverside home is on the Thames island of Wheatleys Eyot in Surrey. It has two bedrooms and a separate annexe with standalone studio space; the open-plan living areas are flooded in natural light thanks to three-metre-high ceilings. Surrounded by meadows, the property is perfect for wild swimming. It is conveniently located near the M3 and M25; Shepperton station is a five-minute drive, with trains to London Waterloo taking 50 minutes. £1.7m.


This end-of-terrace house lies on the leafy avenue of Highbury New Park in north London. Extending across 3,000 sq ft, it has five en-suite bedrooms and underfloor heating throughout. Outside there is a three-level garden with a terrace and cosy seating area. Canonbury station is less than a 10-minute walk away. £2.65m.



Quoted 18.9.22

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

Abraham Lincoln