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4-5 June

Dominic Cummings

It’s all Carrie’s fault

Boris Johnson has never been that fussed about the realities of being prime minister, says his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings in an interview for Suzanne Moore’s Substack. “All he wants to do is not be a loser.” In fact, as soon as he won the election in December 2019, the PM totally lost interest in politics. “He was saying to me, ‘God, you know these people who say they want to do this job and go on and on? Well I want to write my Shakespeare book.’”

The case for

The case for monarchy

The Queen reaching 70 years on the job. She became our longest-serving monarch back in 2015, when she pipped Victoria’s record of 63 years and 216 days. But this weekend isn’t actually the anniversary of anything: the Queen technically became the monarch when her dad, George VI, died in February 1952, and her coronation wasn’t until June the following year. For whatever (possibly weather-related) reason, the jubilee was instead timed around her “official birthday” in June. That’s been a thing since her great-grandfather, Edward VII, got cheesed off that the weather on his November birthday was always miserable. So he chose a different day, in sunny June, and called that his birthday instead.


The sequel that reflects America’s decline

Though they look much the same, the Top Gun sequel couldn’t be more different from the original, says James Crabtree in the FT. The first movie was a “Reagan-era hymn” to American military might. Released in 1986, when the USSR was declining and a “long period of US dominance” was on the horizon, the whole thing screamed confidence – most notably its hunky 24-year-old star, Tom Cruise. But Top Gun: Maverick, which arrived in cinemas last week, is a “rather anxious kind of blockbuster, filled with doubts about the durability of US power” in an age of Chinese and Russian assertiveness.

Quirk of history

Jubilee celebrations date back more than 5,000 years, says Mental Floss, to when ancient Egyptian pharaohs hit the 30-year anniversary of their reign. At this point, they would enact the ritual of Heb-Sed, in which the pharaoh would “make various offerings to the gods” and then be “re-crowned” in a lavish ceremony. In order to qualify, however, the venerable ruler first had to put on a short kilt with a bull’s tail attached and run as fast as they could around a specially constructed race track through their palace grounds. If they couldn’t complete the course, they would be “promptly sacrificed”, and replaced with a younger, fitter successor.


Quoted 4.6.22

“I am patient with stupidity but not with those who are proud of it.”

British poet Edith Sitwell


Recycling plastic doesn’t work

The next time you diligently separate out your plastic waste for recycling, bear this in mind, say Judith Enck and Jan Dell in The Atlantic: it’s totally pointless. While things like paper and glass can easily be broken down and used again, “plastic recycling does not work and will never work”. The fundamental problem is chemical. There are thousands of different plastics, each with their own composition and characteristics, and they can’t be recycled together. The various parts of a fast-food meal, for example – cups, lids, trays, bags, cutlery – are often different and have to be treated differently.


Side hustles are cannibalising our beloved hobbies, says Victoria Pearson in The Guardian. We set out trying to make a bit of extra cash from our leisure pursuits, and end up dulling the joy we get from them. Cam Fairbairn, a “hospitality veteran”, used to love making jam to give as presents. Egged on by his friends, he launched the business Cam’s Jams – but the whole thing turned into drudgery tainted by overhead costs, deadlines and churning out enough preserve to make a profit. “My enjoyment level of making jam and relishes plummeted,” he says. “I haven’t eaten jam since.”


quoted 4.6

“To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”

Philosopher Edmund Burke

Tomorrow’s world

Keeping our eyes off the road

I think car manufacturers may be trying to wipe out humanity, says Jay Caspian Kang in The New York Times. How else to explain the growing ubiquity of touch screens on dashboards? Things like air conditioning and music used to be controlled by “perfectly serviceable” knobs and buttons. Now, alas, everything is part of a “matrix of little boxes on a glowing screen”. The oversized device in my Subaru almost never complies with my commands. I still have “zero intuitive sense” of where all the relevant “shapes and pictures are”, two years after buying the car. And because each new screen takes a while to load, simply turning on the radio can mean taking my eyes off the road for a good 10 seconds. So it’s as dangerous as it is maddening.


Agatha Christie had a “secret second writing life” as a romance novelist, says Marianka Swain in The Daily Telegraph. She wrote six books under the name Mary Westmacott – Mary being her middle name, and Westmacott “borrowed from distant relatives” – and even changed her handwriting on the manuscripts to avoid detection. These anonymous excursions into a different genre allowed her to write without the weight of expectation from her countless fans – though like her more well-known works, they examined psychology and the “darker side of human nature” rather than simple happy-ever-afters. For all the fame and fortune the detective novels brought her, it was a Westmacott book, 1944’s Absent in the Spring, which she wrote in just three days, that she described in her autobiography as “the one book that has satisfied me completely”.

Listen to a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Giant’s Bread, Christie’s first Westmacott novel, here.


The town house

This Grade II listed house dates back to the early 19th century, and sits opposite the historic Paradise Gardens in Bethnal Green, east London. It sprawls over four light-filled storeys and has two bedrooms, restored chimneypieces, and a beautifully landscaped courtyard garden. Bethnal Green tube station is a minute’s walk away. £1.2m.

The country house

Castlefields is a Grade II listed former hunting lodge set on the edge of the market town Calne in Wiltshire. Built in Tudor Revival style, it has six double bedrooms, an orangery which leads out to a wisteria-filled terrace, and an exquisite stone cantilever staircase. Trains to London Paddington from nearby Chippenham rail station run half-hourly and take just over an hour. £1.7m.