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25-26 March


Radical chic and a very French culture war

Like Napoleon in the 19th century, radical trans activism is “moving swiftly” across Europe, says Kathleen Stock in UnHerd, and in France it has ignited a very French version of the culture war. The influential commentator Eugénie Bastié, who is a strong believer that biological differences matter, blames Britain and America for pushing the idea that they don’t. “Frankly, this strikes me as a bit rich.” What about French philosophers? “Arguably, they are up to their chic black polo necks in the matter.” Four centuries ago, René Descartes wrote of separating our inner minds from our corporeal beings. Jean-Paul Sartre coined the phrase “existence precedes essence” – we are what we make of ourselves.


Serendipity in the book stacks

For the capital’s “writers, thinkers and actors”, the London Library is a haven, says Daisy Dawnay in Air Mail. Everyone from Virginia Woolf to Charles Darwin has ascended the “grey stone steps at the northwest corner of St James’s Square”. For the £49-a-month membership – less than half the cost of a hot desk at WeWork – attendees rub shoulders with the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Kazuo Ishiguro and Simon Schama. The library’s steel stacks hold more than a million books categorised by subject, leading to a “wonderful serendipity” for readers. “I’ve got a book out now – Chasing the Sun, by Linda Geddes – all about the effect of sunlight on our bodies,” former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman tells me. “I was looking for a book on snow, and there it was, under ‘Weather’.”


Luxury brands are splashing out on what they call “VICs”, or “Very Important Clients”, says Elena Clavarino in Air Mail. These customers aren’t measly celebs, but heiresses and tycoons with a shedload to spend: Dior’s VICs must shell out at least $100,000 on garments per year; designer retailer Mytheresa’s threshold is “in the high seven figures”. In return, these top-tier shoppers are treated to all-expenses-paid trips to the Oscars and regattas in the Caribbean. Haute couture jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels jetted their clients to Versailles, where they were served dinner “in the palace’s gilded halls” by a Michelin-starred chef, before fireworks and champagne in the grounds. The idea is to cultivate a ready-made community among ultra-rich brand aficionados. “When I moved to London,” one client says, “[Dolce & Gabbana] introduced me to a new group of friends. They even brought me medicine when I was sick.”


quoted 15.3.23 Marx

“I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go into the library and read a good book.”

Groucho Marx


By the time Nöel Coward reached his thirties, says Tanya Gold in The New Statesman, he was “the highest paid writer in the world”, cashing in £50,000 – around £15m today – every year. This commercial success was anathema to the Bloomsbury Group, who made considerably “fewer jokes and less money”. He sings “like a tipsy crow”, Virginia Woolf snobbishly remarked, “quite without self-consciousness”. But Coward’s riches didn’t diminish his sense of duty. When the Second World War broke out, he begged Winston Churchill, his friend and fan, for a job as a spy – only to be rejected because he was “too famous”. Instead, at Churchill’s suggestion, he toured the world performing for troops. His efforts impressed the enemy so much that his name was put on a list of people to be immediately arrested should the Nazis invade Britain.

Masquerade: The Lives of Nöel Coward by Oliver Soden is available to buy here.


The beach house

This light-filled six-bedroom home overlooks Brighton Marina. It has a huge kitchen-diner and bespoke timber features. Outside, a terrace and balcony both have dramatic sea views. The beach is a few minutes away on foot, and the train station, with 50-minute services to London, is a 10-minute drive. £3m.

The country house

This cosy Grade II listed home in the historic town centre of Leominster in Herefordshire dates back to the 18th century. It has six bedrooms, a large kitchen with Georgian cabinetry, and an array of quirky period features, including service bells, ornately patterned plasterwork, and a marble fireplace. Outside, there’s a south-facing walled garden and two patios, perfect for al fresco dining. Hereford station is a half-hour drive, with trains to London in around three hours. £575,000.



quoted 25.3.23 Shaw

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.”

George Bernard Shaw