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The fantasy world of Hugh Hefner
🤨 Instapoetry | Tory papers 💔 Tory party | 🥶 Skating in -18C
Crystal with Hef in 2014. Charley Gallay/Getty
The fantasy world of Hugh Hefner
Shortly before he “went up to that great orgy in the sky”, Hugh Hefner made his wife Crystal, 60 years his junior, promise to “only say good things” about him after his death, says Hadley Freeman in The Sunday Times. Instead, she used his dying wish as the title of her new memoir – and “fair enough”. Her account of life in the Playboy mansion, where she lived for eight years, sheds new light on “the gap between Hugh’s image and the reality”. Far from being a “debonair libertine”, he was a “grumpy old man who ate the same disgusting meals in rotation”. Favourites included canned chicken noodle soup, saltines and a block of cream cheese, and, “if it was a sex night”, a pre-coital BLT sandwich. Another discovery is that, “despite having an enormous amount of sex in his life, he was terrible at it”. The regular group sex sessions with fellow “playmates” were disappointing for everyone involved, including Hef himself.
The memoir also gives a slightly different view of life inside “the world’s most famous sleaze empire”. Crystal moved into the mansion aged 21, two weeks after she met her future husband – then a youthful 81 – at a Playboy Halloween party. She and the other girlfriends had a rigorous schedule and a strict 6pm curfew. They were given $1,000 spending money a week, along with “free beauty treatments and plastic surgery on tap”, actively encouraged by Hugh. She left him once when she found out he wasn’t giving her a fair share of the profits from a reality TV show set inside the mansion, The Girls Next Door. He got $400,000 per episode for the first series, despite barely appearing, while the girls got nothing. But she quickly got bored of life in the real world, returned a year later, and “married the old goat for good measure”.
Only Say Good Things by Crystal Hefner is available here.
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The spy who became a literary star
For much of his life, Somerset Maugham was the “most famous writer in the world”, says Mark McGuinness in The Oldie, as well as being the most read since Dickens and “probably the richest”. And he was prolific for decades: his first novel was published in the reign of Queen Victoria, and his last short stories appeared under Elizabeth II. Yet, 150 years after his birth, only a handful of his books are still in print. It’s sad. Unlike so much writing today, even Maugham’s earliest books were remarkable for their “lack of patriarchal Victorian social moralising”.
Born at the British Embassy in Paris, the young Maugham spoke mainly French for the first 10 years of his life. After both his parents died he ended up in the care of a “dim, chilly, self-centred clerical uncle” in Kent. But success came early: he quickly found that audiences loved exactly the kind of “witty, urbane society drama” for which he became famous. Like so many writers in the 20th century, he was also a spy. In 1917 he was sent to Russia, where the overthrow of the Tsar threatened Russia’s withdrawal from the war. “He believed that, had he gone six months earlier, he might have averted the Bolshevik revolution.” Although he was primarily gay, Maugham was “trapped” into marriage by Syrie Wellcome, the estranged wife of pharmaceutical tycoon Henry Wellcome. Maugham avoided “domestic misery” by travelling the empire with his true love, the athletic, rakish, bad-boy Gerald Haxton. The two made their home in Cap Ferrat, in the south of France, where a staff of 13 kept the couple in “Edwardian luxury”. He dubbed the Riviera “that sunny place for shady people”.
📚😎 As Maugham wrote in his 1938 autobiography The Summing Up: “In my twenties the critics said I was brutal, in my thirties they said I was flippant, in my forties they said I was cynical, in my fifties they said I was competent, and now in my sixties they say I am superficial. I have gone my way, following the course I had mapped out for myself.”
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The Labour leader with Angela Rayner at the London Pride Parade in 2022. Niklas Halle’n/AFP/Getty
Sorry, Keir, you’ve got the culture war wrong
Keir Starmer waded into the culture war this week, says Rod Liddle in The Spectator, suggesting that the Tories had “manufactured the whole thing to distract attention from their manifest incompetence at running the country”. You might wonder whether a man who for years couldn’t decide whether women have penises was wise to raise the subject, but recent polling may have persuaded him. It turns out that only a small percentage of people consider themselves “woke” or “anti-woke” – around 15% apiece – while the vast majority say “neither”. Some 61% say politicians exaggerate culture war issues to advance their own agendas, and “virtually nobody” says they are electorally important.
But this is a “very superficial reading of the public mindset”. First, the term “culture war” is an invention of the press, and simply doesn’t feature in normal people’s lives. Most voters don’t think of the individual issues as one blob – “it is the specifics of the issues which grate”. And when you get into the specifics, “it is very clear what the public thinks”. The average person, quite rightly, holds no animus against those who have transitioned. But a “huge majority” are opposed to trans women competing in women’s sporting events, and only a slightly smaller proportion think trans women who have not had surgery should not use women’s loos. Similarly, in a 2019 poll just 19% said Britain should be ashamed of its imperial past, while twice that number said the opposite. In other words, while people might be blasé about the “culture wars”, on the specifics, “they are anything but”.
Competitors in the extremely chilly 1963 race
An endurance test like no other
The Dutch province of Friesland is where you’ll find a “test of physical and mental endurance like no other”, says Matthew Kenyon on the BBC. The famous Elfstedentocht, or “Eleven Cities Tour”, is a cross-country skating race that sees competitors whizz along nearly 200km of frozen lakes and waterways. “Famed for its intensity”, the event can only take place after two weeks of temperatures of about –11C, as that creates enough ice around the course to “bear the weight of 25,000 people in a brief 24-hour window”. The conditions are so rare that the race has been held only three times since the inaugural one in 1909.
In the “bitter winter” of 1963, the mercury plummeted to a “bone-chilling” -18C on race day. The cold proved “so brutal” – with frozen eyes, frozen toes, and frozen other bits – that only a handful finished. But the rewards are great: although there is no cash prize, previous winners have become national heroes, with one even moving to Canada “to escape the constant attention”. The most recent event was way back in 1997. Nevertheless, a 500-page plan for the next outing is still prepared each December, just in case conditions are right. Every winter comes with the same excited whispers: “Will there finally be an Elfstedentocht this year?”
The Telegraph: no longer loyal to the Tories
The Tory papers 💔 the Tory party
Something “odd” is going on at the Telegraph, says Andrew Marr in The New Statesman. The newspaper is currently at the mercy of the government, which is deciding whether to block an “unwelcome” takeover involving the Abu Dhabi royal family. Yet it recently published a detailed election poll complete with a “sweaty-looking” photo of Rishi Sunak, implying that the Tories will be toast unless they acquiesce to the hardline immigration policy of Reform UK. The affair speaks to how Britain’s right-wing media is shrugging off its loyalty to the Conservative Party.
Two big factors are at play. One involves newspaper editors. Chris Evans (Telegraph), Tony Gallagher (Times) and Ben Taylor (Sunday Times) are unclubbable, “hard-driving” news men who increasingly “work very heavily from data, metrics and audience analysis”. This is a style of editing unlikely to be influenced by gin and tonics with Tory cabinet ministers. The second factor involves newspaper owners. Another candidate to buy the Telegraph is hedge fund tycoon and GB News investor Paul Marshall, who is a right-winger but “not by any stretch of the imagination a traditional Conservative”. Rupert Murdoch’s papers, meanwhile, seem to be sensing where power is going: Keir Starmer has enjoyed “gently favourable coverage” in The Times, and met executives from The Sun for a private dinner in Mayfair before Christmas. As one veteran Conservative puts it, “we have never seen a right-wing media so powerful, and also so hostile to the party”.
The digital age’s answer to Lord Byron
British poet Donna Ashworth “loves words”, says The Economist. You can tell, because on her website she calls herself “Donna Ashworth – Author and lover of words”, doubtless to “distinguish herself from all those other authors who don’t like words”. She also says she loves stretch marks (for they are “by Mother Nature’s paintbrush”); putting meaningful things in italics; and motherly love, which she mystifyingly likens to a “beautiful black hole”. The overall effect feels less like poetry, and more as if “ChatGPT has been asked to produce inspirational fridge magnets”. Yet Ashworth’s work is extremely popular. Her eighth collection of poetry, Wild Hope, reached number seven on the Amazon bestsellers list this month. She has a whopping 1.6 million followers on social media.
Popular poets are nothing new. Lord Byron could sell 10,000 copies of a poem in a single day; in the 20th century, a book by John Betjeman could shift 2.5 million. And anything that stokes interest in an otherwise unfashionable art form is surely to be celebrated: British poetry sales hit a record £14.4m last year, largely thanks to Ashworth and her ilk. But the problem with “instapoetry” is that it “doesn’t feel true”. Philip Larkin gives his readers a “shiver of pleasure” not because his lines are pretty, but “because they are spot-on”. The same certainly cannot be said for Ashworth. Perhaps some people really do look at their stretch marks and see “Mother Nature’s paintbrush”. Much more likely, “they just think, ‘Damn’”.
“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness didn’t know where to shop.”