The king who dreams about gardening

☕️ Salty tea | 🦚 An ostentation | 🐺 Impersonating Milei


Charles III with an ancient oak. Chris Jackson/Getty

The king who dreams about gardening

Reading anything by a “royal expert”, says Simon Heffer in The Daily Telegraph, you can usually expect to be served “80% speculation” by someone the Princess Royal once told to “naff off”. This is not the case with Robert Hardman. He is trusted by the Windsor clan and is rewarded in his new book on the court of King Charles with interviews with Princess Anne and Annabel Elliot, the Queen’s sister. Camilla is an unassuming person, we learn, who “might have that extra glass or that extra biscuit or whatever”. Another good interviewee is former Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who, on the exhaustion of being royal, imagines that “geniality kills in the end”.

Hardman also paints a remarkably humane, if “odd”, picture of the King, says Tanya Gold in The Spectator. “He can cry at a sunset,” according to one courtier. He “dreams about gardening and plants mazes”. He was on his way back from picking mushrooms when he was informed of his mother’s death. There are wonderful anecdotes about peers asking to bring their pages and carriages to the coronation, and to crown themselves with coronets. Charles declined – “too elitist” – but they were allowed to wear coronation robes as long as they weren’t too threadbare. “He likes pretty things.” The Earl of Shrewsbury was not allowed to carry his white wand in the procession, “so it stayed in his gun room”. Rehearsals for the Coronation used crowns from a dressing up shop, with Zadok the Priest playing on an iPad and Lambeth Palace’s head gardener standing in for the King. And on the day itself, Hardman finds Charles waiting outside the Abbey because the Prince of Wales is late. “We can never be on time,” he says. “There’s always something.”

Charles III: New King. New Court. The Inside Story by Robert Hardman is available here.

Heroes and villains

Mark Brake/Getty

Rohan Bopanna, who at 43 has become the oldest-ever world No 1 in tennis. The Indian doubles player (pictured) secured the record after he and his partner Matt Ebden – “a relative stripling at 36” – reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, says The Daily Telegraph. Bopanna, who has a grey beard and claims he has no cartilage in his knees, puts his staying power down to yoga.

British women, for putting a shift in. New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that whereas British men are working an hour a week less than they did before the pandemic (35.3, down from 36.3), women are working half an hour more (27.9, up from 27.4).

An American chemistry professor who claims the secret to a good cup of tea is a pinch of salt. Michelle Francl, from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, claims a tiny – supposedly undetectable – pinch of the ingredient counteracts the hot drink’s bitterness. The US embassy in London diplomatically tried to quell the inevitable outrage, saying: “The unthinkable notion of adding salt to Britain’s national drink is not official United States policy. And never will be.”

Ruby, a dog in Michigan who helped save her owner’s life after he fell into a freezing lake. When the police officer at the scene realised he wouldn’t be able to cross the ice, he summoned the pooch, attached a life ring and a piece of rope to her collar, and got the owner to call her name. Ruby bounded over, the man grabbed the ring, and the officer pulled him to safety. Watch the full rescue here.

Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr, for using a presidential helicopter to attend a Coldplay concert. His security detail said they used the chopper, bypassing Manila’s notorious traffic jams, because of an “unprecedented influx of 40,000 individuals attending a concert” – the same concert they were taking him to.

A pothole in India, for bringing an 80-year-old man back to life. Declared dead by doctors, Darshan Singh Brar was being transported to his home when the ambulance hit a big hole in the road, whereupon his grandson saw him move his hand and discovered he had a heartbeat. Brar is now undergoing treatment in hospital.


THE ESTATE This Grade-II listed Regency farmhouse sits in nearly 50 acres of land in the Chiltern Hills of Oxfordshire. With an original Georgian facade flanked by apple trees, the nine-bedroom property comes with wood-panelling, parquet flooring and Venetian-style arches. Didcot Parkway station is a 30-minute drive, with trains to London in 40 minutes. £6m.


‎Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Why lesbian love stories are a big hit

Don’t Want You Like A Best Friend is billed as a “swoon-worthy debut queer Victorian romance” novel, says Kathleen Stock in UnHerd. It follows Gwen and Beth, “two blushing debutantes on the London marriage market who eschew the ghastly aristo males all around them and fall for each other instead”. Historical accuracy – aside from a plot point hinged on the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act – is thin on the ground. Characters speak like they’re in Friends. “I don’t know about you,” says one august lady, “but I think I sweated my body weight on that walk.” This is not the only same-sex reimagining of Victorian literature. Other examples include Manslaughter Park, which turns Mansfield Park into “a queer romance and a murder mystery”, and Emmet, a “gender-bent” retelling of Emma in which the protagonist is a gay man.

These books are very popular, particularly with young women of all sexualities. It’s because at their heart lies “something rather old-fashioned”: they’re sweetly passionate love stories. Many adolescent girls “adore the idea of romantic intimacy”, and, contrary to progressive orthodoxy, can’t understand the point of sexual pleasure “for its own sake”. They “want a meeting of minds as well as bodies”, which can be hard to imagine with heterosexual relationships. But when the lovers are the same sex, “ecstatic union is so much easier to picture. Everything is just that bit more symmetrical.” Besides, the more that society sets the sexes up to “do battle with one another”, the more that same-sex relationships – as depicted in fiction, at least – seem like “a paradigm of intimacy”.

Inside politics

More like Broke-ing Borough Council. Leon Neal/Getty

Our local councils are on the brink

While the government fixates on airstrikes in Yemen and its Rwanda migrant policy, a “gargantuan” problem is brewing far closer to home, says Patrick Cockburn in the I newspaper. Local councils are going bust. They now owe “an extraordinary £97.8bn to lenders, or £1,400 per person in the UK”; a fifth of them may need to issue a bankruptcy notice this year. Woking council, which owes £19,000 per resident, “proposes to shut everything from public toilets to sports pitches”. In Thanington, a poor district outside Canterbury, black mould is spreading in the houses and rats bite children in the face. It has, of course, “been a long time since there was a council pest control officer”.

The government handed England’s councils an extra £600m in funding this week, to avert a Commons rebellion. But the Tories still seem to think the problem lies with “out-of-their-depth councillors fecklessly spraying money around”. It’s true that councils have made some spectacularly ill-judged investments: Warrington council bought solar farms in York, Hull and Cirencester; Woking spent hundreds of millions of pounds on skyscrapers in its town centre. Yet it was central government that encouraged this behaviour: 12 years ago, it asked local governments “to make creative use of reserves” to compensate for austerity-driven budget cuts. The whole sorry affair brings to mind the Post Office IT scandal, with London authority figures blaming the victims in the provinces.

Quirk of language

Patricia Doyle/Getty

The collective nouns for birds are truly delightful, says The Marginalian. A few are rooted in science: “a watch of nightingales” pays homage to the species’ nocturnal waking patterns; “a fall of woodcock” refers to their courtship dance; “a gaggle of geese” turns migratory cries into “delicious” onomatopoeia. Others are more esoteric. “A murder of crows” stems from ancient superstitions about the birds being emissaries of death, and “a parliament of owls” comes from Greek mythology, specifically Athena, the goddess who symbolised democracy and was always accompanied by an owl. Equally enjoyable are those that share their names with more human traits, from the glum (“a deceit of lapwings”, “a pitying of turtledoves”) to the utterly charming (“an ostentation of peacocks”).



The “rock star” and his primera dama

Almost every night, celebrity impersonator Fátima Flórez performs packed-out shows at Mar del Plata, an “Argentine Blackpool” 260 miles south of Buenos Aires, says Matthew Campbell in The Sunday Times. A hip-thrusting, groin-clutching Michael Jackson is an old favourite, as is a windswept Marilyn Monroe. But lately, the impression her fans really want is of her boyfriend – Javier Milei, the recently elected president. To become his doppelganger, she sticks on a blue-and-white presidential sash, a pair of distinctive bushy sideburns and an unkempt mop of hair. (The look, she admits, is partly inspired by X-Men’s Wolverine.) As she screams phrases like “long live freedom, dammit”, this part of the act always gets the loudest applause. “I’ve never seen any politician so loved by the people,” she says. “He’s a rock star.”

When discussing Milei, Argentina’s primera dama sounds “like a love-struck teenager”. The pair met on a chat show a year ago – “there was a lot of chemistry” – and began messsaging on social media six months later. There has been some scepticism about the relationship conveniently blossoming just as Milei was gearing up for his presidential run. But Flórez insists they are “happy together”. She shares his love of spiritualism and dogs, reeling off the names of his “four-legged children” – five cloned mastiffs from his deceased, much-loved pet Conan. And she claims she has little interest in politics beyond the material it provides for her shows. The “whole first lady thing” is from “another era”, she says. “I have my job and he has his.”



“Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper.”
Francis Bacon

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