Monday 6 June, 2022

Quote of the Day

Everybody complains of their memory, but nobody of their judgement”

  • La Rochefoucauld

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Handel | Nightingale chorus | Solomon


Long Read of the Day

 The Kystriksveien: Earth’s most beautiful road trip?

Even if you love (as I do) long drives, then this road — all 640km of it — might give one pause. My worry would be whether there would be EV charging points all the way.

Norway’s coastal road from the town of Stiklestad to the Arctic city of Bodø is a 670km journey between two very different worlds. It’s also one of the most beautiful road trips on the planet.

At one end is the quiet sophistication of central Norway, with its perfectly manicured meadows and oxblood-red wooden cabins. At the other is the spare, serene beauty of the north: a world of glaciers, ice-bound mountains and empty, far horizons. Connecting the two, the Kystriksveien – a route also known as the Coastal Way or Fv17 – charts a sinuous path along the coast, bucking and weaving along rugged contours all the way to the Arctic.

The Scandinavian nation is blessed with one of the most beautiful yet difficult stretches of coast in Europe. Seeming to wrap itself around the country like a protective shield from the freezing Arctic, Norway’s coastline appears to have shattered under the strain, riven as it is with islands and fjords cutting deep fissures inland. Along such a coast, it seems impossible that a road should exist here at all. In short, it seems like a miracle.

From the outset, Norway has been very sensible about EVs. So maybe we could do it. Hmmm…

How Not to Spent It

The Financial Times is, IMO, one of the world’s great newspapers. I’m lucky enough to have a digital subscription, and so read it every weekday online. But at the weekend I buy the weekend edition, which in a way is a different paper, edited by a different editor from the daily. Most weekends, it’s an absorbing read, with terrific book reviews, good interviews and a stable of excellent columnists like Simon Kuper, John Gapper and Gillian Tett.

The only problem with this weekend edition is that it comes with a large format glossy magazine with the insolent title “How To Spend It”, which is basically aimed at people who are so rich that shopping has become boring. It features high-end fashion photography of waifs wearing ‘clothes’ (see pic above) with no price tag attached, travel guides to hotels where a room costs more than most people’s annual rent, Swiss watches (i.e. male jewellery) costing half the GNP of smaller African republics, and so on. It has also, in the past, thrown in interesting articles about the market for superyachts and other billionaire indulgences.

Its target audience seems to be those bored, expensive dames you find wandering round Bond Street jewellers or outside Harrods supervising loading of the proceeds of their retail therapy into the Maybach. How To Spend It is, in other words, a pain in the ass. It’s as if it’s designed to rub the reader’s face in the rampant inequality of our neoliberal world. But I put up with it (though sending it straight to the recycling bin) because I assume it’s insanely profitable and therefore subsidises the high-quality journalism that I value in the rest of the paper.

But this weekend, something seemed to change. The wealth-flaunting banner — HOW TO SPEND IT — had disappeared, replaced by ‘HTSI’ in the top left-hand corner.

Inside, there’s a touching little message from the mag’s editor.

“Over the course of our 28-year existence,” she burbles,

“the title How To Spend It has always been one we used with pride. The magazine has tried to promote a slightly escapist lifestyle and embodied, I hope, the best ways in which to spend one’s time. We have always encouraged readers to interpret the ‘spend’ as less transactional in its meaning.”

But, she continues,

”It is clear that the irony with which the title was first conceived has sometimes failed to land. Times have also changed: we have lived through two years of a global health catastrophe. We are in the midst of a cost of living crisis. We have been publishing issue after issue against the backdrop of war in Ukraine. We want everyone to feel that the magazine offers something life-affirming, enriching and diverting. And so we have evolved.”

As an example of Grade-A corporate cant, this is hard to beat. The “irony” of the magazine’s title somehow “failed to land”. The publication aspired to embody “the best ways to spend one’s time” which usually meant the optimum way to expend eye-watering sums on conspicuous, Gilded Age consumption. “We” have apparently “lived through two years of a global health catastrophe.”

Hang on: who’s the ‘we’ here? Compared with average citizens, there’s little evidence that the said catastrophe unduly affected the super-rich — although it may sometimes have grounded their Gulfstream jets.

So how does the first edition of this rebranded glossy measure up to the lofty ambitions of its editor?

First up is a feature on one Timothy Taylor, a London-based gallery owner. His Place that Means a Lot to Me is “Basil’s Bar on Mustique, a spectacular island in the Caribbean.” Where Princess Margaret used to hang out, if memory serves me right.

The Best Gift he’s ever received is

“A personalised wallet from Anya Hindmarch. My wife [Lady Helen Taylor] gave me this wallet, in which she inscribed the words, in her own handwriting, ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours’”.

The indulgence that he could “never forgo” is Bordeaux and Burgundy wine, “a spectacular selection of which Corney & Barrow holds for me”.

A casual inspection of Corney & Barrow’s fine wine list reveals that a bottle of 2010 Chateau Mouton-Rochschild will set you back a cool £3,350.

You get the idea.

I’ll continue to buy the Weekend FT — and our recycling bin will continue to benefit from HTSI.

My commonplace booklet

Want to see something really stupid?

Try this ad for Rolls-Royce’s new SUV.

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