Pieces of Cake
Seen in Waitrose yesterday.
Quote of the Day
Cory Doctorow (Whom God Preserve) has this lovely disclaimer on his website.
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Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news
Brahms | Alto Rhapsody Op. 53: III | Adagio | Kathleen Ferrier
My favourite recording of this wonderful work, despite the antique audio quality.
Long Read of the Day
The cult of Winston Churchill
Nobody’s perfect, indeed, but not everyone had the power to make such a worldview consequential for the lives of millions of people across the globe, often lethally so. At the heart of Ali’s account is this historical reality, one that is evaded in Britain today in favour of a burnished and bullish mythology in which both Churchill and his beloved British Empire emerge with untarnished courage and virtue. The “cult of Churchill” is a full-blown devotional practice, where anyone who demurs is met at the very least with shock and, more probably, tabloid denunciation. “Mythic Churchill,” as some historians have recently argued, has become a “serious fact of modern life” in Britain, “a constant point of reference in political discussion and popular culture,” and, one might add, in the culture wars constantly fomented by politicians.
For Ali, this fact impinges seriously on our ability to reckon clearly with Britain’s past. The cult itself, however, is of relatively recent vintage, assuming its quasi-religious nature during the Falklands conflict in 1982. One of the more astonishingly successful legacies of this propaganda exercise is the ongoing presentation of Churchill, a man of the hard right by any measure, as a figure who transcends political partisanship. This handy fudge enables the presentation of elite Conservative projects as above party politics. No matter how damaging the policy, we are always “all in it together.”
The truth, Ali argues, is that Churchill in his own time was far from a unifying figure; he was primarily interested in only two things: “glorifying colonial atrocities abroad” and “suppressing working-class revolts at home.” Today the British media celebrates his imperialism while quietly overlooking his domestic record.
An interesting read. Churchill was never popular in Ireland, for obvious reasons.
Hatpin through the brain
Jonathan Meades’s LRB review of Tina Brown’s new book about the British Royal family is a must-read, especially in this celebratory week. He’s moderately appreciative of the book, though he acutely observes that it inadvertently reveals that its author, who departed these shores for New York 40 years ago, hasn’t quite appreciated the way the country and its people have changed while she was away.
But his real target is ‘The Firm’, as the royals are known in their own as well as media parlance. And, believe me, Meades takes no prisoners. On balance, one feels that having one’s throat cut would be marginally less upsetting than being skewered by him.
One thing in particular struck me: he gets Princess Di absolutely right. Here’s the money quote:
The Blair/Campbell secular benediction ‘the People’s Princess’ was surprisingly more than a slogan: Diana pre-empted the media, the conduit to the people. She got over being described as a Pinner hairdresser, just as Kate Middleton had to put up with some crass digs about her taste in interiors being ‘very Buckinghamshire’ and her mother’s alleged failure to adhere to Alan Ross’s snobs’ charter on U and non-U. The Middletons have been further mocked for having commissioned a coat of arms. Certain patterns of behaviour recur. With a sure populist instinct Diana gave the people what she wanted to give them in controlled doses, achieving a sort of privacy that wasn’t notably private. She was manipulative, adroit and impressively active in determining how she was to be perceived. She got her retaliation in first. She taunted her putative tormentors. She used them to her advantage, whatever that was. It might be seeing off the rugby player Will Carling, a lover she was bored by. Carling’s friend Gary Lineker warned him: ‘That woman is trouble.’ The element of play in her dealings was perhaps an end in itself. She appreciated her power. She outmanoeuvred Charles – who, as Brown puts it, ‘spun furiously; he was just less good at it.’
This really rang a bell with me. I once observed Diana close up, completely by accident. I was the Observer’s TV critic at the time. Two of the country’s leading playwrights had asked me if they could pick my brains about a topic that then interested them, and about which I was something of an expert. I named my price: lunch at the Ivy, the London restaurant that serves as the posh canteen for the glitterati.
On the appointed day I turned up to find the pair already seated at our table, pens and notebooks at the ready. They then quizzed me for an enjoyable hour and a half. During all of that time, neither noticed that at the table next to us was Diana, who was lunching quietly with a woman friend. So, from time to time, while my interviewers were scribbling, I had a chance to observe her closely. The key thing was that I could see her in profile — which was a revelation, given that most photographs show her face-on, big eyes and all. But in profile, her face looked unexpectedly angular. And, viewed from that perspective, she looked like a tough cookie. And my thought was: Christ! do the Windsors (neé Saxe-Coburg-Gothas) know what they’ve taken on?
We now know that they didn’t.
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