Thursday, December 8

Digested week: marmalade sandwiches, cross princes and counting medals | emma brockes


Viewed from abroad, the jubilee weekend looked as distant and odd as action seen through a telescope, backwards. The last time I recall feeling this remote from my countrymen was during the 2012 London Olympics, when the UK went wild and the rest of the world looked on with mild interest. At the weekend, the American media reported on the celebrations across the Atlantic by breaking the glass on their “and finally” tone, reserved for people doing peculiar things in far-flung parts of the world: this month, cheese rolling in the West Country, Swedish dining habitsand the grinding to a halt of 65 million people to celebrate the Mountbatten-Windsors.

The PR coup of the occasion, obviously, wasn’t Paddington and the marmalade sandwich, or the Queen clinking her teacup in time with We Will Rock You – although both these things were charming – but the unplanned histrionics of four-year-old Prince Louis. Nothing humanized the Duchess of Cambridge more effectively than her efforts to quell her child’s rage. One felt for Louis, too, encased in Edwardian costume and made to sit through hours of the jubilee pageant – although, unlike his older siblings, he was at least permitted to retire before Brian May came on.

The other highlight of the weekend was the game of studying photos of senior royals and speculating on where exactly they got their medals from. “What war has Princess Anne been in?!” a friend texted, and for several moments, we peered at the same photo of the Princess Royal on a horse, wearing a suite of medals to make a field marshall blush. These words were repeated, with rising hysteria, in the face of images from the thanksgiving service at St Paul’s, where Prince Charles, Prince William, and even Prince Edward, bless him, staggered under more metal than an entire drawer of cutlery. “I mean, at least Harry was in Afghanistan.”


Inflation in the US is running at its highest levels since 1981, but some things remain so cheap as to feel free: the coffee in 7-Eleven is still a dollar, the meatballs in Ikea are still $5.99 (£4.80) and the rotisserie chicken in Costco – a whole bird, spit roasted and drenched in what you squint and hope might be butter – is $4.99.

I could write many, many words about the Costco rotisserie chicken and my relationship with it over the years. On a recent earnings call, Costco executives committed to keeping the iconic loss leader at the same price it has always been, along with the $1.50 hotdog meal deal at the checkout, which has been priced the same since the mid-1980s. Before I understood about loss leaders, I used to think this was the best deal in the world.

Of course, even in periods of raging inflation, pricing things too cheaply can sometimes backfire. With the chicken, over time, you had to wonder about a price point that low. It got harder and harder not to think about animal welfare. Eventually, what had once tasted so juicy and good started to taste mildly but disconcertingly metallic. Was it butter? Or – glancing through one’s fingers at the ingredients list – was it hydrolyzed caseinsugar, dextrose and diglycerides? I gave up my rotisserie habit several years ago and, grim with resentment, now buy the organic free-range bird that probably had a better life than I do, at $22 a pop.


Matthew McConaughey delivers emotional speech on gun reform at White House – video

I steel myself to watch Matthew McConaughey’s speech to the White House press corps, not for the horror of its content – ​​it was about gun reform in the wake of the Uvalde shooting – but for the discomfort of the performance. Gripping the lecture, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, executing a slight stammer to show sincerity and spontaneity. Here we go, I thought, in another minute he’ll be up there with Sean Penn bothering the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

What a surprise, then, that after an awkward beginning, the speech turns out to be extremely good. There was a rumor last year that McConaughey might run for Texas governor. I have nixed that. But once he got going, he was an effective speaker, directing his comments to a very particular constituency – “responsible gun owners” – and using his credibility of him as someone born in Uvalde to reach those who, like him, “had been raised to revere guns, but need to rethink them”.

McConaughey’s strength was, unusually, the theatricality that tends to make actors so unbearable in political settings. When he recounted his experiences of him meeting the families of the dead children, my God, what a performance. The flashes of anger rose to a crescendo. His voice faltered several times. The pathos was unbearable. He revealed, in the most visceral terms possible, the heartbreaking fact that every family he met wanted “their children’s dreams to live on”.

Towards the end, the personal stories gave way to the actor’s thoughts about gun reform – a request for everyone to rise above politics and put through some changes to the legal age of gun ownership. Sadly, things went south from there. McConaughey asked people to stop being swayed by the media and understand that they had more in common with their fellow Americans than they thought. “Find a middle ground,” he said, in the tones of that guy who joins an immensely long and bitter argument at the 11th hour and asks everyone if they’ve considered being a bit kinder.


Prince William poses with a tourist from Florida as he sells the Big Issue in London. Photograph: Dan Lancaster/PA

Back to the royals, and Prince William, who was spotted selling copies of the Big Issue on Rochester Row in Westminster on Thursday. With big Thick of It energy, he was photographed grinning under a Big Issue baseball cap, besides a game but baffled-looking Big Issue seller, plus two Lithuanian tourists, Vitalijus and Laura Zuikauskas, who told journalists afterwards: “We wished him good luck and shook hands, and were excited that the royal family take big care of ordinary people.”

It’s pleasing to imagine the planning meeting for this stunt, and what ideas for taking big care of ordinary people might have been vetoed before this one went through. A shift at a call center? Sweeping the street? Searching on the underground?

To his credit, Prince William went further than mere pantomime and when a member of the public claimed, per custom in the face of someone selling the Big Issue, not to have any cash, whipped out a mobile card machine and promptly put through the transaction .


Paula Rego stands in front of one of her paintings
‘Savage with life’: the loss of the Portuguese-British artist Paula Rego is a blow. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/The Guardian

Paula Rego, the Portuguese-British artist, died in London at the age of 87 this week, and it’s a blow. I remember going to an exhibition of hers in Lisbon well over a decade ago and being so awestruck it put me in a state of alarm. Looking at her paintings of her now, online, and the effect has not diminished at all: knowing, grotesque, painful, political, confrontational. Savage with life.

Larry the Downing Street cat.
Larry the Downing Street cat: ‘I’m getting a headstart while the rats are still packing.’ Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA

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