The Bluestocking, vol 244
one Coca-Cola a week, as a Saturday night treat
I don’t know about you, but my enjoyment of the Tory leadership election has increased a thousandfold since I realised that Rishi Sunak reminds me of Niles Crane.
A couple of weeks ago, I said to some friends that one of the reasons Tory members think Sunak is a Metropolitan Liberal Elite—despite him being a Brexiteer—is that you could imagine him wiping the chairs in a cafe before sitting down.
So imagine my delight to read this piece in the Times, which recorded: “He is known to be obsessive. Once during an interview he was clearly put off by the fact that neither of the two journalists had used coasters for the glasses of squash he had poured them. He interrupted the interview to fetch two coasters.”
A few days earlier, the paper had reported that “the teetotal former chancellor is down to one Coca-Cola a week, as a Saturday night treat with his wife.”
Tell me that you cannot imagine Rishi Sunak fencing:
The perfect twist would be discovering that his wife’s entire fortune was founded on urinal cakes.
Anyway, I got to air my feelings on the Niles Crane issue—and my verdict on Liz Truss, too—for the Atlantic this week: Why Britain’s Next Prime Minister Will Need to be a True Believer. Apart from anything else I got to introduce three Americans—the factchecker, the copy editor and the art editor—to the “pork markets” clip.
Internet Language: Bluestockinger Ieuan suggests “The Law of Salutary Contradiction”, defined by Kat Rosenfeld as “this isn’t happening, and also it’s good that it’s happening”. Rosenfeld mentions it in a piece on a diversity publishing, which explores a subject that fascinates me: why can activists never take the W?
Bluestocking Recommends: The Southbury Child by Stephen Beresford at the Bridge Theatre, London, until August 27. Traditionalist vicar David is holding a funeral for a child cancer victim, in a Devon town divided between the locals and the “grockles”—the posh second-homers who live by the water. He won’t let the child’s grieving mother have balloons on the pews. Things spiral from there, as local busybodies get involved, Alfie Evans/Madeleine McCann-style.
I was the exact right audience for this, having grown up around a church, but I think anyone could enjoy the commentary on class, belief and tribalism—and the jokes. My favourite character is the young lad whose guilt leads him to embrace the certainties of the (homophobic) evangelical church up the road.
I don’t know if Beresford knows Rev Richard Coles, but a lot of the themes in the play are reminiscent of the recently retired vicar’s lament on leaving his parish and the wider challenges of the Church of England.
Kate Moss Will Never Satisfy Your Victim Fantasy (Farrah Storr, Substack)
Moss recounts a day at Camber Sands in East Sussex shooting with Corinne for The Face magazine when she was just 15. Corinne was an established fashion photographer back then; Moss a relatively unknown model. You may remember the image. As a teenager I used to have it on my bedroom wall- a young Moss, laughing in a feather crown. The image was startling for its rawness- Moss’s face cast at an unflattering angle, caught, it appeared, mid snort. For a young woman, such as I was back then, the image felt transgressive, liberating, like the start of a whole new form of unmanufactured beauty. Except, of course, it wasn’t.
‘Snort like a pig.’
That’s what Day had asked Moss to do in order to get the picture she wanted. She had also asked her to take her top off - a point which made the young Moss cry.
Looking back Moss describes the process as ‘painful’ since Day was her best friend, but also a notoriously ‘tricky’ person to work with.
‘But…the pictures are amazing so she got what she wanted and I suffered for them, but in the end they did me a world of good really. They did change my career.’
As Moss said this, I could practically hear cereal spoons being dropped from mouths across Britain. For she articulates what many now fear to say: that discomfort can often lead to excellence.
Farrah Storr confronts a topic I feel like I’ve been dancing around for a while: maybe making something great is, sometimes, hard and horrible? Maybe being pushed is good for you—even if you don’t like it at the time?
Some people will say that’s bollocks, and this attitude licenses all kinds of bad behaviour. That’s a fair criticism. But . . . What if both things are true? That you don’t get great art, or great achievements, without also tolerating a few monsters? And if we had to pick one or the other, which would we pick?
Big response to the story of Nikocado Avocado, the extreme eating YouTuber featured in a piece on audience capture in the last newsletter. Here is more on him from Insider: “Junk food has made me crazy.”
“Do you remember that time we both nearly turned up to the same restaurant? I think I’d got there first, and I could see the horror on their faces, because they thought they had double-booked.” Hot Brian-Cox-on-Brian-Cox action in the Observer.
Talking of great physicists, here’s Carl Sagan explaining how the ancient Greeks knew the earth was round, using only a sheet of paper and some sticks (Twitter).
Bernard Cribbins has died aged 93. Here’s Phoebe Maltz Bovy on one of his best roles, in Fawlty Towers: “It’s struck me for a while that Mr. Hutchinson’s oddest quality is existing, on an episode from 1975, as a man out of 2022.”
Finland and Sweden, two liberal, social-democratic countries, have dialled back puberty blockers and other medical interventions for minors with gender dysphoria—as has Britain, where the Cass review just ordered the closure of the Tavistock in favour of regional clinics embedded within more holistic mental health support services. (Cass wrote that we “have no way of knowing whether, rather than buying time to make a decision, puberty blockers may disrupt that decision-making process.” ) The Nordic countries now prefer talking therapy as a first treatment. Lisa Selin Davis—who runs a great Substack on gender—looks at the research and discussions behind Finland and Sweden’s decision, and shows how the polarized US political climate means that nothing similar can happen there. America is split between activists who see giving gender treatment to youngsters as child abuse, and activists who see withholding treatment from youngsters as child abuse. The Scandinavian model of caution—but not a blanket refusal—plus proper counselling, long-term research and follow-up, is much more productive and humane.
Jonathan Swan suggests that if Trump wins in 2024, he will use a little-known piece of law called Schedule F to remove 50,000 neutral bureaucrats and replace them with loyalists (Axios).
Jonn Elledge asks: What was the Schleswig-Holstein question, anyway?
“Several years ago, researchers surveyed more than 600 women across 33 slums in Maharashtra, the Indian state that includes Mumbai. They found that among those without proper toilet access, more than 21 percent reported holding in their urine and more than 26 percent said they modify their meals to avoid using the toilets at night.” I wrote a piece a few years ago called Toilets Are A Feminist Issue, and by god, they are—even here in the developed world. I strongly believe that in 50 years, if we ever sort out the unequal queues for men and women’s loos in public spaces, future generations will simply refuse to believe they once existed—that women put up with such obvious inequality without revolting. Like how it blows my mind that pubs once wouldn’t serve women at the bar, or let them have a full pint. (The Atlantic)
Sophie Gilbert asks why Victoria’s Secret—hawker of uncomfortable bras, indulger of pervs, starver of models—was so successful for so long (Atlantic).
“[Carolyn] Chen warns that corporate spirituality is turning work into a religion that replaces community-based spirituality and engagement.” Guernica magazine on Silicon Valley corporate Buddhism, via the Browser.
See you next time!