Apr 27, 2008

Lives of the rich and famous

Have yourself a lonely little Christmas by Julie Burchill, Guardian, Saturday December 23, 2000

'The prospect of my first Christmas as a free agent - no one's daughter, mother or wife - is incredibly exciting, and not a little overdue'

A few weeks ago, I read a feature in the Daily Mail by Paul Burrell, the former butler to the late Princess of Wales - "My rock," she called him. Burrell has been as loyal and devoted a friend to the Princess since her death as he was during her life, and I'm sure what he wrote - "What would the Royals buy for Christmas?" - was intended to be a soft-focus, sepia-tinted glimpse of a much-missed fascinator at a nostalgic time of year.

I must say, though, that, in the picture it painted of the deluxe isolation of the Windsors, and especially of the vulnerable and fragile girl who became their brood mare par excellence, I found this romp through the royal wish-list easily as chilling as any treacherous Highgrove phone conversation transcript or bland Buck Pal message of sympathy. With the media currently wetting itself over Prince William, it wouldn't hurt for a minute to remember his mother, without whom he wouldn't have ended up looking like that. Not with Camilla Parker Bowles as a mum.

Each Christmas, Burrell would help the princess locate, wrap and despatch more than 200 presents. Featuring heavily among these would be aromatherapy kits - which, for me, have come to symbolise the fragrant solitude of the modern civil sex war, as bored housewives and career girls too good for the miserable men on offer wallow in candle-lit limbo in aromatherapy baths called such things as Sensuality and Afterglow while their putative suitors download barnyard porn in their locked studies. Then there would come the Smythson address books, in hand-bound goatskin, £195, in which the princess and her circle might carefully write the personal details of all those close friends whose husbands and wives they would one day sleep with, if they hadn't already.

I find it particularly poignant that she was apparently a collector of Halcyon Days enamel boxes; all that clutter, to soften that harsh, blaring life - £85 for a poxing empty tin box! You can see why the firm has got four royal warrants, for its products' extortionate hollowness echoes the Windsor way. To obscure her loneliness even further, here comes her army of Herond hand-painted china animals, from £55 for a tiny "frog prince" to £4,000 for a limited-edition giraffe. "Each year, I would ensure that the latest edition was carefully wrapped and placed inside the princess's stocking, which I had filled on Wills' and Harry's behalf," reports Burrell, and what a wealth of estrangement and loss there is in this good servant's innocent testimony.

Diana would, according to Burrell, turn to Turnbull & Asser for bespoke shirts, ties and dressing gowns for her faithless husband and stolen sons - I mention this only because the appropriateness of the name of this hawker of haberdashery to the ruling classes is so delightful. (Almost as gorgeous as my husband's divorce lawyers, Hart & Loveless!) From J Floris would come scented candles, fragrances and vaporising oils - the princess was particularly fond of Seasonal Spice at this time of year, doubtless to drown out the pong of paranoia, the stink of betrayal and the whiff of cordite coming off Balmoral.

Price's candles - a dozen for £6.90 - would provide the lighting at every royal dining table, ensuring that daylight was not let in upon the magic and, even more important, that the hated face of the spouse opposite could be mutated - after a few tots of The King's Ginger Liqueur, available only from Berry Bros & Rudd of St James - into the welcoming features of the beloved.

From the General Trading Company - "an Aladdin's Cave for those in Sloane Ranger territory" - Diana would buy those tragic cushions whose mottos became so horribly apt with the unfurling of her miserable life. I'M A LUXURY FEW CAN AFFORD - GOOD GIRLS GO TO HEAVEN; BAD GIRLS GO EVERYWHERE - THOSE WHO SAY THAT MONEY CAN'T BUY YOU HAPPINESS DON'T KNOW WHERE TO SHOP. She would also pick up china sweet dishes, no doubt for her fellow bulimics to display their poison of choice. And she might grab a monogrammed washbag for her husband from Eximious, By Appointment To The Prince Of Wales, in which he might keep those all-important unguents for removing the stench of his adultery.

Silver monogrammed key chains (£40 upwards) make a perfect gift for men and women alike, apparently, and are so much more appropriate than the cufflinks saying "Gladys" and "Fred" which the ever-sensitive Prince Charles wore to dinner on the first night of his honeymoon, only to be amazed when his unreasonable, hysterical wife showed distress at his continuing devotion to his mistress. (In an interesting insight into the cesspit that is the Parker Bowles mind, isn't it attractive how the very idea of working-class names, attached to such obviously classy pieces of ass as herself and Chas, struck her as being such a hoot?)

Much is made of Diana's "lonely" Christmases in later years, but I bet they seemed like heaven after being locked up with the Addams Family all those years. She did have family, after all - sisters and a brother who would have been happy to have her. But what people who are trapped in the tradition of the family Christmas fail to realise is that, once you have made good your escape, voluntary or otherwise, the prospect of living through the whole dreary panto again, this time with another set of personality disorders and ancient grudges, is not an especially attractive one.

There is a lot of cant talked about The Family at Christmas, with those such as myself - preparing to face my first Christmas as an orphan - the focus of pity and concern from those who will be enmeshed in the bosom of theirs. But far from each family becoming a Holy Family at this time of year, it seems to my jaded outsider's eyes that, with a few lucky exceptions, most families become royal families, waving expensive geegaws at each other to divert attention from each other's dismay at having to play the same old tired roles - harassed housewife, bluff paterfamilias, exasperated adult children - that we spend the rest of the year struggling so valiantly to escape.

Though I loved my parents to bits, the prospect of my first Christmas spent as a free agent - no one's daughter, mother or wife - seems incredibly exciting and exotic, and not a little overdue. So don't all you family types feel too sorry for us solitaires. In return, we'll try not to feel too sorry for you, stuck with your families this Christmas, when you'd far rather be with those you love.

Winston Churchill

Churchill’s wife, Lady Churchill, had an ongoing and permanent affair with Beaverbrook, the press baron. All during the war and before it she went and got shagged regularly by Beaverbrook. It must have been incredibly painful for Churchill, but it did leave him free to concentrate on the war, and during the last years of his life on his funeral. In his social class people did not get divorced, and he could no more change the culture of the British Upper Classes than any one else could.

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound demonstrated irrefutably that being born and raised in the American Midwest, the Bible belt, need not limit your actions or achievements in any way.

Ezra became a real Chinese scholar, with mountains of translations of Chinese texts to his credit, and an even larger mountain of superb poems in Chinese style. T.S. Eliot, his friend, called him “il miglior fabbro” [the better maker].

Ezra developed a number of hobby horses, or passionately held beliefs, one of which was a total opposition to interest, i.e., the money you receive for lending out money, which practice he regarded as the root of all evil.

Living in Italy in World War II (1939-1945) Ezra defiantly joined the forces of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, the fascist (I’m not insulting him – that’s what he called himself, complete with the fasces, the bundle of rods with an axe in the middle that the lictors carried in ancient Rome, signifying their power to chastise or execute wrong doers on behalf of the people, whose representatives they were.) Benito was allied to the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, in Germany, and the Japanese, known as the Axis powers, in their fight with Britain, America, France, and so on, known as the Allies, and so Ezra’s action made him the perfect example of a traitor to his country, as the main English language apologist on the radio for the Axis powers. When captured Ezra was put in a large cage and kept there.

His poem The River Merchant’s Wife, a letter performs a trick worthy of a science fiction feature, transporting you instantly inside the head of a Chinese lady. It is also the best example - there aren’t many of them - of a poem on love inside marriage.


If you’re going to stick your head into the hornets nest of Pakistan politics, please hold tightly to the principle “If you think you understand, you don’t understand.”

First thing to get straight is that Pakistan is a feudal society, with a handful of important families literally owning the land, landlords to all the people living there, down to what the peasant must pay the money lender for enough to buy a goat. The Bhutto family is one, and the biggest and most important, of these ruling families. Nawaz Sharif is the head of another. The Bhutto turf in Sindh is the heart of Pakistan, and its most important province. The PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) is the family, and the family is the party.

Second thing is the Inter-Services Intelligence agency of Pakistan, the ISI, which has been called “an empire within an empire,” who were the main backers, almost the creators, of the Taleban in Afghanistan. (They’re also the people who hosed down the area where Benazir Bhutto was killed, effectively making any kind of forensic examinations impossible.) There is absolutely no reason to think the ISI has abandoned the Taleban, Mullah Omar included, and every reason to think that the current successes of the Taleban have the support of the ISI.

Personal details: Benazir Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was executed by the government of Zia Al-Haqq, [“He has forgotten the truth.”] ruler of Pakistan, so the family enmity to military rulers has a long history.

Yeshua bin Youssef

More light, more light!

The easiest way to find out what that fellow Issa ben Yusuf, aka Jesus of Nazareth, was on about, is just to read what he said, near as we can make out, but you must dump overboard all the expert theological opinion first.

After you have done this, you will discover a cache of some of the most hip and up-to-date advice you could ever hope to find. (Example: When arrived at any kind of party, celebration, or other official function, do not make a dive for the vacant seats of honor in the front row, only to be unceremoniously kicked out by the master of ceremonies. Stick with the rabble, and let that same master of ceremonies come over and say “Me dear chap. What are you doing down here? Come up to the front here.”)

A typical example might be: “The birds of the air have their nests, and the little foxes have their holes, but the son of man has not where to lay his head.” If you listen to the experts, they will tell you that this refers to himself, i.e. “son of man” always means “me, the Son of God,” but if this were really a “Don’t these people know I’m a celebrity? Where’s the hot water?” kind of whinge, no one would have thought it worthy of being remembered. If you merely use the brains God gave you on the text, however, it becomes clear he’s saying “In a way animals and birds have it easy. They know exactly where they live, how they act, the proper steps to finding a mate and so on, but humans are somehow supposed to adapt to whatever kind of situation they fall into.” True, oh king.

This is reminiscent of the famous “last words of Goethe,” which were supposed to be “Mehr Licht, mehr licht,” [More light, more light] but which it has been pointed out were probably “Dreh’ mich, dreh’ mich” [Turn me over for Gawd’s sake, I’m [gag gag] choking!” Nothing is more likely than this kind of misunderstanding, or subsequent revision, of history. The removal of the head of the third Shogun was simply not allowed to appear in any Japanese historical records, in order not to “Encourager les autres,” [Encourage the others.]

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750, after sixty five years spent entirely in his native Germany. It would be nice to think that living beings who flit around the globe have some advantage over this method of proceeding, but the likelihood any of them can produce a more impressive result are remote to put it mildly.

“To create a self as solid and unmoving as Mount Fuji” is described by the Japanese master swordsman as the first necessary step. Accusations that Mr. Bach spent long sermons fooling around with a chambermaid in the wine cellars only increase my admiration.

Johann Sebastian Bach's son, CPE Bach, was known as "the Great Bach" in the eighteenth century. He spent twenty eight years as court musician to "der alte Fritz," Frederick the Great of Prussia, and inaugurated the "Stuerm und Drang" period of storm and turmoil.

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