Two years ago late last month, something strange happened in the world of newspaper journalism in Britain.
For the first time in 25 years and in the midst of the worst recession in a generation, a new quality national masthead was launched.
The first edition of the simply titled “i” newspaper carried a serious front page story on the housing crisis and fears public spending cuts would hit economic confidence, but in the top corner of the front page was the headline “Is Bert Gay?” accompanied by a picture of the Muppets character and pointing to a story inside.
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Prince Charles has been ridiculed or reviled for so long that it has been widely assumed that when his Mum shuffles into the sunset the republican debate will renew itself amid alarm at the prospect of his ascension to the throne.
Charles cops it from all directions. Lefties don’t like him simply because he is a Royal, and represents the undemocratic traditions of his unelected, filthy-rich family, the same family which absurdly enough provides Australia with its Head of State.
Right-wingers don’t like him because he is a bleeding heart, with his ruminations about the beauty of the Islamic faith, his strong views on architecture and heritage, his passionate environmentalism and his advocacy of renewable energy.
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This weekend art lovers in London have an exciting new exhibition to experience. The new show is either one of the best art installations ever or the worst idea since Piero Manzoni decided to buy some cans.
Given the typically grey and gloomy weather forecast for the UK’s capital, anyone visiting the Barbican Gallery’s new show may struggle to notice the difference between the installation and the streets outside.
That’s because the exhibit recreates a typical autumnal day in London, employing 2500 litres of water to create: The Rain Room. Yes, you read that right - a gallery in London has created a room where it never stops raining.
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We Australians do a fair turn in kitsch, as evidenced by the lawnmowers and Hills Hoists at the Sydney 2000 Olympic opening ceremony and the flying tram at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. But those kitschy fragments were nothing compared to last night.
The London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony was wall-to-wall kitsch. This was the large scale, globally-televised equivalent of Mrs Slocombe’s hair or Tim Brooke-Taylor’s Union Jack boxer shorts in The Goodies.
Olympic host cities have the opportunity to tell us something about their countries in their opening ceremonies, which is the world’s most-watched TV event. Sydney’s ceremony was about youthful optimism, and though we didn’t know it at the time, the message had extra resonance given it was the last Games before 9/11 and the era of the War on Terror.
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The dominant Team Sky victory in the Tour de France was everything British sport has not been for an awfully long time.
From day one, the Team Sky riders rode at the front of the peloton, ruthless intent writ large in the riders’ grimaces. The team was so coldly efficient, Chris Froome was ordered several times to slow down so he could ensure the team’s leader, Bradley Wiggins, remained in control.
For a nation whose sporting persona has long been based on glorious defeat, this was quite out of character. But don’t think the resurgence ends under the Arc de Triomphe. Just as Greece tasted unexpected glory in the Euro 2004 football championships en route to the successful Athens Olympics, Britain looks set to carry its Tour de France mojo all the way to London, pausing only to remind Australia of our inferiority.
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The Queen has just spent four days celebrating her Diamond Jubilee. She did so in what they call grand style. Good for her. She is a good stick. She cheers up the people of England, the family she heads generates tourism, and she does kindly deeds for benevolent causes.
She is also our head of state. Don’t worry, as a republican I am not about to use the occasion of her 60-year reign to reheat the dusty old arguments for constitutional change. We had our chance in 1999 and we blew it. In the absence of any mainstream political will to revisit the issue, we are stuck with the Queen and her heirs for a very long time. Our lives as Australians are not materially different for that fact, even if that fact is anachronistic and jars with our national belief in meritocracy.
What interested me more about the Diamond Jubilee was the image it presented of England itself, and what a sad and sorry joint it has become.
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It wasn’t hard to get into the pageantry and fun of the royal nuptials. We even made cupcakes with crowns for our token wedding celebration. Our westie mates turned up, resplendent in top hats, medals, even a wedding dress.
Food was anything English: Yorkshire pudding, trifle, cucumber sandwiches and a steak and kidney pie.
My husband rejoiced in his English connections, while I quoted our Constitution which grants the monarch certain governing powers, even above other governing levels.
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Welcome to Monday at The Punch
Splitsville. Wills and Kate beware, today’s an unlucky date for British royal couples. Both Princess Margaret (the queen’s sister) and Prince Andrew (the queen’s younger son) ended their respective marriages (1972, 1992) on this day in history.
What’s on your mind? Share it here.
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Shortbread and crust-less sandwiches are unlikely arsenal but they’re about to be deployed by an army of angry tea drinkers in a little pocket of Great Britain this weekend and they mean business.
Tomorrow afternoon around the tables of a tiny tea shop in Cambridgeshire, little fingers will be raised in solidarity against a recent fluctuation in “coffee bars” that many fear have contributed to “the lost art of drinking tea”.
“We are losing sense of ourselves with coffee bars like Starbucks and Costa Coffee where you slurp coffee through spouts in paper cups or rushed tea in mugs or chunky cups. The whole experience of sitting down with a proper china cup and saucer and having a good natter - which of course it what used to happen - is in danger of being lost,” says Tania Baker, the owner of By Jove! Tea Rooms in Burrell who is hoping to inspire tea drinkers everywhere with her “very proper” protest that involves dressing in period costume and “taking tea”.
But it could be a very lonely little protest; according to the Telegraph British people still drink approximately 165 million cups of tea everyday and thanks to the growth of retro tea rooms, traditional tea drinking is actually “back in fashion”.
At least they won’t go hungry.
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Update: As the Times Online reported earlier this morning, Gordon Brown has since decided to resign as leader of the Labour party. Here is the full text version of his resignation speech
What if you threw an election and nobody won?
What if everybody lost?
That is exactly what’s happened in Britain where the only absolute winners from last Thursday’s election are the UK Greens who won their first seat in Parliament.
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