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Let them eat nothing: on this Harry, Meghan and Sajid Javid agree

The Guardian logo The Guardian 04/05/2018 John Crace
Sajid Javid © EPA Sajid Javid


Few things scream “man with a massive inferiority complex” more than standing legs astride outside your new office like a defective Power Ranger doll. But there have been plenty of previous indications that the new home secretary may have self-esteem issues. Most notably in his enthusiasm for the American, Ayn Rand, whose best known books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were written in the 1950s. Not only was Rand a notoriously unpleasant woman – few people who had the misfortune to meet her had a good word to say about her – and her books clunkingly badly written, but her fiction is a barely disguised mouthpiece for her Nietzschean, some might say borderline Nazi, belief that the weak and the frail deserve every misfortune that comes their way and the state has no duty of care toward them. Rand became popular again with alt-right fantasists about 10 years ago and Javid has given interviews in which he says he re-reads various chapters every Christmas. Just in case the season of goodwill to all men gets the better of him. Still, no one can say he isn’t a quick learner. On Monday he said he would leave no stone unturned to help the Windrush generation. Two days later he was voting to keep government records that might point the finger at the prime minister secret.


Having worked as a writer for most of my career, I’ve very rarely been invited to take part in meetings. Something I’ve always felt a bit sad about, as I would often quite like to have had an excuse to stop whatever I was doing and waste a bit of time with some colleagues. So I’ve no personal experience of whether the Amazon boss Jeff Bezos’s rules for the perfect meeting are helpful or not, though I can’t help feeling that a half hour of group silence before beginning each one is not going to work well with those who have four or five meetings a day, as nobody would ever get anything done. Or maybe that’s the point. A friend of mine once had a job assessing building contracts for a construction company, and turned down every proposal at monthly planning meetings on the grounds that it would be harder for people to prove he didn’t know what he was doing if he erred on the side of caution. It took him 18 months to get the sack. Bezos also seems to think it beneficial if everyone starts a meeting by saying how they feel. This sounds fine until you come up against people like me who generally feel inadequate and depressed and whose sole contribution is to inspire futility in others. Give me the opportunity and I’d soon run Amazon into the ground.


A museum in the south of France is in meltdown after it discovered that nearly 60% of its exhibits are fakes. The town of Elne had spent a considerable amount of time and money putting together a collection by the local artist, Étienne Terrus, who lived there between 1857 and 1922, and it was only when a curator was brought in to rehang the paintings after the museum had been renovated that the fakery was discovered. Most were painted on materials that didn’t exist at the time and one had a signature so recent it could be wiped off with a glove. The mayor has described it as a catastrophe, which feels about right as 82 of the 140 paintings have had to be chucked in a skip, and an inquiry is under way to find out how a whole town got conned. While the episode does make you wonder just how many exhibits in other museums are not what they claim to be, I do think Elne are missing a trick. For the first time in decades the town has got global recognition and it should capitalise by putting on display its hidden horde of Van Goghs and Monets. And if they can’t lay their hands on them, then I’ve got a few knocking around somewhere.


The five-year project to restore the Temperate House at Kew Gardens has just been completed and I will be paying it a visit again very soon. It is a place of wonder and inspiration for the unquiet mind and I never leave it without feeling more at home in the world. It was a chance visit 30 years ago – a friend took me and I had no idea what was inside – that transformed my interest in gardening. Before then I did little more than mow the lawn and plant a selection of annuals every summer, but after an hour in the glasshouse I was hooked on exotic plants and decided to turn the front garden into a mini-replica. Not everything has been a success – I never managed to get the water lilies in the tiny pond I had dug to flower and some plants proved too delicate to survive – but a great many more that came with dire health warnings for the British weather have thrived in the Streatham micro-climate. So much so that it now looks like a mini-jungle with more than a dozen 10-foot banana plants, several large palm trees and an array of tree ferns, grasses and other plants whose names I’ve forgotten. Even on the bleakest days, the garden gives me a lift when I leave the house.


I could never quite see why it was supposed to be such an honour to stand around for several hours outside St George’s Chapel, for a fleeting glance of a couple you’ve only ever seen on TV and who have no intention of ever getting to know you or even saying hello, as they brush past you at a safe distance on their way to getting married. Thanks but no thanks. Though that could be one of the many reasons I wasn’t one of the 1,200 people who received an invitation to make up the numbers as the crowd scene for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. However, even some royalists are now beginning to wonder if the invite is all it was cracked up to be as the guests – I’m using that word in its loosest sense – have been told there will be no food or drink provided and if they’re feeling peckish they should bring their own picnics. Hardly the warmest of welcomes. You can come if you want but don’t expect us to do anything for you. Not even “let them eat cake”. More like “let them eat nothing”. Even I have hosted better parties than that.

Digested week, digested: Et tu, Sajid?


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