London has been in lockdown since March 23, 2020, which means that most of the things that make life worth living—Cheltenham races, Rugby, Sunday roast, eating out, shopping for a spring coat—have not been “in person” for more than a year.
Trapped in our tiny bubbles in a cold climate, we don’t care what’s hot or not. I just got an e-mail from the Daily Mail, catch-lined “re-entry outfits!,” inviting me to write up my planned attire for when “we can meet up outside again” (as of March 29). I checked the date to see if it was an April Fool’s prank.
“Something new and glam? Heels? Lipstick?” the editor asked. I declined. It’s gotten to the point where everything seems like a spoof. (Would anyone scrub up to sit around a firepit in the sleet?)
This year of living limitedly has led to cognitive dissonance. It’s hard to know what’s true. (There were just the two of us in the backyard with the Archbishop of Canterbury.) It’s even harder to know what’s garden-variety California looniness and what’s batshit crazy, and you know where I’m going with this.
When I first read Orlando Bloom’s regimen (as revealed in a Sunday Times interview), I assumed it was a clever Goop-like parody. To my mind, no red-blooded English male weaned on gut-busting fry-ups and prep-school pranks would broadcast an alien devotion to a plant-based Buddhist practice or claim to “earn” his breakfast of green powders and brain-octane oil … unless as a “piss-take.”
Nope. It was for real. I noted that Bloom spoke while in Hawaii, where he was visiting with his American girlfriend, pop star Katy Perry. Hold that thought as we go live to LinkedIn, where we toast one of Prince Harry’s new roles. As the world now knows, the sixth-in-line has become a Silicon Valley life-coaching exec. His full title is not Duke of Sussex but “chief impact officer at a mental-health tech start up app” called BetterUp, the People Experience Platform.
Again, my first instinct was: Surely this is a joke, on all of us, by the Fresh Prince across the water. After all, the nickname for a chief impact officer is “Chimpo.” But, again, no. The Duke of Sussex’s goal is to “lift up critical dialogue around mental health” and empower us to become our best version of ourselves.
As the world now knows, the sixth-in-line has become a Silicon Valley life-coaching exec.
Most Brits, I have to tell you, assume that the only reason Harry and the bloke who played Legolas in The Lord of the Rings speak like this is because they have been body-snatched. Only that can explain why they sound like they’re reading out scripts in a hostage video. It is being widely noted that these woke white boys no longer speak our language—or a language we understand, at any rate.
“To Americans – or at least Californians – phrases like those sound perfectly normal. Most of us in Britain, however, are left either squirming or scratching our heads,” wrote Michael Deacon in The Telegraph.
Everyone in Britain is desperate to travel—and the papers are jammed with vacation ads to sunny, or at least sunnier, spots—but it’s not looking good. On the one hand, the E.U. is kicking out Brits who’ve been resident without official “papers” as their 90 days’ allowance in 180 days is up April 1, as per the Brexit-withdrawal agreement. On the other hand, leaving our rain-girded isle is currently illegal until July. There is a specific exemption for those who have second homes abroad.
My own father intrepidly traveled to his house in Greece via the air corridor from Bulgaria last July and arrived to find TV crews from around the world to greet him. (I should point out that his son, my brother Boris, was and is prime minister.) As a result of this episode, the man I call “Dada” is entering legal as well as political history, as the British media have instantly christened the property-abroad exemption “the Stanley Johnson Loophole.”
It’s been 40 years since the publication of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook (our version of The Official Preppy Handbook), and nothing has yet come close to that era-defining, essential guide to piecrust collars, pongy Barbours, and pubs such as the White Horse in Fulham (a.k.a. the “Sloaney Pony”). And it’s been 65 years since the publication of Nancy Mitford’s Noblesse Oblige, which divided all English into U (acceptable) and Non-U.
It is with enormous pleasure, therefore, that I can commend to you The Chin Dictionary, the succès fou of a loo book now to be found in the downstairs “gents” of all the grand houses of England. Self-published a few months ago, it has been purchased by every member of the Household Cavalry and several dukes.
The author doubled his sales when he crossed out “£9.99” and replaced it with “Now £18.” I hereby nominate it an instant classic, and not just for the castle-creeping class.
I was so delighted by the book that I asked the author to come to tea in Notting Hill. On arrival, Leo—the name he went by—said two things over mugs of Yorkshire tea. One, he wanted to remain anonymous, and two, that he had been in the same year at Eton as my younger half-brother, Max, and Prince Harry.
The Chin Dictionary, the succès fou of a loo book now to be found in the downstairs “gents” of all the grand houses of England.
Leo—adorable in fisherman’s jersey and brogues—admitted he was a “chin.” “The world of chins takes a century to get into, and one use of the word ‘toilet’ to get kicked out,” he explains. “If you wear bright trousers un-ironically, can trace your social connections back to the paleontological era, and think ‘meritocracy’ is a nightclub in Bristol, welcome on board.”
He also nominated Princes William and Harry (obviously), Hugh Grant, Eddie Redmayne, and Johnnie Boden—he, of the sweater-and-clothing catalogue.*
“Chins are like snow leopards—we may seem invisible, but a chin can always spot another in the wild,” said Leo, giving the chin call sign, which is, apparently, a facial tic called “jumping slugs,” defined as moving both eyebrows up and down simultaneously.
This book is adding greatly not just to the gaiety of the nation but also to the richness of the language. Almost all of the entries are funny. Many are filthy: “Dippy Egg n - a girl who’s had several soldiers in her.” (In case you missed it, the English refer to the slivers of toast for dunking in a soft-boiled egg as “soldiers.”) A few are politically incorrect but still funny: “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, Muhammad must come to the mountain n - an Uber from Geneva to Verbier.”
The Chin Dictionary is occasionally harsh. It points out that some obvious people, despite being born chin, never properly achieve chin status, such as Prince Andrew. More heel than chin, I suppose.
The author’s aim? “To broaden the readership to beyond SW6 and every ship broker in Fulham,” he says slyly, before telling me Americans are buying it online. “It helps explain the oddities of the English just as the Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain did in 1942,” Leo explains. And so it does. I am already planning on giving it to everyone for Christmas.
PS: I end this letter with an exclusive! Prince Andrew’s nice daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, have special nicknames that were given to them by their former security officers. “Beetroot” and “Aubergine.” Apart from dedicating your first book to your black Lab, you can’t get much chinnier than that!