Morale at 10 Downing Street is a delicate thing these days, what with partygate investigations and all. The introduction of three “happy or not” machines, which function more or less the way mood rings did in the 70s, hasn’t helped. “Staff in Downing Street have accused Boris Johnson’s new top team of ‘patronising them,’” reported The Times of London. “The terminals — normally installed in shops and airports — allow people to record whether they have had good or bad experiences by pressing brightly coloured buttons with either happy or sad faces on them.”
Ouch. “It’s treating people like idiots rather than professionals trying to do a job that can be very difficult and stressful at times,” one member of the staff told the newspaper. Another said, “It is a totally miserable place to work and if they need happiness machines to tell them that then it shows how out of touch they are.” In short, the button being collectively pushed currently at 10 Downing would appear to be: Not.
Gérard Depardieu is many things—thespian, businessman, vintner, rape-charge investigee, Russian national, and Putin apologist. Make that former Putin apologist. Depardieu “issued a statement criticising [Putin] on the eve of three evening concerts that he is to give in the Champs Elysées Theatre in Paris,” said The Times of London. (Note: three concerts Depardieu is to give, not Putin.) The actor said that “the Russian people are not responsible for the mad, unacceptable excesses of their leaders like Vladimir Putin,” and that proceeds from the concerts would go to Ukraine’s victims.
Depardieu’s bromance-ending reversal was quickly dismissed by the Kremlin (“We are ready,” sniffed a spokesman, “to explain things to him if he wishes”) and denounced in the Russian parliament, where, said the newspaper, one member “called for the actor to be stripped of his Russian nationality and for his property in Russia to be seized and given to charities.”
A Ukrainian-refugee family is in limbo because the British government is requiring the man who offered them a home to “upgrade” his five-bedroom Art Deco villa in Herne Hill. “‘It feels a bit petty,’” Mike Rundell, an architect who has designed homes for Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and Stella McCartney, told the Daily Mail. “‘I have lived in it myself for 15 years without requiring these things. It’s totally safe for my children and they are not legal requirements.’” Rundell was told he’d need “lockable windows, closable doors, extra fire alarms on each floor and a ‘Gas Safe’ certificate” before the Ukrainian family could move in.
Rundell had applied to host Masha Chykina and her three young children, who had fled their home near Kyiv and are now sleeping on the floor of a church in Cologne, Germany. “These are administrative hurdles which I believe have been set up because somebody somewhere said ‘Don’t make this too easy. We need a high enough barrier to jump over that will keep the flood of refugees down,’” Rundell told the newspaper. “I think that’s outrageous.”
More art news, this time from terra firma: It was not a good week for Govert Flinck. A pupil of Rembrandt’s, he had since 1989 been credited with having painted Landscape with Arched Bridge. But now curators at the European-masterpiece-heavy Gemäldegalerie art museum have attributed the small picture, which dates to 1638, to the master himself—significant because he did few landscapes. “X-rays showing changes and corrections that had been made to the work helped confirm Rembrandt as its creator,” reported The Guardian, and, according to one curator, “experts were unanimous in their verdict.”
Jeff Koons is sending some of his sculptures to the moon and selling corresponding NFTs for each of them, “with some of the proceeds donated to the humanitarian charity Médecins Sans Frontières,” said The Times of London. The artwork will be rocketed skyward in July as part of a mission commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 17 lunar landing. Jack Fischer, a former NASA astronaut and vice president of Intuitive Machines, which developed the robotic lunar lander that will deliver the goods, told the newspaper that the Koons sculptures will be “housed in a transparent, thermally coated, sustainably built enclosed art cube [and] will be the first authorised artworks to be placed on the surface of the moon, where they will remain in perpetuity.” Earth’s loss, the moon’s gain.
The world’s biggest airplane, the An-225, is part of “the mounting wreckage of Russia’s relentless attack on Ukraine,” reported PerthNow. “The aircraft, nicknamed ‘King of the Skies’, has been seen at an airfield surrounded by rubble after Ukrainian forces regained control of the site.” Built in the 80s, the six-engine, 640-ton cargo plane—25 feet longer than a 747, with a 66-foot-greater wingspan—caused a stir wherever it went, but nowhere more than than Perth, Australia, in 2016, when it drew more than 35,000 fans to the airport and a video of its landing—a four-and-a-half-minute clip that, honestly, feels more like five or six minutes—went viral on social media.
A major alteration in France’s hotel-rating system: “[For] the first time since the star-rating system was introduced for hotels in 1937,” reported The Times of London, “bidets no longer feature.” Hotels, it seems, can henceforth eliminate the bidet without imperiling their luxe rating. “For five stars, a hotel must offer breakfast in bed, English-speaking staff and double beds that are at least 1.6 metres [5 feet] wide and two metres [6.5 feet] long,” said the newspaper. “They must also ‘implement at least one measure of water consumption reduction.’”
While the bidet, an 18th-century invention, has long persevered, recent decades have seen it in precipitous decline. According to The Times, “The decision to axe the bidet from the hotel ranking system could spell its end in France, analysts say.” Wait, there are bidet analysts?
George Kalogerakis, one of the original editor-writers at Spy, later worked for Vanity Fair, New York, and The New York Times, where he was deputy op-ed editor. A co-author of Spy: The Funny Years and co-editor of Disunion: A History of the Civil War, he is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL