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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Digested week: faded photos in war museum on the Hudson feel all too real | Emma Brockes


The nearest thing New York has to the Imperial War Museum in London is the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, built on and around the USS Intrepid, a hulking great aircraft carrier parked at Pier 86 on the Hudson River. It is the obligation of every school age-child in greater New York to attend this museum at least once a year, and on the last day of mid-winter recess, we do.

It’s an odd time in which to find oneself in a museum of war. The Intrepid was in service from 1943 through to the 1970s, when it acted as an anti-submarine vessel tracking Soviet submarines in the north Atlantic. Most of the exhibits focus on Vietnam, with a display of faded we-regret-to-inform you telegrams, dog tags, and oral accounts of life on board ship. A special exhibit explores the nuclear submarines of the old war and invites visitors to imagine how it may have felt to live on the brink of nuclear annihilation.

The poignancy of the old photos, depicting young men in sepia tones squinting up at the camera, is accompanied by a sense of the endless squandering of young human life, and the head-spinning consideration that the events of this week will, in all probability, be pasted on to these same museum walls one day, to interest and bore future children.

The Intrepid also discreetly communicates to visitors the terrors of even the mildest simulation of combat experience. Accompanied by one child at a time, I enter the two-seat “G-Force experience” ride, where I am flipped upside down, freak out as my child starts to slip through her harness, reach to hit the emergency stop button, am promptly flipped back around again, and leave the ride wondering if I’m going to throw up. Afterwards, we walk to the submarine, which is parked alongside the Intrepid and open for visitors, but are all far too claustrophobic to go in.

Mr Bean with glass of champagne
‘Air of a Mr Bean storyline.’ Will hapless heroine Liz Truss trigger the end of the world? Photograph: Cine Text/Sportsphoto/Allstar


Will history remember the ancillary role played by Liz Truss this week? It is wrong, perhaps, to be even darkly amused by this, and yet the Kremlin blaming its escalation to nuclear readiness on the words of the British foreign secretary, has about it the air of a shelved Mr Bean storyline. Here she is, our hapless heroine – leaver of weird pauses, enemy of Britain’s cheese import policies, wearer of Perestroika-era hats – inadvertently triggering events that may lead to the end of the world.

Speaking on Sky News on Sunday, Truss said, “This long-running conflict is about freedom and democracy in Europe,” a bland enough statement that was, nonetheless, seized on by the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, and denounced as so “unacceptable” as to put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert.

It wasn’t Truss’s fault, of course. She might have said anything, as she so frequently does, and the response from the Kremlin would have been the same. “If we don’t stop Putin in Ukraine,” she continued, “we are going to see others under threat: the Baltics, Poland, Moldova, and it could end up in a conflict with Nato”. Rallying every shred of Churchillian eloquence, Truss ended with the ominous observation that “we do not want to go there”, as true a thing as has ever been said. We totes don’t want to go there, Liz. For realz.


Joe Biden in front of US flag pointing finger
‘We’re going to be OK, we’re going to be OK.’ Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Watching Trump speak in public was never a relaxing affair, but watching Biden can be almost as bad. On Wednesday morning, political analysts pick over his performance in the State of the Union address the previous night, highlighting his plans to discourage Putin, curb inflation, and unite Americans in the cause of world freedom. For me, however, the speech was notable for the moment-by-moment terror of wondering if Biden would stumble, freeze, or forget his words, and how this would play to hostile eyes on the other side of the world.

At 79, Biden is 10 years older than Putin, and at the risk of sounding unpatriotic, on Tuesday night he looked his age. I found myself casting around for reassurances. It was useful to remember, when he fluffed his lines, appeared to lose his place, and seemed to say “Iranian” instead of “Ukrainian”, that Biden was like this even as a much younger politician. There was reassurance to be had, too, in seeing the youthful figure of Kamala Harris sitting squarely behind him.

And, in spite of the shonky pacing of his speech, Biden’s delivery still has the power to soothe. On Tuesday night, he slipped momentarily out of a more uniform style into full twinkle mode, saying twice over, and with sufficient theatre to make it sound as if he was half-addressing himself, “we’re going to be OK, we’re going to be OK”. If it was hokey to some and empty to others, something about the audacity of whimsy worked for me.


Pregnant Rihanna in thong, bra and net skirt
A more radical sartorial choice for Rhi would have been velour tracksuit and flats. Photograph: Laurent VU/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

Photos of Rihanna in a “pregnancy thong” – a sheer black neglige beneath which the antithesis of big pregnancy pants are clearly visible – flash round the world midweek after her appearance for Dior in Paris, and are universally received by the fashion press as wonderful. Rih’s pregnancy look is, says Glamour, “to be applauded”. Vogue.com calls it “sensational”. She has “redefined pregnancy style”, gushes BuzzFeed. Kneejerk fawning aside – Rhianna could have shown up in wardrobe from the Crucible to be met with exactly the same response – it seems to me that, rather than 4in heels and fishnets, a more radical choice may have been to rock up in a velour tracksuit and flats, gnawing on a foot-long sandwich from Subway, and begging everyone’s pardon for occasional pregnancy flatulence. But that would never do, would it?


In among the horror, it’s useful to remember there was good news this week. The Queen recovered from Covid, great news for the Queen, and also for shift journalists braced for all-leave-cancelled had the outcome been different. The beloved children’s author Shirley Hughes died at the age of 94, not good news, obviously, but it did lead to the internet being flooded with images that are stamped on our hearts. There were Alfie and Annie Rose, a reminder of what the mess and beauty of childhood should look like.

And after an experiment lasting several years, Amazon announced it would be closing all 68 of its bricks and mortar stores, those ersatz bookshops in which titles were grouped according to how many ratings they had garnered on Amazon. (The category “more than 10,000 reviews” ensured, with no involvement from human intelligence necessary, prominent placement of books with the word “orphan” in the title, or anything by Bill O’Reilly). It’s a small victory, but we’ll take it.

Hares box each other
‘If you’d get to know me, you’d discover I’m actually a lover, not a fighter.’ Photograph: Paul Sawer/Solent News
3 people with VR glasses
‘Apply virtual reality headset to travel back 10,000 years, to 2019.’ Photograph: Tom Bowles/Story Picture Agency

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