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Off The Fence

Dear Readers,
 
Good afternoon, and welcome to Off The Fence. Today, we have a bumper edition of the newsletter, as we do like to treat our readers well. Issue 13 is going to be the last issue which will be priced at £6, and owing to inflation and publishing costs the cost of a subscription is going to have to increase too. So, you can save yourself at least a fiver by signing up today. Treat yourself, treat a friend.
 
Issue 12 has been sold out at our end for a fortnight, but if you want to score a copy, then you can buy Célestin Krier’s iconic cover (and a whole other magazine besides) through Our Friends in the North: La Biblioteka in Sheffield have a few mags left for worldwide delivery at their online retail store here.
 
For your leisurely delectation, we have some Hampstead horrors and tsar complexes, but first, a special investigation into the personal Instagram of Call Me Dave. 
 
Check Your Screentime
 
In his retirement, former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan re-read the works of Anthony Trollope, Sir Walter Scott and Henry James, saying that ‘I find it restful to have several books going at the same time.’
 
David Cameron, who spent his time in office playing Fruit Ninja on his iPhone, has a more modern approach to retirement. 
 
In 2020, John Phipps wrote a feature on people who share the same name as people in the public eye (read it, if you haven’t done so already, it’s brilliantly funny).
 
During his research to find members of the public called David Cameron, John chanced upon the barely disguised Instagram account of the former First Lord of the Treasury himself, David Cameron (ex-MP).
 
Two years later, we tracked back to David Cameron’s IG account to find it is still accessible to the public, and that DC follows 299 accounts, most of which are family and friends.
 
But, at the age of 55, David Cameron has found a new-found joy on his iPhone – he follows three meme accounts – the Archbishop of Banterbury, imjustbait and LadBible.
 
What would Uncle Harold think?
 
A Party to Remember
 
Thank you to everyone who told us where they were when the Queen died – there were some brilliant offerings, all illuminating in their own odd little way, but the best entry came from a certain anonymous guest, who relays the following tale.
 
‘I was attending a summer garden party at the British consulate-general in a European capital. The theme? The Queen's platinum jubilee. Over 1,000 people were in attendance and the event had already been toned down a bit given the news of her illness – there was no music or dancing. When her death was announced, around 8.30 in the evening, the consul-general took the stage, explained what had happened, and declared that the party was over, and that we all had to leave.’
 
Gimme the Loot
 
In collaboration with the brilliant Davey Jones, we spent a long, long time making a board game called Pandemillions, which you can read about at length here
 
There are a few copies available for sale, and they are going to be distributed this weekend. The price is £50 (plus £12 for shipping). Some of you have already reserved your games, but please reply to this email to confirm your order, and we will then send you an invoice and you’ll get your mitts on the game for the start of next week.
 
Maureen Dowd Pulls a Crowd
 
Last week, there was a flurry of NYT coverage of the Queen’s death and its commemoration, not least Jenny Gross’ piece on the costs of Monday’s funeral, and Jane Bradley and Euan Ward’s piece on King Charles’ wealth. This follows Kojo Karam’s piece from the previous week which dared to chart a line between Enoch Powell and Liz Truss’ premiership. Amid all this, we playfully offered an explainer on ‘why the NYT ‘hates’ Britain’, atop a snippet of commentary we wrote about Jonathan Pie’s work for that organ, and watched as it went mildly, but unexpectedly, viral among the UK’s more aggrieved twitterati.
 
The thrust of our original take was that the NYT’s data operation has voluble metrics pointing to a robust market for UK-facing coverage, and particularly pieces that might drive subscriptions among Remainers. Our point appears to have been missed by some of those in our mentions, who took the notion that the NYT ‘hates’ Britain rather more literally.
 
Far be it from us to bat away the hand that feeds us – and in more than one case, the direct cancelling of an NYT subscription in favour of one of our own – but the fact that a paper has very good commercial reasons to increase their British coverage doesn’t directly impugn the nature of that coverage. Leaving aside our thought – singular, and negative – regarding Mr Pie’s comedic stylings, three of the other four contributors mentioned above are British (with the fourth London-based) and their analysis seems a good deal more straightforward than their detractors appear to admit. We submit that much of the invective being tossed toward the NYT is for their having dared to provide quietly barbed analysis of the UK’s odd social and political landscape, to an audience underserved by such offerings, especially during this recent period of self-enforced servility.
 
Our magnanimity does have limits, however, and we thank their foray into the cooking of an English Breakfast for mapping those frontiers for us this weekend. If you are moved to cancel your direct debit with our Eighth Avenue cousins in response, please redirect those funds our way in future at this link right here – an annual subscription to The Fence costs about the same as two cooked breakfasts.
 
Knight of the Realm
 
If there’s one key takeaway from the last ten days of national mourning, it’s this: long-form journalism, at its very best, can reach anyone, provided its subject is a question that everybody has thought of but nobody has bothered to answer before. Sam Knight’s story on Operation London Bridge – the coded preparations for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral – has long been held up in the TF office as the very best of British long-form, although we would be remiss not to highlight Sam’s other stories for the Guardian Long Read and, latterly, the New Yorker (check the links below). 
 
It is, however, Operation London Bridge that is held up internally at York Way as the shining example of why long-form journalism is worth funding and championing, and the Long Read’s investment finally yielded its biggest payoff in these last two weeks:
 
Two million clicks over that period, 1.3m coming on the day of the Queen’s passing, and an unprecedented level of page-dwell time that publishers all over the world can only dream of. 
 
With the number of publications able to offer the requisite time, support and money to back big stories dwindling year-by-year, we ought to remember the value that British long-form still has. If you see any editors around, tell them to crank up their word rate, and set some money aside for expenses while they’re at it. 
 
Karma Karma Chameleon
 
As the Daily Mail have been asleep at the wheel these last eleven days, allow us to bring you a splash you’d usually find placed prominently on their website: Boy George is selling his Hampstead flat for £17 million. Looking through the snaps, the house is decorated exactly like a 17-year-old boy would imagine Boy George’s house to be decorated: lots of naked torsos, erect penises and photos of Boy George.
 
Owned by Boy George for almost 40 years, the apartment is where a 27-year-old Michael Rudetsky died from a drugs overdose in 1986 (though the singer chained up and beat a male escort at another one of his properties). On inquiring into how Boy George funds his swish lifestyle, we were amazed to discover that Culture Club have sold 150 million records worldwide: which is a lot. In the office, none of us could name more than three of their singles. How many can you remember? Send us your Culture Club recollections to the usual repository, we will be ready and waiting to hear from you.
 
Sweet Sweet Print
 
One of the titles we have Sustained Admiration for is Delayed Gratification, a quarterly publication that pioneered the ‘slow news’ approach to the unerring winds of the news cycle, balancing long-reads with beautiful infographics to create a supreme magazine that’s quite unlike anything else on the shelves. To get a sense of the sort of thing they offer, dig into this extended interview with Gilles Bertin, France’s answer to Sid Vicious – a rock star turned bank robber who spent 30 years presumed dead before handing himself in, which you can then pair it with this lovely visual number on the price of designer dogs in Britain. If that’s got your attention, then we strongly recommend taking a subscription out from their webstore at this link right here – magazines of this quality don’t grow on trees.
 
When Francis met Vladimir
 
Last week, we wrote of how the royals are well-liked in Russia, with even Putin chiming in with a respectful comment about the Queen. Francis Wheen, legendary hack and Private Eye deputy editor, wrote in to tell us a particularly fascinating story on this very theme. His email is printed below.
 
‘I first noticed this in Putin the only time I met him, in June 2001, at a White Nights Ball in St Petersburg, the first since the 1917 revolution. Also present were various Russian oligarchs and bigwigs – and Prince Michael of Kent. When Putin eventually arrived at the dinner (about two hours late, as is his habit) you could see many of the powerbrokers trying to catch his eye as he walked across the dining room; but he had eyes only for Prince Michael of Kent. Putin made straight for the prince’s table (where I was also sitting) and greeted him reverentially, almost bowing as he shook hands, before going to his own table, where he was seated next to Valery Gergiev. 
 
Over here, Prince Michael may be a bit of a joke minor royal, but in Russia his uncanny resemblance to the last tsar gives him an irresistible cachet. That was the moment I began to suspect that the then new Russian president might have a bit of a tsar complex.’
 
Did You Hear About Our Book?
 
Not sure if we’ve mentioned this previously – but The Fence’s first book, Shit Literary Siblings, is mere moments from publication. The printing presses of Headline Books have been smashing out thousands of copies in preparation for what will no doubt be a smash hit for the ages; staff at the nation’s bookshops will by now have been alerted as to security protocols for the throngs of greedy grabbing hands that will be poised to snatch at their sliding doors on the 29th September 2022. There will be clamour, and chaos. Who can say if there will be brawls over the bookshelves? But you can avoid the pandemonium by ordering your copy here, so that it lands snugly and securely on your doormat while the Johnny-Come-Latelys gouge each others’ eyes out in the aisles of Foyles. You will not spend a funnier £12 this year unless you’re buying laughing gas. 
 
In Case You Missed It
 
Jimi Famurewa asks why so many black children were fostered out to white parents.
 
Jessica Lucas writes about the TikTok star making content about her father’s killing for (the shortly to be departed) Input Mag.
 
A bracing look at the fresh hell of Launch House, the tech incubator-turned-cesspit, from Vox’s Rebecca Jennings.
 
Farewell to the Lord of Lexington Street: Andrew Edmunds has died at the age of 79. His eponymous restaurant is the office favourite. 
 
Sam Knight (lauded above) deploys some Freudian analysis as a painting of disputed origin kicks off a satisfyingly chewy artworld controversy.
 
And Finally
 
We close this week with a look back on streets filled with weepers and mourners, heads of state in visible distress, gaudy banners draped over national landmarks and an all-pervading sense that a chapter in history had been drawn to a close against the will of a people not yet ready to say goodbye. I’m sure you’ve guessed already, but yes, we are talking about the death of French rock icon Johnny Hallyday in 2017, as highlighted last week by friend of The Fence, Elise Bell. Despite looking like a malevolent cat you might encounter on the tail-end of a particularly vivid nightmare, and not being any good at music, Hallyday brought France to a standstill in his passing. Magazines proclaimed ‘The King is Dead’, metro stops were temporarily renamed, and the ever-lachrymose shortarse Emmanuel Macron led the tributes in saying that the so-called French Elvis ‘transcended generations and is etched in the memory of the French people.’ Say what you want about our departed Queen, but at least we didn’t have to see her do the Twist for seventy years. 
 
*
 
That’s the lot for this week, and we’ll join you next Monday with a dispatch from London Fashion Week and a whole other set of choice cuts. If you’ve got any queries, notes or postal disputes reply to this email and we will get back to you shortly. Until then.
 
All the best,
 
TF
 

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