Justin Webb

Diary – 27 September 2008

Justin Webb on living in America

I am deeply depressed about my children’s capacity to connect with the Old Country should we ever come back to England. My effort to begin the process of toughening them up for the rigours of the British education system (uniforms, etc) met with disregard bordering on insolence. ‘You might have to take exams,’ I ventured. ‘What’s an exam?’ they chorused without lifting their heads from the telly. Oh dear. At their Washington school they mainly learn how wonderful they are; the headmaster begins each day by shaking hands enthusiastically with every pupil. My children are much admired for the faintly British way they speak but the youngest thinks apple sauce rhymes with criss-cross. This I find sweet, but I am deeply aware that in polite British society it is acceptable to be prejudiced against such a view. If we did ever come back, I should like to have a room in the house in which only American is spoken. Y’all can suck it up if you don’t like it.

On a gorgeous late summer Washington evening I find myself face to face, as it were, with Rudolf Nureyev’s penis. It is preternaturally large and dominates the photograph of its owner. The exhibition is, aptly, on the theme of power. Richard Avedon photographed the Washington elite (and random celebrities) for a generation and here they all are staring balefully out from the walls of the Corcoran Gallery. Most, thankfully, are clothed. Here, for instance, is Donald Rumsfeld in his Nixon incarnation, black hair slicked back, in a textured suit, and a tie that screams out, ‘Nylon, the fabric of the future.’ I ask our ambo Sir Nigel Sheinwald (the current generation of power players is at this preview, surveying the old) to give me his candid assessment of whose politicians are uglier, British or American.

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