In the Cannes superyacht-off, size isn’t everything

Cannes Marina


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “In the Cannes superyacht-off, size isn’t everything” was written by Peter Bradshaw, for The Guardian on Wednesday 17th May 2017 15.30 UTC

The Cannes film festival has begun, and as we sweat-bathed critics gallop back and forth along the Croisette, our tote bags bumping unbecomingly on our T-shirted backs – desperate not to miss anything and often cannoning into each other – the difference between our humble lives and those of the Côte d’Azur’s indolent super-rich could not be more heartbreaking. It is a tradition of Cannes that superyachts crowd the horizon, and Forbes magazine reports that at this year’s festival there will be a veritable superyacht-off.

The plutocrats are squaring up to one another with some serious luxury yacht length. Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse, at 533ft, is expected to win; but actually size isn’t everything, so Lady Beatrice, the Barclay Brothers’ bijou 200-footer, might gain some approving nods among the seaborne Croesus community; and Oasis, the elegant little craft of Google chief Eric Schmidt – just under 200ft – should make an impression.

Then there is the Microsoft pioneer Paul Allen, on whose 414ft megayacht – the Octopus – I actually attended a party in Cannes a couple of years ago, rather as the tenantry on the estate were allowed to attend Christmas Eve drinks at Downton Abbey. And you know what they say about people with big yachts. They have a very small interest in your resentful jokes about their manhood.

Poll booth poetry

Christopher Logue, photographed in 2005.
Christopher Logue, photographed in 2005. Photograph: Jane Bown for the Observer

It is a personal election tradition of mine to re-read Christopher Logue’s great poem I Shall Vote Labour, composed during Harold Wilson’s 1966 campaign: a brilliantly surreal, subversive vision of the subconscious and semi-rational reasons for voting, and the secret theatre of the absurd that might actually lie behind the serious business of democracy: I shall vote Labour because / God votes Labour. / I shall vote Labour to protect / the sacred institution of The Family. / I shall vote Labour because / I am a dog. / I shall vote Labour because / upper-class hoorays annoy me in expensive restaurants. / I shall vote Labour because / I am on a diet.

Like Monty Python’s Kevin Phillips-Bong of the Slightly Silly party (squeezed out by the Sensible party and the Silly party), it speaks of the compromise between what you feel you ought to do, what you feel like doing, and your grumpily despairing urge not to do anything at all. And the poem finishes with that devastatingly bleak, nihilist sellout confession: I shall vote Labour because / deep in my heart / I am a Conservative.

That poem had traction in the Wilson years. It was a guilty pleasure in the Blair era, despite that government’s authentic domestic achievements. But now, with the Labour manifesto promising nationalisation and tax hikes, Logue’s great masterpiece is weirdly out of sync with the times. Everyone should read it: but bear in mind that this June, if you’re voting Labour, you’re doing so because deep in your heart you are not a Conservative.

Throw the book at them

Daunt Books travel bookshop in London.
Daunt Books travel bookshop in London. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The resurgence in popularity of the printed book is hot cultural news. Luxury hardback volumes are selling wonderfully. The Kindle is rumoured to be joining Concorde and the moon landings in the category of futuristic things with no future.

But bookshop owners are even more furiously eagle-eyed about browsers wandering around the shelves with their smartphones, getting ideas, and noting down what to get later – on Amazon! These people can expect to be aggressively confronted, I understand. But the underhand Amazon-browsers in bookstores have a sneaky new trick.

Instead of writing titles down, they’re murmuring them into their voice recorder app and pretending to be having a phone conversation: “Mmm, yeah, they’ve got Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle … and oh, you’re right, there’s David Sedaris’s Theft By Finding … there’s The Pike by Lucy Hughes-Hallett …” These people will have their phones snatched from them and thrown out of the front door.

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