The ghost of Marie Antoinette haunts Cub Scout Hallowe’en

16th October, 1793, 4:30am

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time.


I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing.


I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not even know whether this will reach you.


Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness.

Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example.


In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one’s own family?

Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.


It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.


I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy.


I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.


Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.

Marie Antoinette






The princesses and the sea, a fairytale

I once knew a woman – a terrible old woman, with bright blue eyes and a stone black heart – who sneered at everything in Ballina. She sneered at the sand, she sneered at the trees.


She sneered at the sky, she sneered at the sea.


She even sneered at the beautiful old bits of driftwood that wash up always on the shore.


But most of all, she sneered at the Princess Street sign.

“Can’t imagine there would be too many princesses around here,” she scoffed.

But she was wrong. For Ballina, you see, is a town replete with princesses.


These princesses are everywhere, if most always in disguise.


They meet secretly and whisper of tiaras, jewelled slippers and ballgowns. Sometimes they find each other by moonlight but mostly they meet by the sea, because the sea is always magical.


(Their mothers, who occasionally tire of ruling the kingdom, can be heard discreetly snoring on the sand. Even the ones who really should have their cherry-red toenail polish topped up.)


The princesses of Ballina decided they had had enough of the terrible old woman with the bright blue eyes and stone black heart, and so decided to cast a spell. They found a length of sea grass and spoke magic to it, words so ancient they weren’t quite sure of what they meant. When the light became brilliant, the princesses walked into the ocean and began to skip.


The ocean rippled, the ocean roared. The princesses skipped faster, singing their enchantment.


Far away, the terrible old woman with the bright blue eyes and stone black heart began to feel unwell. Her head ached, and she felt queasy. Her legs grew unsteady and she gasped. And then, at last, her face began to crack. Piece by floating, minuscule piece, it blew away.

The princesses laughed, the power of their happiness insurmountable.


The light that shone from deep within the princesses had done its work.


They returned the sea grass to the wild, beautiful ocean, walked a distance and then collapsed, exhausted, on the sand. Nothing was left of the terrible old woman, not even her bones.


The princesses went home, but not before waving to the migrating whales in the distance. Sometimes all you could see of them was a little white fleck on the horizon as they waved back.


And everyone – the whales, the princesses and their mothers – lived happily ever after.


The light

The sun came out properly today. September is usually spectacular on the North Coast – Chris Hemsworth marching about near-naked certainly does the climate no harm – but this September was mean and dark and cool. And then, this light, and the air was suddenly warm.


I had about sixteen thousand pressing things to do today, but the light called me forth.

“Put on your boardies, dude,” I told Bethesda. “We’re hitting the beach!”

This beach, you understand, is a whole three minute stroll up the road, very hard yakka indeed. As a result of these exertions, I fell asleep at Flat Rock as Bethesda scoured the rockpools with her old ballet school friend, Summer (not just an actual person, but one with iridescent dreams). Awakening with a start, I watched hundreds of Caspian Terns wheel and screech in the sky. The distance was a thing of yachts and dolphins. I wanted to resume snoozing, but was also vaguely worried that Bethesda would be swept off to sea by a freak wave, or that she would slip and hit her head on a rock, whereupon she would be swept, unconscious, off to sea by a freak wave.

Sometimes I remember passing entire days during which I failed to entertain a single terrifying thought of Bethesda swallowing broken glass (which she once almost did) or falling into the gap between a train and the station platform (which she once actually did), but that was only because she had yet to be born. Now I’m lucky if I can get through an hour without worrying that she’ll catch pneumonia because she’s not wearing a cardigan, or that she’ll contract meningitis from a bubbler. I even carry a snake bite kit in my beach bag, although I don’t know why.

It’s a twenty-first century fetish, perhaps, to ward off the Australian Evil Eye. Great Whites, Eastern Browns, Lionfish. Fishermen in particular know all about this kind of thing.


My take on Hot Dog Legs. I think one is supposed to be oiled, wearing a Brazilian bikini and have an infinity pool in the background, but this will have to do for now.


“Why can’t I wear a bikini?” Bethesda asked today. “All the other girls wear bikinis, but I just look like a nerd. Only boys wear board shorts and rashies. And I have to wear a hat!”

“I’ve never seen a boy in a pink rashie,” I mused.

“Not pink, but still.”

I closed my eyes. “All the surfer girls wear rashies. I wear a rashie. As you can see, I’m wearing a rashie right now. At the age of twenty, do you want to look like the kind of old man’s shoe you find at the bottom of a Salvation Army Shop discount bin?”

Bethesda was silent for a time.

“I guess not,” she said.

“Well, then.”

She sullenly stared the horizon. “Can I wear a bikini at fifteen?”

“Sixteen,” I said. “And only in England, where there’s hardly any light at all.”


Lal Hardy and Cally-Jo, who works with Hardy at his studio.

Lal Hardy and Cally-Jo, who works with Hardy in his studio.

Lal Hardy is a London-based tattoo artist and self-described “old rudeboy who done too much much too young” (British readers will recognise this nod to the Specials). Born in 1958, Hardy was his own guinea pig: he first tattooed himself on February 8, 1976. Hooked, he launched himself into the world of professional body art in 1979. In 1986, he co-founded the first London tattoo convention, the precursor to the acclaimed series of Dunstable Tattoo Expos, and then travelled to Tahiti and Japan, where he learned to incorporate ancient tattooing techniques into his work. Hardy and coworker Cally-Jo have inked Liam Gallagher, Rihanna, Sienna Miller, Marc Almond and others, including dozens of high-profile sportsmen, between them. This year, he is working with the Museum of London on “a really exciting” tattoo project. Hardy’s anthologies include Tattoo Masters, Mammoth Book of New Tattoo Art, The Mammoth Book of Tattoo Art, and Tattoo Showcase. He can be contacted through

How would you describe yourself?

“Fatter than I’d like to be. A good friend. Never afraid to apologise if in the wrong.”

Your finest hour?

“Not sure it’s arrived yet. I have had many fine hours in all manner of ways.”

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

“Getting rid of the entire human race would probably ensure the planet lasted a bit longer, but if humans really had to stay? I would make every weapon of war obsolete.”

Whom would you like to kick very hard in the shins?


The book you have most loved.

“As a child, Dawn Wind by Rosemary Sutcliff; as an adult, The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall.”

Your current obsession.

“Collecting tattoo books. Trojan label music. Instagram.”

And your epitaph?

“Did he really just say that?”

: : Interview by ANTONELLA GAMBOTTO-BURKE (tattooed by Hardy).



I feel so sorry for Hugh Grant. It must be so depressing to be cast in films whose directors have no feel for cinematography, films so poorly edited that they sometimes run like outtakes from reality TV series. In one such film, The Rewrite, Grant plays a washed-up man-child screenwriter forced to accept a teaching position at an irrelevant university. Seemingly condemned to make increasingly unflattering comparisons between his satiny youth and emotionally arid middle age, he is cast against the awful Marisa Tomei, whose squashy-eyed brightness brings a margarine sheen to every scene. Beside her, poor old Grant flounders; there is no chemistry between them, and the viewer’s suspension of disbelief is sorely tested: how could a man who once dated Liz Hurley and Jemima Goldsmith, a man photographed fondling a Chinese porn star’s thigh in tandem with director John Duigan at a restaurant possibly fall in love with a banal, small-town fortysomething umbrella saleswoman? A better director could have explained this affective lurch, but Marc Lawrence isn’t up to the job. The confrontation between Grant’s character and reality is the real story, one which Grant is now more than capable of telling. Only sometimes charming, The Rewrite should have had a significantly harder punch.


The Rewrite is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.


Photograph: Chris Floyd

Photograph by Chris Floyd

Tom Hodgkinson is a British writer, socialist and editor of The Idler, which he co-founded in 1993. He is the author of How to be Idle, How to be Free, The Idle Parent and Brave Old World. Hodgkinson and his partner, Victoria Hull, run The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment, an eighteenth-century style coffeehouse and bookshop and probably the only educational institution in the world where you can learn to punctuate like a master, play the ukulele and dress like a gentleman.

How would you describe yourself?

“Reasonably cheerful, sometimes irritating.”

Your finest hour?

“Right here, right now. I love The Libertines’ quote: ‘There were no good old days. These are the good old days.’”

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

“I would remove people’s guilt around doing nothing.”

Whom would you like to kick very hard in the shins?

“Only one person and it’s personal.”

The book you have most loved.

“I have loved so many books but if I had to take one to a desert island, it would be Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, the great seventeenth century self-help book. For sheer pleasureDecline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh.”

Your current obsession.

“As I’ve just finished writing a book called Business for Bohemians which seeks to introduce creative types to the fundamental techniques of running a small enterprise, business. I’ve now been in business for four years, running a publisher and school, and have huge respect for all entrepreneurs. It’s tough.”

And your epitaph?

“He lived.”



David Life with his partner, Sharon Gannon. Photograph: Guzman

David Life with Sharon Gannon. Photograph: Guzman

David Life met his life partner, Sharon Gannon in 1983; in 1984, they co-founded the internationally renowned Jivamukti Yoga Method. Together, they have been said to illuminate the deeper, esoteric truths of yoga and embrace the path to liberation in this lifetime. Time magazine described Jivamukti Yoga as “one of the important forms of Hatha yoga taught in the world today.” In 1999, Sharon and David co-founded the Animal Mukti Free Spay & Neuter Clinic of the Humane Society of New York City, the first free spay and neuter clinic in the city. Now operated by donations, the clinic has reduced the number of animals who would be euthanised in the New York City area by 37%. In 2003, David and Sharon and David co-founded the Wild Woodstock Jivamukti Forest Sanctuary, a 125-acre wildlife refuge in upstate New York; in 2008, they were awarded a Compassionate Living Award. The couple have co-authored three books: Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul (which includes a foreword by Sting), The Art of Yoga, Yoga Assists, and a DVD, Transform Yourself with Jivamulti Yoga.

How would you describe yourself?

“That would depend on whom I was describing myself to. It would also depend on which Self you are referring to.”

Your finest hour?

“Just before the dawn when the new day is yet to arrive and all of creation is in celebration.”

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

“My mind.”

Whom would you like to kick very hard in the shins?

“Nobody. Kicking is an impractical strategy.”

The book you have most loved.

“Recently: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari.”

Your current obsession.

“Every moment of life is worth obsessing on. It’s when you stop paying attention that all Hell breaks out.”

And your epitaph?

“He seemed like a good guy.”


Caitlin Moran’s Feminist Five


The writer Antonella Gambotto-Burke is in the chair

Why do you do what you do?

Writing is, for me, something like an autonomic function. The only time I don’t write is when I’m stressed or exhausted: when overwhelmed, I short and my system shuts down. When rested, however, I find it difficult not to write. The world is the most fantastically interesting place, and I have always loved people. So you understand my problem. How can I not write? There is so much to say about everything and everyone. Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution is my first political work. Having a baby radicalised me. I wrote Mama to help shift consciousness. My aim is to trigger debate.

What are you best at?

Eating sweets. If there were prizes for eating sweets, I would trump Augustus Gloop. Last night a girlfriend took me out to dinner at Joe Allen’s and I ate both our desserts – a mousse-like cheesecake with berry compote. Just remembering it makes me shiver with pleasure.

What one thing would make work better?

A sweets trolley. Sadly, I work from home.

If you had to start again and do something else, what would it be?

For me, a life without the written word would be no life at all. However, if I were reincarnated, I’d want to come back as a male writer – cosseted by the women in his life, looking moody against windswept backdrops, and so on. The men I’ve loved are not great readers. My ex-husband preferred video games!

Which woman do you admire and what question would you like to ask her?

The scholar and legal philosopher Catharine MacKinnon. As I once wrote: “The leitmotiv of her work is the correction of social injustice, and her role in shaping perception of quotidian iniquities, incalculable.” My question to her: “Catharine, will you marry me?”

MAMA: Love, Motherhood And Revolution by Antonella Gambotto-Burke is published by Pinter & Martin £11.99

* First published in Times Woman