It's all about sex

Observations on truffles

''It looks like something from outer space, it smells like heaven. What am I bid?" asked the Christie's specialist William O'Reilly. Carried solemnly aloft on a Venetian glass plate was something that did indeed look like a demented potato from Mars, but was in fact an Alba white truffle. One of the most expensive foods on the planet, it had been brought to London from the Piedmont region of Italy to be auctioned for charity.

The challenging flavour, unique smell and prohibitive price make truffles as much a status symbol as an ingredient, and the charity auction (held simultaneously via satellite link in London, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Alba) was a golden opportunity for some showing off. In a bidding war between the rival chefs Marco Pierre White and Claudio Pulze, the auctioneer goaded the two men: "Come on, who's the biggest? Who's the daddy? Who has got the biggest truffles? Has he got bigger truffles than you, sir? Surely not!" Back and forth they went, faster and faster, until the hammer slammed down - and the 407g truffle belonged to White for £4,000. In a flash, he grabbed it off its pretty plate and presented it to an opponent as a gift.

The final truffle of the day was a monster weighing in at 1.2kg. It eventually went to an anonymous buyer in Hong Kong for £64,000. The buyer may have wished to remain unknown, but his representative was a stunningly beautiful woman who received her truffle certificate as if it were an Oscar. Smiling graciously over the priceless space potatoes, she exuded glamour, sex and power. It all seemed very appropriate.

This article first appeared in the 28 November 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Apartheid

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.