Rod Shaw asks:

With the exception of Dryden Goodwin, there is practically no artistic merit in your royal portraits. David Shrigley’s drawing of the Queen with its juvenile caption is particularly bad. Also, it beats me how Adam Dant won a prize for drawing. We are the nation that spawned Turner and Shakespeare. What has happened?

Gosh, Rod has just asked a very big question! A lot of changes have taken place in the art world in the 160 years since Turner’s death, and it’s beyond our scope to cover them here, but there are a lot of excellent books that could help to put the royal portraits into context. Gombrich’s The Story of Art is widely admired, and discusses art from prehistoric times up to around 1950; Norbert Lyton’s The Story of Modern Art is well-reviewed and more up-to-date, while Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New is also considered excellent.

It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that Turner and Shakespeare are considered by many to be the best painter and writer, respectively, that England has produced in five hundred years. It’s perhaps not surprising that the artists commissioned by the Guardian do not, in Rod’s opinion, quite measure up.

Ida Alwin asks:

I can well understand why some of those featured in I Love You, But… wanted their identities kept secret. What happened to trust being the all-important building block of a relationship? With lovers like this, who needs enemies?

Trust is still considered by many to be important for a successful relationship! But the fact that something is widely considered important does not necessarily mean that that thing is universally practiced.

With regard to Ida’s second question, few people need enemies, though professional sports teams, for example, certainly benefit from having rivals. Indeed, ambitious and competitive practitioners from any field may find themselves spurred on to greater things by the accomplishments of an enemy or nemesis.

Edward Rowe asks:

Blind Date is an enjoyable read, but please will someone go home and shag rather than “race for the last train”? Not only will the daters have more fun, it will make for more interesting reading, too.

Probably not! Even subjects who would usually be keen to instigate sexual activity are going to be less likely to do so when they know the experience will be reported in the Guardian for their friends and family to read.

Indeed, we as readers might reasonably expect that Blind Daters who do “go home and shag” may in fact decline to tell us so. Perhaps Edward could satisfy salacious urges by pretending that any subjects who claim to have “rushed for the last train” have in fact concocted this story to conceal another, less sedate, activity.

Kevin Spencer asks:

What’s the right time to become a father? About 12 hours after reading Weekend: Ewan Leo Spencer was born at 4.20am on 11 October.

Like many readers, Kevin has answered his own rhetorical question; but in doing so he’s he’s fallen into an understandable error. We can deduce from his letter that his first child was born approximately twelve hours after he read the Guardian Weekend magazine, and it’s great that this has worked out for him so far – but that doesn’t mean that an hour later, or an hour earlier, would have been the “wrong” time even for him.

Still less does it mean that his supposed “right” time can be generalised to the population at large. Think, for example, of all the men whose children were born before the Guardian Weekend even existed, or who became fathers this weekend but who take a different Saturday newspaper.

Keri Pierce asks:

Does Tim Skelton feel the same antipathy for people from other religions, or is it just evangelical Christians he feels qualified to judge so harshly?

We haven’t been able to find out for certain, but we’d guess that Tim Skelton feels a little grumpy about evangelists from any religion. He does, however, seem to have a particular distaste for American fundamentalists – see, for example, his letter of September 2004 regarding Jeb Bush.

David Halkyard asks:

May I gently draw your attention to the magazine on 9 October – bicycle £895 (On The Road), Alexis Petridis sporting clobber to the tune of £694, Jess Cartner-Morley tricked out for a measly £300. I could go on, and on. Many readers (like me) are public sector workers facing redundancy and comparative poverty. Real people – as opposed, apparently, to well-heeled London journalists and socialites – can’t afford to spend that kind of money on ephemeral crap. Do you realise just how absurdly Marie Antionetteish that is?

Petridis, Cartner-Morley, and indeed the editor of the Magazine are almost certainly aware that the products they discuss can be too expensive for many of their readers. Indeed, in some cases the products may be too expensive for the reviewers themselves – generally speaking the clothes and vehicles that appear in a newspaper are supplied to journalists for the purposes of review, and do not come from the private wardrobe or garage of the reviewer.

They are probably not aware, however, of precisely how Marie Antoinettish the choices are; it’s a difficult measure to estimate! An average manual worker of Marie Antoinette’s day would have earnt around 25 sous – just over a livre. Marie Antoinette’s more extravagant dresses at the time cost up to 6000 or 7000 livre.

If we therefore assume that a choice Marie Antoinette dress cost a minimum of 4800 times the average manual worker’s day rate, and if we further assume that the average manual worker in Britain receives only minimum wage, a dress of equivalent Marie Antoinettishness today would come in at £227, 712.

Jess Cartner-Morley’s outfit in last week’s magazine, at around £300, is therefore around 0.13% Marie Antoinettish, while Alexis Petridis’ clothes come in at 0.3% Marie Antoinettish.

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