Substack Reads: Fashion-knitting grannies, the rise of Rishi, and ghost stories at bedtime
Your weekly brew of great writing, podcasts, and ideas from across Substack, recommended by Substack staff, writers, and you, the readers
Hello and welcome to another edition of Substack Reads.
Great writing and great writers can help us understand the world we live in, and, in a week of political upheaval in the U.K. and celebrity-fueled fears rising in the U.S., writers on Substack are doing just that.
This week, fashion journalist Tiffanie Darke finds a group of octogenarian knitters working for a growing luxury clothing brand, political academic Matt Goodwin looks at the “inbox” of the latest British prime minister to step into Number 10, and Tony Walker is reading aloud your next bedtime thriller.
When its signature dress needed a knitted bodice, a clothing company enlisted a family granny to help. As orders grew, so did its group of octogenarian knitters, who found the work was doing much more than providing them with a late-life career
Dianne couldn’t cope with the orders, so Clara recruited her mum, Judith, 79. “We started with our mums because we just didn’t know how many orders we were going to have,” says Clara. “Plus, mine always had something on the go, either for me when I was growing up or one of my kids.” Little did either of the two grannies realise, they were about to get a second career.
“I’m not a professional knitter,” says Dianne. “I worked in a bank from 16 to 60, but I’ve been knitting since I was 6 years old. I’m going to be 80 next year and I’m working again!”
As the orders racked up, Tania and Clara found [other] willing and able grannies and now have a database of 20 they can fire up when needed. “We set them all up on a Whatsapp group so we could manage who was knitting what,” says Clara, “but it’s been lovely for the community. It’s full of chitchat, they show each other all the other things they are knitting—”
“—and we all get to wish each other happy birthday or happy holidays,” says Dianne. “Or someone says, ‘My husband’s going into hospital,’ and we say, ‘Hope he’s going to be okay.’ It's just lovely.”
In a city famous for its nightlife, Michelle Lhooq uncovers Berlin’s latest simulation of cool
I hit the Berg three times during my trip, and every occasion felt like a hollow simulation, like taking a soulless ride through techno Disneyland. It was as if a meta-level of self-consciousness was hanging over the club—an acute awareness that THIS IS BERGHAIN. Half the dance floor looked like they stepped off the Balenciaga runway, and the bug-eyed models stomping around out of their minds on designer amphetamines were actually terrifying. Debauchery didn’t feel like a liberating act of debasement but a way of fitting into a proscribed lifestyle that is currently trending.
“Stay Hydrated and Take Care of Each Other!” read the cartoon stickers above the clown-car bathroom stalls, where hordes of people are always packing in to hoover rails of chalky white powders—taking their time, cocaine-chatting as if they were in private, piss-covered lounges while willfully ignoring the long lines of people anxiously waiting to pee. The cheerfulness of the club’s stickers felt like the faux-friendly corporate-speak of a faceless brand on Twitter—disingenuously imparting a sense of care that stood in stark contrast to the dogged meanness of the bouncers at the door, the druggie selfishness that stinks up the toilets—and the fact that the club doesn’t even offer free water!!!
Tony Walker’s podcast shares a classic ghost story every week by a master of horror and ghost fiction. This week, Ray Bradbury…
Ray Bradbury wrote “The Witch Door” in 1995. The main characters live in a dilapidated New England farmhouse. They’ve come to escape from the totalitarian government and collapsing cities.
One night, one night, they hear a hammering on the “witch door” in their house.
The witch door dates back to 1680, when people used it to hide witches from the Salem witch trials.
The noises grow louder, and a woman bursts out of the tiny room behind the door. The woman dashes out into the night. Set in the future, “The Witch Door” mixes science fiction and dystopian futures, with a witch thrown in to make the point.
A female friend of theirs who is on the run from the government arrives and asks them to hide her.
They put her in the room beyond the witch door.
In a period of political turmoil leaving many British citizens frankly exhausted (including, dear reader, this one), Matt Goodwin looks at the challenges awaiting the latest U.K. politician to step into the prime ministerial role, Rishi Sunak
Somebody appears to have put British politics on speed, and the country is struggling to keep up. It hit home over the weekend while we were celebrating our daughter’s birthday. I realised she has already lived through three prime ministers, four chancellors, and two monarchs. She is one year old.
The Rise of Rishi is certainly a remarkable story. He not only becomes one of the richest prime ministers in history but, at forty-two years old, is also the youngest for more than two hundred years. He is the first prime minister who is neither white nor Christian (though, as I have written, in Britain’s post-racial politics, few voters care as much about this as some of our commentators). And he is the Comeback Kid, the underestimated and underrated candidate who has not only replaced his old mentor, Boris Johnson, who he helped to bring down, but also Liz Truss, who defeated Sunak in a leadership election just seven weeks ago to the day. It is quite the story.
But he also becomes leader of the Conservative Party and the country at a critical moment in our national history. Sunak’s inbox is, to say the least, daunting.
Magician Andy Nyman’s son and the organizer of November’s London Magic Convention, Spooky Nyman, shares his life in magic and why “just doing the thing” is the only method that works
My actual job is as an actor, and inventing magic is a brilliant hobby and passive income for me. I am, however, largely terrified of performing close-up magic in front of an audience. I am in complete awe of my friends who are able to do this multiple times a week and not really think about it. It makes me feel sick. On the other hand, the few occasions I’ve been able to perform stage magic have been nerve-racking, but I’ve loved them.
One day I’d like to be able to show a friend a close-up trick and not start sweating so heavily that my friend is compelled to say: ‘Are you okay? You’re drenched in sweat, and I think you might have pissed. Should I get a teacher to make sure you’re okay?’ (This dream is happening in a playground, btw [I’m also young in this dream, not an adult hanging out with primary-schoolers].)
Instead of: ‘Wow, that was incredible. You know what, dinner’s on me.’
President Biden’s student loan relief process changed how we expect governments to operate. But after millions submitted applications, what happens next?
Student loan relief is proof of concept for a better approach to public-service delivery, reflected in a Biden administration executive order that puts the public rather than bureaucracy at the center of attention. For this approach to work across all government programs, however, requires real investments in user experience, from digital to in-person encounters. It also requires policymakers to think about how to minimize burdens in policy design. This includes eliminating the complexity and confusion created by privatization and enabling the use of administrative data to simplify processes.
Whether you agree or disagree with student loan debt forgiveness, you should feel encouraged by how it is being delivered. Across our political divides, we hold a shared interest in replacing long, confusing, and often baffling procedures with simple, intuitive experiences built to serve the needs of the public. The new student loan relief process does more than help a specific group; it offers us a model for how government can serve us all.
This week’s comic comes from creator Becca Lee, who loves a ghost story —except when it involves your own house
This is the story of our (possible) resident dad ghost, Father Laurence. Whenever I’m awake late at night, and the house starts its mysterious chattering, I imagine it’s Father Laurence, walking up and down the halls.
I like to think of him in peak dad form, loafers and mustache and all. He’s just a hardworking ghostie trying to be a good dad in a cruel mortal world…
Adam Davidson tries to talk to people who are wrong by Adam Davidson: The New Yorker and New York Magazine reporter of more than 30 years thinks you’re wrong, but he is keen to understand your point of view.
Substack Reads is a weekly roundup of writing, ideas, art, and audio from the world of Substack. Posts are recommended by staff and readers, and curated and edited from Substack’s U.K. outpost.
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