ELIZABETH DAY: A socially distanced 'feminist' picnic with dolphins

ELIZABETH DAY: A socially distanced 'feminist' picnic with dolphins


ELIZABETH DAY: A socially distanced ‘feminist’ picnic with cuddly toy dolphins… at the G7 summit

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What a joy it’s been to welcome the return of spectator sports. I talk not of the Euro 2020 football tournament, but of the G7 Summit 2021. Quite frankly, it wipes the floor with any competition.

It’s been compelling watching the machinations, the manoeuvrings and the mortifying social etiquette. In fact, the whole thing has seemed more like an awkward family gathering than a globally important inter-governmental forum.

Yesterday saw blue skies and sunshine, thereby proving to all visiting foreign dignitaries that the British weather is indeed better post-Brexit.

Prime Ministers wife Carrie Johnson sits with Brigette Macron, and US First Lady Dr Jill Biden

The same strangeness overshadowed the official photographs, which were staged with ample Covid-protocol spacing between each head of state

But anyone expecting high politics from a group of world leaders and their spouses should have known better.

It was a day dominated by photo-ops, cuddly toys and the vision-searing image of an increasingly buoyant Prime Minister taking an early morning sea dip.

His wife Carrie is said to have chosen the outdoor Minack Theatre in the Porthcurno clifftops of Penzance as a suitably ‘feminist’ place to host a picnic for the leaders’ wives.

Artist and builder Rowena Cade single-handedly carved a Grecian folly amphitheatre out of rock in the 1930s using hand-tools and the occasional stick of dynamite.

Carrie’s approach was somewhat less explosive: she ensured all the spouses were given a cuddly dolphin toy in their picnic baskets, along with finger sandwiches and scones. (What is it about Tory Prime Ministers’ wives and dolphins? Samantha Cameron had a dolphin tattoo on her ankle.)

It felt like the opening of a new aquarium exhibition centre, complete with the performance of a song called Ocean World by 50 young singers and dancers from local schools.

In the evening, the politicians were due to eat crab, lobster and ‘smoky’ steaks cooked on a 50ft grill at the Hidden Hut on the Roseland peninsula. The delegates were then to be served hot buttered rum and toasted marshmallows.

The fact that the conference is being held in Carbis Bay near St Ives on the north coast of Cornwall has lent proceedings a retro seaside holiday vibe, as if our heads of state are gathering for a wedding no one really wants to go to.

None of the guests quite knows how to dress for the beach or how to greet each other after all that nasty business where Uncle Boris decided to leave Aunt Ursula and it took a long time to sort out who got what in the divorce settlement.

There’s still bad blood between British and Brussels contingents over the chilled meat freezer but best not to mention it.

As ever, there’s always one guest some don’t recognise (Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea) and one especially handsy relative (Emmanuel Macron, who was all over Joe Biden like a rash). Then there were the social-distancing rules, which meant a series of increasingly cringe-worthy elbow bumps between, say, the Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau and the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi.

No one could decide what the elbow-bump etiquette was: should one give a comic little bow of the head or an exaggerated curtsey, or should one simply do a strange little shuffle with the feet, as if fencing without swords?

Even the logo was bewilderingly amateurish. It appeared to have been designed by a GCSE Information Technology student using ClipArt and taking inspiration from a leisure centre shower curtain.

The same strangeness overshadowed the official photographs, which were staged with ample Covid-protocol spacing between each head of state.

The resulting images were chilling: a series of suited robotic figures standing in line on the beach underneath an iron-grey sky as if about to go to war or take part in a new Netflix reality show pitched as a cross between Love Island and The Manchurian Candidate.

Meanwhile, the spouses were forced to interact and show they liked each other. Jill Biden and the newly minted Mrs Carrie Johnson took to the seashore to play with toddler Wilfred. They attempted to frolic in a relaxed fashion as the world’s media looked on.

Wilfred was presented with a bedtime picture book, penned by Jill Biden herself, about the President’s own childhood years. The book, called Joey, was published last year and various UK websites show it is ‘unavailable’ to buy.

It documents Biden’s early role as (according to one review) ‘a peacemaker, devoted brother, and defender of bullied peers’. Which is quite something to live up to.

Back at the world’s most uncomfortable wedding, Boris Johnson’s opening remarks were uttered in the style of a half-cut best man who had jotted down his thoughts on a napkin just moments before.

From left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President of the European Council Charles Michel, US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, French President Emmanuel Macron, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during the ‘family photo’ at Carbis Bay today

A grinning Emmanuel Macron strolled up alongside Brigitte (both right), with Boris Johnson (left with Carrie) warmly referring to him as ‘Emmanuel’

He wanted us to start ‘building back greener and building back fairer and building back more equal and, how shall I… in a more gender-neutral and, perhaps a more feminine way’. Green, gender-neutral and feminine would be a tall order for anyone, but never mind.

All the delegates knew that the point of the G7 was not actually to do anything, but simply to be seen to be doing something, even if the ‘something’ in question consisted of getting a CO2-emitting private jet to Newquay Airport before talking passionately about tackling climate change.

Yesterday it was announced that the Carbis Bay Declaration had been signed. Boris Johnson tweeted that ‘the world’s leading democracies will commit to preventing a global pandemic from ever happening again’, so that’s good news.

I think we can all agree that it would have been worrying if they’d signed a declaration committed to ensuring a global pandemic did happen again, so I’m really glad they went with the former option.

Today, after being addressed by, Sir David Attenborough, the farrago comes to a close and attendees begin the schlep home via Newquay Airport (apart from the Bidens, who are off to visit the Queen).

I’m sad to see the G7 go. I suppose I’ll have to watch the football.

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