By the time Barack Obama takes the hottest seat on the planet – the one behind the oak and mahogany desk in the White House's Oval Office – his presidential in-tray will be groaning under the weight of America's considerable ills. But not all his decisions will alter the course of national and international history. There is one piece of domestic policy that will nevertheless demand his attention: the small matter of his rug.
President William Howard Taft, who was inaugurated in 1909, was the first to occupy the Oval Office, and, finding its Philippine mahajua wood flooring a tad cold, covered it with olive-green shag pile. Since then, successive presidents, keen to make their mark, have reserved the right to commission a bespoke rug.
It's a given that Obama's mandate for change will extend to his carpet and in the unlikely event he finds himself short of inspiration, there is plenty to guide him in the White House's shag-pile hall of fame. Taft's green remained until Hoover laid down a blueish design. Johnson inherited Kennedy's dazzling red rug (it was being installed when he was assassinated). Nixon swapped it for a navy number while Ford went gold with blue flowers. Carter didn't bother; Reagan chose gold. Bush senior went light blue while Clinton plumped for navy (perhaps the defining colour of his presidency).
And then there was "Dubya". If President Bush is shedding tears, of either joy or sadness, at the thought of leaving the White House, a few drops are likely to fall on his beloved, £40,000 floor covering. Bush has been known to weave his (some say revealing) rug story into conversation at every opportunity. First, he delegated the issue to the First Lady. "Typical of his governing style, though," writes Fred Barnes in his book Rebel-in-Chief, "he gave a clear principle as guidance: he wanted the rug to express the view that an optimistic person comes here." That optimism translated, in rug form, as garish sunbeams emanating from the presidential seal.
Apart from signalling change, what should Obama's choice say about him (and will he find anything swept under Bush's sunbeams)? "It should feature his campaign symbol – the hands – with a colourful kaleidoscope symbolising new life bursting around it," says Suzanne Sharp, creative director of The Rug Company, whose client list includes the queens of the Netherlands and Norway. "It's got to be something more modern – Bush's rug was hideous."
Peter York, the interior design expert and author of Dictators' Homes, suggests: "He could do something that combines Americana and Africana to symbolise the world and his and his country's place in it." Or perhaps, he'll ditch the rug altogether and give the elegant oak-and-walnut parquet floor a chance to shine.
"That really would be a great statement," says York, approvingly.
A singularly weird trend
It started with a cone heel. Then it was a smoky eye. Soon, they were coming thick and fast: a flat boot, a purple lip, a black legging, a dark jean... No, not items for the one-eyed or one-legged, but fashionspeak for the latest garments and accessories. Since when were plurals banned by the style police? Designers are partly to blame, often referring to their own creations in the singular, but this grammatical butchery has been spotted in print, too. Forget leather trousers and 8in heels – the fashion singular is the scariest trend around.
Not right about this left-hander
As anyone who's ever known me can attest, I'm no shrinking violet. But researchers at the University of Dundee say that, as a left-hander, I'm prone to "behavioural inhibition" because of the bizarre way my brain's wired up. Inhibited? Are they having a laugh? In school I was always the first to raise my hand, whether or not I knew the answer to the teacher's question; as an adult I have to bite my lip on a daily basis to stop myself dominating nearly every conversation. We
all know southpaws are creative and unpredictable, that they're natural leaders (I could mentiona certain senator from Illinois)– but inhibited? I think not.
The night Babyshambles lived up to their name
A strong contender for the worst gig in rock history was the "Christmas Party" at the Astoria in London's Charing Cross Road on 18 December 2004. It was to star Babyshambles, the trendiest rockers in England. In the event – as recorded in the new book Beg, Steal or Borrow: The Official Babyshambles Story by Spencer Honniball – it was a nightmare.
By 10pm, the audience numbered 2,000. By 11pm, after watching the Noisettes and Towers of London, they were angry. And there was no sign of Pete Doherty.
The Shambles were living up to their name. Their autumn UK tour had become "the tour of death", with fights, drugs, missed gigs and paranoia. Doherty was necking temazepam and falling asleep on stage. By the 18th, he'd had enough. Matt Bates found him at a friend's in Hackney. Doherty begged Bates to accompany him, that night, on a flight to St Petersburg. He was persuaded into a taxi but, halfway to the Astoria, he jumped out and ran away.
Back at the gig, the crowd were baying for blood. Some had missed their last trains and were resigned to sleeping rough, provided they could see the headline band. So, when it was announced that the show wasn't going ahead, the audience stormed the stage and wrecked the band's equipment. Band members cowered in the green room as enraged fans tried to smash the door in with a brick.
Doherty made it to the gig in the middle of the riot. He took in the wreckage, left hurriedly and spent Christmas with his parents.