Susie Rushton: State visits: just not worth the bother

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The Independent Online

Dust off the white tie and tails, polish the armour-plated Bentley and try to remember royal protocol (no hugs, please), for it is state-visit season. Today, the Queen arrives in Ireland for the first sojourn by a British monarch since George V landed in 1911 with an entourage of ladies in picture-hats and hobble skirts. She'll be taking the tour trodden by many a misty-eyed New Yorker: the Book of Kells, the enormous pint of Guinness that houses that brewery's visitor centre, then a bit of history in Tipperary at the Rock of Cashel.

The official itinerary doesn't mention a pub crawl around Dublin (or my favourite Irish tourist attraction, the Cork Butter Museum), but I do believe she will catch Mary Byrne and Westlife, so the Duke of Edinburgh will have plenty of comic material. The rest of the trip is laden with political symbolism, some of it surprising – laying flowers at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, where Irish freedom fighters are memorialised – and is predictably unpopular with Republican hardliners. Peaceful protests are planned but security forces aren't taking any chances, so the monarch will travel in a mile-long convoy. Dublin is reportedly "in lockdown", and only a hand-picked few will get anywhere near the Queen. The Irish could be forgiven for wondering whether a million-pound anti-terrorist operation is really what their financially ailing state should be paying for right now.

We are told that state visits by foreign leaders are a cause for great excitement. In fact, these visits really only involve senior politicians, their protection officers – and thousands of police. Not much TV footage is ever recorded – the odd speech, a brief moment of greeting – and most of the action happens behind closed palace doors. It is a court occasion, in the old-fashioned sense. The Irish tourist board is thrilled but will citizens here and in Ireland really be a-buzz at this festival of photo ops? Next week it happens all over again, when Barack Obama touches down at Stansted to begin a three-day state visit to Britain, hosted by the Queen. Fresh from the slaying of Osama bin Laden, the President now carries with him a ramped-up terrorist threat, and his security is now a mammoth operation that affects everyone in London. (Only yesterday, jittery police here exploded an unattended bag on The Mall.)

Obama brings his own car, nicknamed The Beast, an eight-tonne Cadillac which can resist missile attacks, transform into a sealed panic room and contains supplies of his own blood, just in case. Even so, Scotland Yard has offered to put a further team of security officers at his disposal. Inside this carapace of protection, Mr and Mrs Obama will proceed through the usual state visit schedule: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, State Banquet at Buckingham Palace, talks with Cameron, an address to the Houses of Parliament. The whole event will cost taxpayers at least as much as the Royal Wedding, we will be subjected to the sight of David Cameron bathing in Obama's reflected glory, and we won't even get to laugh at a sideshow of princesses in ugly hats.







Marry in a mairie, and Le President is a guest



Nicolas Sarkozy was at the Paris wedding I attended on Saturday, in the mairie – or town hall – of the 14th arrondissment. He wasn't there with Carla, but he did stand at the front and looked pretty self-important as he draped himself in the Tricolore.

Sarkozy's portrait is required to hang on the wall of every mairie in France. The bride and groom at this wedding were both British, so probably accepted the presence of a large-ish portrait of Sarkozy as of a piece with the strange way the French seem to regard Monseieur Le President – despite the Revolution, as something like a royal, albeit rather more powerful than the Queen. But I did find myself thinking of the three couples in a small town in northern France who last month refused to get hitched under Sarkozy's gaze, and asked the mayor to take it down, which he did.

A member of Sarkozy's ruling UMP party declared himself outraged at this removal, although even he allowed that the portrait might be hung "in the town hall [but] not necessarily in the marriage room". Perhaps it could be relocated to les toilettes?





Core values from Raymond Blanc



At last, a celebrity chef is leading a campaign that is neither about our immoral eating habits, nor designed to promote a concept restaurant at the top of a six-star hotel in Doha. I write of Raymond Blanc's plans to plant an orchard at his Oxfordshire restaurant-hotel, in which he will grow just some of the varieties of apple that supermarkets don't bother selling.

Anybody who has tried to buy a variety other than Braeburn, Granny Smith and Pink Lady will know that, in the pursuit of visual perfection, the modern definition of an apple has become very bland indeed. None of the commonly available types are particularly tart in flavour, and neither do they possess the lovely rough skin that contrasts so well with juicy flesh. Yet there are more than 1,200 native apples, lots of them centuries old and with endearing names too – wouldn't you rather bite into a Hoary Morning or a Laxton's Fortune than a Golden Delicious? – and Blanc has planted 90 of them in his five-acre orchard. You do have to check into his hotel to eat them, but he has made his point. If only supermarkets would take a chance and let the rest of us taste these forbidden fruits.

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