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14-15 October

Behind the headlines

The phantom commander of Gaza City

Last weekend’s appalling attacks were masterminded by one man, says Mehul Srivastava in the FT. The supreme military commander of Hamas goes by the nom de guerre Mohammed “Deif”, or “Guest”, because he sleeps in the home of a different sympathiser every night to evade Israeli intelligence. Which makes sense – they’ve been hunting him for decades, and almost killed him 20 years ago in an airstrike that blew off an arm and a leg and left him in a wheelchair. Those who knew him before he vanished into the shadows of Palestinian militancy recall a “quiet, intense man”, utterly single-minded about the Arab-Israeli conflict and “using violence as a means to end it”. Only one grainy photograph of him exists in the public domain.

Inside politics

The James Bond books have long been derided by intellectuals, says Max Hastings in Bloomberg. Even Ian Fleming’s wife regarded them with contempt. But there’s one place where they have always found favour: the White House. John F Kennedy named From Russia With Love as one of his favourite books. George W Bush and Donald Trump have both “invoked 007 with enthusiasm”. Perhaps the most effusive was Ronald Reagan, who said: “James Bond is a man of honour. Maybe it sounds old-fashioned, but I believe he’s a symbol of real value to the Free World.”


quoted 14-10-23 Wilde

“I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”

Oscar Wilde

The village green

This Grade II listed home in the Old Harlow conservation area in Essex has been meticulously updated to complement the timber-beamed house’s 17th-century origins. The five-bedroom property contains canted bay windows, while attic dormers frame leafy views of the village green opposite. Harlow Mill train station is a 15-minute walk, with direct trains to London Liverpool Street in 40 minutes. £750,000.

The hall

This Grade II* listed country house sits on 35 acres of parkland in south Norfolk. Built in 1792, Stanfield Hall retains many original features, including a magnificent Gothic-style stone staircase and a spectacular entrance hall complete with vaulted ceiling, stone fireplace and arched double doors. It has eight bedrooms, a modern kitchen and extensive leisure facilities including an indoor swimming pool, gym and sauna. Norwich is a 30-minute drive. £5m.


Barbra Streisand always had “legendary stage fright”, says Radhika Jones in Vanity Fair, and in her new memoir, My Name is Barbra, she explains why. In 1964, she was performing the musical Funny Girl on Broadway, opposite Sydney Chaplin, Charlie’s son. They had what she refers to as a “flirtation”, but she felt guilty because she was married to actor Elliott Gould at the time, and put a stop to it. This enraged Chaplin. He began “cursing and jeering” at her on stage, just quietly enough for her – and only her – to hear him. This totally threw her concentration, and made her “physically sick”. After completing the planned production run, “she never did Broadway again”.


The exclamation mark is out of fashion in writing now, says Florence Hazrat in The Millions, but that wasn’t always the case. Salman Rushdie uses the unpopular punctuation point an astonishing 2,131 times in Midnight’s Children, an average of six per page. In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway deploys a single exclamation mark as the protagonist tries to spear a giant marlin – “Now!” – only for the fish to escape and live on for another 100 pages. Even Jane Austen was a fan – though you wouldn’t know it. In the original manuscript for Persuasion, Anne berates Captain Wentworth by saying: “You should not have suspected me now… The case so different, & my age so different!” But her editors took the exclamation mark out, presumably deciding – as is so often the case – that it showed “too much eagerness”.


Quoted 15-10-23

“The second day of a diet is always easier than the first. By the second day, you’re off it.”

American actor Jackie Gleason