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16 August

In the headlines

Britain has become the first country to approve a “next generation” Covid jab which targets both the highly infectious omicron variant and classic Covid. The vaccine will be rolled out this autumn to all over-50s, health workers and those with underlying conditions. A million travellers could see their flights axed after Heathrow extended its passenger cap to include October half-term. The draconian limit of 100,000 daily outbound passengers, which was set to end on September 11, will now last until October 29 because of staff shortages. Climate change means the UK could soon be beating Burgundy at producing world-class red wines, says The Times. A 1.4C rise in summer temperatures over the next two decades means pinot noir grapes will be able to achieve “requisite ripeness” in southern England, which has historically been too chilly for the task.

Quirk of history

Some of today’s most expensive foods were once derided as fuel for the huddled masses, says LifeHacker magazine. When European colonists first arrived in North America, lobsters were so plentiful you could catch them without a net. They were mostly fed to “poorer folks and prisoners”; having lobster tails in your rubbish was a sign of poverty. Sushi began as a cheap way to preserve old fish and fill poor fishermen with protein so they could keep working. Even caviar, first farmed by Russian serfs in the 12th century, was considered nothing more than peasant food and served with porridge until the 16th century, when Ivan the Terrible got a taste for it.

The great escape

I don’t begrudge Boris Johnson going on honeymoon to the “extremely pretty” country of Slovenia, says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. “But I do mind that he went to something called a wellness spa.” The hotel in question promises to “harmonise your rhythm with your inner balance”, and claims that its back yard contains “four energy points with a soothing and therapeutic effect”. Wellness hotels are full of “wet idiots in sliders and dressing gowns”, and it’s hard to get a drink or decent Wi-Fi. Boris “could have gone to Ibiza and bombed around on a jet-ski with a lager and a kebab, but he chose not to. And that shows us the man cannot be right in the head.”

Global update

With the Covid pandemic merely a foggy memory in much of the world, one country is just getting started. The tiny Marshall Islands – population 59,000 – is in the middle of its first ever outbreak of the virus, after relaxing quarantine restrictions in recent weeks. Before last week, the Pacific nation had seen just a handful of cases, all among arrivals from elsewhere. But now Marshallese health secretary Jack Niedenthal says 75% of Covid tests are coming back positive.


Ever the fashion forerunner, Rihanna is “already wearing 2023’s most divisive shoe”, says Vogue: hugely oversized, thigh-high slouchy boots. Designer brand Y/Project recently debuted an array of the outlandish accessories in different colours and materials at Paris Fashion Week. Creative director Glenn Martens says his creations are inspired by “Gothic cathedrals” – they have “a Flemish vibe… like Bruges”.


In a YouGov poll asking the people of Britain how many holes there are in a straw, 54% said there was one and 42% said two. A mathematician like myself would probably go for one, says Kit Yates in The Independent – a straw might be long and thin, but it ultimately has as many holes as a doughnut or a Polo does. But many people understand a hole to be any “depression in a solid body”, or any “opening”, which admittedly a straw does have two of. “Try telling a golfer that the cavity into which they are aiming to sink their ball isn’t a hole.”


It’s a centuries-old “hunger stone” – a carved boulder that lies on a riverbed and is only revealed when the water dries up during extreme droughts. This one, currently in the open air where the Czech Elbe used to be, was engraved in 1616 and reads: wenn du mich seehst, dann weine – “If you see me, weep.”


Quoted 16.8.22

“Thank heavens, the sun has gone in and I don’t have to go out and enjoy it.”

Logan Pearsall Smith