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17-18 June


The truth about race in Britain

Here in Britain, says Tomiwa Owolade in The Times, “we can’t escape the force and influence of American culture”. We watch their movies, follow their politics, know their history. The problem is that this makes people think the two countries are far more similar than they are – particularly on the vexed question of race. Black people make up 14% of the US population, nearly all descended from slaves. In the UK, it’s 4%, a large proportion of whom are “affluent and well-educated” immigrants and their children, not the descendants of enslaved Africans. Historically, we have never been anything like as racially segregated as the US. Frederick Douglass, “one of the greatest black Americans of the 19th century”, was amazed at how much better he was treated in Britain. “Everything is so different here,” he wrote in a letter home. “No insults to encounter, no prejudice to encounter, but all is smooth. I am treated as a man and equal brother.”


Three might be a crowd, but when it comes to having an “enjoyable chat”, Oxford professor Robin Dunbar tells The Times, four’s the magic number. Studies have shown that when a fifth person joins in, the conversation splinters into two groups within about 20 seconds, or turns into a lecture with one person holding court. This is why, for example, SAS patrols and surgical teams work best in groups of no more than four. And it’s something Shakespeare clearly recognised: his plays rarely have more than four significant characters speaking in any one scene. The playwright “instinctively understood the mentalising capacities” of a theatre audience – he didn’t want them “overloaded” by too much on-stage action.


Roger Domeneghetti’s new book on British sport in the 1980s is an “entertaining romp” crammed with colourful anecdotes, says Barney Ronay in Literary Review. There was the time Seb Coe was brutally chastised by his father – in full earshot of waiting journalists – after losing to Steve Ovett in the 800m final at the 1980 Moscow Olympics (“You ran like a c***”). Or when the figure skater John Curry, the first high-profile sportsman to be openly gay, was introduced at a fancy sporting dinner around Christmas 1976 with the words “Here comes the fairy for the tree” – only for the comedian Eric Morecambe to jump up and shout “Disgraceful!” in his defence. Best of all is that during the siege of the Iranian embassy in 1980, the BBC cut between live footage of the SAS storming the building and the World Snooker Championship, sponsored by Embassy cigarettes. It made for commentator Ted Lowe’s unforgettable line: “And now, from one embassy to another.”

Everybody Wants to Rule the World: Britain, Sport & the 1980s by Roger Domeneghetti is available here.


quoted Roux 17.6.23

“Always, always smile when answering the phone. Otherwise people might pick up on your mood. Of course the caller can’t see the smile, but the tone of your voice changes. It’s brighter, warmer and more welcoming.”

Chef Michel Roux giving advice to staff at Le Gavroche


Dictators often have “pretty odd” culinary habits, says Digg. North Korea’s Kim Jong-il liked “slices of sashimi from live fish”; his son Kim Jong-un prefers rice wine “infused with whole snakes”. Aside from bragging about eating human flesh – he said it was “a bit too salty” for his taste – Uganda’s brutal despot Idi Amin would polish off 40 oranges a day, believing it would enhance his sexual prowess. General Gaddafi loved anything that came from a camel: he drank gallons of the ungulate’s milk each day, and was a big fan of “boiled hump with couscous”. Mao Zedong was obsessed with spicy foods, which he associated with socialist “zeal”. “The food of the true revolutionary,” he once told a Soviet agent, “is the red pepper. He who cannot endure red peppers is unable to fight.”


The author Cormac McCarthy, who died this week aged 89, was a famous curmudgeon, says Harrison Smith in The Washington Post. In the few interviews he granted, he talked about “country music, theoretical physics or the behaviour of rattlesnakes” rather than literature. When he was awarded the $236,000 MacArthur “genius” grant in 1981, he carried on cutting his own hair and preparing meals on a hot-plate. And he only ever signed 250 copies of his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 novel The Road, all of which he gave to his youngest son John. When the boy turns 18, McCarthy said, “he can sell them and go to Las Vegas or whatever”.


The landmark

The Hindujas, Britain’s richest family, have transformed the top floor of the Old War Office in London into a 7,700 sq ft penthouse. The furniture and art have been curated by some of the world’s top designers, and it has private lifts, a gym and a games room. There’s also a 4,000 sq ft outdoor terrace, with views of some of London’s most iconic sights. The apartment come with access to the facilities in the hotel that occupies the rest of the building, including a spa complex, pilates studio and nine restaurants. £100m.

The church

This former chapel in Tywyn, Wales, has been converted into an open-plan two-bedroom home. Although some space has been cleared for the kitchen and bathrooms, it still has its original pulpit, columns and gallery seating. For maximum ecclesiastical effect, have a bash on the fully functioning organ. And if the interior doesn’t do it for you, stepping out of the back door and into the divine Snowdonia National Park just might. £375,000.




“Success is relative. It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things.”

TS Eliot