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18-19 December

Behind the headlines

North Shropshire

A crushing defeat for the Tories

The magnitude of the Conservative party’s defeat in North Shropshire can hardly be overstated, says Patrick Maguire in The Times. The Liberal Democrats won the by-election with a 34% swing – “the seventh biggest in history” – overturning a Tory majority of 22,949. It was a seat the Conservatives had held, in one form or another, since 1832. And this crushing defeat – all of it, every last bit of it – is “entirely the fault of Boris Johnson”.

Tomorrow’s world

Elon’s right, we need to have more babies

Father-of-six Elon Musk claims we need to follow his example, says Catherine Bennett in The Observer. “If people don’t have more children, civilisation is going to crumble,” the Tesla founder observed. “Mark my words.” He’s right about the numbers – birth rates in the UK and US are already below “replacement level” and falling. The problem is what to do about it. Programmes to boost birth rates clash with those for educating girls: “The more educated women are, the fewer children they have.” And as much as Musk sets a good example “insemination-wise”, you can’t help wondering who’s doing all the actual parenting. His ex-wife mentions a child-rearing staff of five – a luxury few can afford.


Quoted omicron 18-12

“Just nipping outside to collect a pint of milk and the omicron variant.”

The Telegraph’s Madeline Grant on Twitter


My sad farewell to the joys of smoking

Having been diagnosed with breast cancer, I’m trying to give up cigarettes after 50 years, says Alexandra Shulman in the Daily Mail. It’s tough, because smoking has been “one of the greatest pleasures in my life since I took it up at 13”. My mother smoked, and nothing evokes my childhood like the smell of smoke veiled by “a spritz of Joy or Fracas, or a splash of Bay Rum aftershave”. To my young self, cigarettes were a symbol of adulthood. I started smoking as soon as I could – on the top deck of the bus, in the local burger joint, in boyfriends’ cars, even sneakily at home and school.

Staying young

The body’s killer T cells

Our bodies’ killer T cells are “not known for their mercy”, says Katherine Wu in The Atlantic – and they could “help hold the line against hospitalisations and deaths” in the fight against omicron. Like antibodies, T cells are a crucial part of our immune system. But whereas antibodies are “powerful but simple sentinels” that wander around the body trying to neutralise pathogens, T cells are “immunological assassins”, targeting cells that have already been infected. And when they find one, “their first instinct is to butcher”.


Quoted turkey 18-12

“If it was actually nice people would eat it more than once a year.”

Times columnist Janice Turner on turkey, on Twitter


The country house

It seems the only way is Essex for Rightmove users: this blingtastic home in Chigwell was the most viewed property on its website in 2021. Aspen House has five ensuite bedrooms, a gym, a cinema room and a spa with a pool. There’s an equestrian centre with an Olympic-size riding area in its 52 acres. £15m.

The townhouse

Composer Gustav Holst lived in this Grade II listed Georgian house by the Thames in southwest London. The six-bedroom property has uninterrupted river views from the main bedroom and a wrought-iron balcony, a walled garden, a gym and a wine cellar. It’s a short walk to chichi Barnes village, the common and Barnes Bridge station. £3.5m.

The pied-à-terre

You can recreate the “Say it’s carol singers” scene from Love Actually at this mews house in Notting Hill – Keira Knightley’s character lived next door. A short walk from Westbourne Park Tube station and Portobello Road, it has three bedrooms, an open-plan kitchen-diner and a roof garden with a hot tub. £3.25m.

The cottage

With great surfing, a beautiful beach and a thriving foodie scene, the fishing town of Porthleven is one of the coolest places in Cornwall. This beamed four-bedroom cottage on the seafront has glorious views, a garden, a double garage and heaps of renovation potential. Penzance station is 25 minutes away. £775,000.

The hideaway

Just up the Seine from Giverny, where Monet painted his water lilies, this five-bedroom house in Vernon has beamed ceilings, stone fireplaces and a vaulted cellar. There’s a pool in the garden and a one-bedroom guest house that’s made for Airbnb. Paris is an hour away by train. £678,000.