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18 January

In the headlines

Ukraine’s interior minister has been killed in a helicopter crash in east Kyiv. The cause of the incident – which left 15 dead in total, including three children on the ground – is unknown. Bringing cake into an office is a health hazard like passive smoking, according to the head of the Food Standards Agency. Though we like to think we make “informed choices”, says Professor Susan Jebb, our environment – like a smoky pub or a snack-heavy workplace – has a big impact on our health. The BBC’s FA Cup coverage last night was interrupted by loud moans from a porn film, says The Sun, after a prankster taped a phone to the back of the set. Watch “match of the wahey” here.

British politics

What my daughter’s wheelchair taught me about the NHS

“Where there is great waste, shortage follows,” says Dominic Lawson in the Daily Mail. Nowhere is this truer than in the NHS. In 2016, my daughter Domenica, who has Down’s syndrome, fractured her leg. She came home from hospital in a “light and easy-to-fold” wheelchair, presumably worth thousands of pounds. But when I called to ask about returning it, no one was interested. I eventually packed it into my car and abandoned it in a hospital corridor. When we returned to the hospital years later because Domenica had broken her ankle, there were no wheelchairs available. I couldn’t help but wonder how many had been flogged on eBay since our last visit. I ended up renting one from the Red Cross, where the assistant told me: “This happens all the time.”

On the way back

Two beavers, Chompy and Hazel, have this week been released into the wild in Hampshire, marking the first time in 400 years that the animal has lived there. It’s official, says Dazed – 2023 will be “the year of the beaver”. The rodents are basically “climate activists”: they build dams that reduce flooding, help store water for droughts and boost local wildlife. They’ve also been helping Ukraine’s war effort, by churning up the terrain at the Belarusian border so that it is “marshy and impassable” for Russian soldiers. Plus, of course, their “chubby little cheeks and rubbery little tails” are really sweet. “Hot dam!”

On the money

Forget investing in Bordeaux, says The Times – you may be better off putting your money in whisky. According to the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, rare Scotch rose in value by 428% between 2011 and 2021, considerably more than classic cars (164%), fine wine (137%), watches (108%) and art (75%). Among the most popular bottles are those from “silent distilleries” that have long been closed, such as Port Ellen, Rosebank and Ladyburn.

Gone viral

“The latest TikTok star is canned tuna,” says The Wall Street Journal. Videos tagged #TinnedFish have had more than 25 million views, boosting year-on-year sales by more than 10%. To cash in on the fishy fashion, sellers are collaborating with influencers to advertise new varieties featuring flavoured olive oils, tomato sauces and spices. These top-tier tins, typically decorated with pastel hues and snazzy labels, cost as much as $20 a pop. It’s not about repackaging a “standard tuna sandwich”, one marketing director explains, but proving “it’s possible to have a gourmet experience with a can of tuna”.

The great escape

Condé Nast Traveller’s Aaron Millar picks seven new “wonders of the world” every year. “Wonder is nourishment for the soul,” he says, but you can’t just keep going back to the pyramids. His choices for 2023 include France’s “fairytale” Mont Saint-Michel; Bhutan’s “precarious” Tiger’s Nest Monastery; Argentina’s “jagged, turquoise” Perito Moreno Glacier; and Britain’s “spectacular” Lake District – “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”, according to Wordsworth. See the full list here.

Quirk of history

Until 1998, says writer Ned Donovan on Twitter, “a point of order during a vote in the House of Commons could only be made while wearing a hat”. The doormen to the chamber kept a collapsible opera top hat “solely for this purpose” – as shown in the clip above, from 1994, when Tory MP Tony Marlow donned the parliamentary headpiece. The tradition is thought to stem from a rule that such interventions had to be made while seated, so the hat made it easier for the MP in question to be identified.


It’s an experimental laser lightning rod. Traditional metal rods can’t cover large areas, says The Guardian, or places where you wouldn’t want a tall tower, like an airport. So Swiss scientists are trying to use massively powerful lasers instead, stripping out electrons from the surrounding air to attract the lightning. The technology is still at a (very) early stage, and it requires the combined energy of two nuclear power plants. But the experiment, on Säntis mountain in Switzerland, was a success – the lightning changed course and travelled safely down the laser.


quoted 18.1.23

“Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov