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20 October

In the headlines

Keir Starmer says Labour are “redrawing the political map” after overturning huge Conservative majorities in two by-elections. The party won Tamworth with a 23.9% swing – the second highest in post-war by-election history – and overcame a 24,664 majority in Mid Bedfordshire, which has had a Tory MP since 1931. The party in power usually loses by-elections, says polling guru John Curtice on the Today programme, but “these were not ordinary government losses”. Egyptian diggers are trying to repair the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, as more than 100 trucks wait to deliver food, water and medical supplies to the Palestinian territory. The frontier was heavily damaged in Israeli airstrikes last week. Residents in Kent thought the world was ending yesterday morning, when the sky lit up in a mysterious glowing pink colour. The horror-inducing hue turned out to be artificial light from a massive greenhouse growing 400 million tomatoes. 👽🍅


Photographer Nicholas Steinberg has found a way to capture the dynamic beauty of the San Francisco Bay area, says Moss and Fog, creating “iconic, peaceful visions of nature”. From his favourite vantage point in Mount Tamalpais State Park, the clouds look like ocean waves against vibrant sunrises and sunsets. See more of his pictures here.

Eating out

A London banker has been sacked for expensing food for two people and claiming he scoffed it all by himself. Citibank launched an investigation after Szabolcs Fekete returned from a work trip to Amsterdam and submitted one claim for two sandwiches and two coffees, and another for two pasta dishes. After initially insisting that the hefty meals – each of which fell well within the firm’s €100 daily allowance – was due to him skipping breakfast, he later admitted that he had in fact shared the ill-gotten grub with his partner.


JK Rowling knows how to thank her supporters, says Private Eye. In June last year, the Kensington restaurant Il Portico had its windows smashed after its owner publicly supported the author’s right to speak on trans issues. In Rowling’s latest Cormoran Strike novel, The Running Grave, one of the protagonists hosts a key meeting at Il Portico. “Robin is pleased to find it smaller and cosier than she’d imagined, given its upmarket location,” writes Rowling, adding that Robin’s dining companion thinks the restaurant serves “the best pasta in London”. A few pages later, we read that Robin “took one mouthful of her tagliatelle with ragu and let out a moan of pleasure. ‘Oh my God, you weren’t wrong.’”

Inside politics

During the 1985 Geneva Summit, says Historic Vids on X (formerly Twitter), there was a moment when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev “paused their negotiations and went for a walk”. It was only in 2009 that Gorbachev revealed what they had been discussing. “Reagan suddenly said to me, ‘What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?’” The Soviet leader’s response? “No doubt about it.”


The late Silvio Berlusconi’s taste in art wasn’t up to much, says BBC News. Heirs of the former Italian PM are having to sort through the 25,000 paintings he accumulated over his life, now held in a 3,200 sq m warehouse close to his villa near Milan. The pieces, often bought “from late-night telesales programmes”, have an average value of just €800 each. In some cases, the cost of exterminating the woodworms infesting the collection “exceeds the value of the paintings”.


It’s Lavinia Valbonesi, soon to be the world’s first Gen Z first lady. The 25-year-old health and fitness influencer is married to Daniel Noboa, who won Ecuador’s elections on Sunday. They met when Noboa, the heir to a banana fortune, approached her for advice on losing weight in 2021. He was still married to his first wife at the time, and Valbonesi said it wasn’t love at first sight. “But he is a fairly persistent person,” she told Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo, “and he ended up conquering me, after many months.”


Quoted 20-10-23

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

Albert Camus