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21 January

In the headlines

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will hold talks in Geneva today, amid growing fears that Russia will invade Ukraine. President Biden has threatened Russia with severe economic sanctions if it does invade, but former Kremlin adviser Sergei Karaganov told the Today programme that Moscow has “countermeasures which could devastate his country and the countries of his allies”. Tory rebels say they may release a secretly recorded conversation to back up their claims that party whips tried to blackmail them. At least five MPs have been threatened with funding cuts for their constituencies or the printing of damaging stories about them, says the Guardian. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has pledged to stop the “endless torrent” of unnecessary announcements on trains. He calls it a “bonfire of the banalities”.



Broadway gets the blues

Rehearsing for a Broadway show has become an absolute nightmare, says Michael Riedel in Air Mail. Before they even start, the actors and writers have to sit through endless training sessions on Covid protocol, sexual harassment, “equity-diversity-and-inclusion training”, and so on. Then theatres insist on hiring intimacy trainers to offer guidance on love scenes. “You can’t have an onstage kiss without an intimacy coach monitoring every quiver of a lip.” At one particularly woke theatre, the team is trying to banish meetings because they “represent patriarchy”.

UK politics

Can he do another Lazarus?

Boris Johnson has always been a “rule-flouting, outrage-inducing politician”, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. That’s how he was able to get Brexit done and romp home in the 2019 general election with the biggest Tory majority in a generation. England’s Covid restrictions are now being dropped because he correctly overruled the gloomsters at Sage and resisted a winter lockdown. So how shocked should we really be about the “shenanigans” at No 10? Sure, the “hypocrisy” of sending the police after rule breakers while your staff make regular booze runs to the off-licence is not easy to defend. But on the important stuff – vaccines, and keeping lockdowns as short as possible – Boris has had a good pandemic.


Under the Netherlands’ ultra-strict Covid rules, hair salons have been allowed to reopen but cultural venues remain closed. To highlight the “unequal treatment of the cultural sector”, says Vice, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited 50 people to have a haircut on its stage. As they were getting their trim – or waiting for it in the auditorium seats – they were treated to a performance.


A group of polar bears has taken over a Russian island, says My Modern Met. Kolyuchin Island, in the Arctic Ocean, used to be home to a Soviet weather station but was abandoned by humans more than 25 years ago. Once they left, the bears set up camp themselves. They’ve turned the old buildings into “cosy homes” and are, “from the looks of it, thriving”.


Private members clubs for dogs have become a hit with gardenless Manhattanites who want a space for their pets to unwind, says Jane Mulkerrins in The Times. Soho Grand Dog Park – a 3,000 sq ft space with canine-friendly sculptures, vintage fire hydrant water stations and a splash pool – is so popular that there’s a waiting list to join, despite the $795 annual membership. But that’s nothing compared to School for the Dogs in the East Village, a trainer-supervised park for dogs who get “overwhelmed” in public parks. It’s $2,200 for five visits a year.

Staying young

The quest for eternal life has moved up a gear, says MIT Tech Review. Altos Labs, a biotech startup that is trying to reverse the process of cellular ageing, has revealed it has an astonishing $3bn in funding. The Jeff Bezos-backed company has recruited one of the world’s most respected scientists, GlaxoSmithKline’s Hal Barron, to be CEO, along with a roster of top university professors on sports-star salaries. Its focus is on “biological reprogramming”, a technique in which older cells are turned back into immature stem cells.

Love etc

Northern Nigeria, a conservative region where sharia law is enforced for the Muslim majority, has a thriving trade in love potions. One entrepreneur and sex therapist known as Jaruma has more than a million Instagram followers, says The Economist. Her posts sometimes shame politicians who she claims bought her goods but did not pay up. Tonics she offers include “Love me like crazy” and “Divorce is not my portion”. The latter costs $1,200, nearly 17 times Nigeria’s monthly minimum wage.


It’s a neon artwork by Tracey Emin that hangs in Downing Street. The artist donated the piece when David Cameron was PM in 2011, but now wants it removed. “I don’t want the work back, because I donated it,” she told Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. “I would simply like, at the moment, for it to be taken down, because neon is notoriously for a party atmosphere.” And in that regard, Emin added, “I really do not feel that No 10 needs any encouragement”.


Quoted 21.01

“A wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age.”

Singer Meat Loaf, who died last night