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23 January

In the headlines

Nadhim Zahawi says he’s determined to remain Conservative Party chairman, despite revelations that he paid a multi-million-pound penalty over unpaid tax when he was chancellor. Boris Johnson is also facing accusations of sleaze, after it emerged that he recommended former banker Richard Sharp for the role of BBC chairman weeks after Sharp helped the then-PM arrange a guarantee on a loan of up to £800,000. More than 40 British universities, including Cambridge, have collaborated with institutions linked to malign activities in China, says The Times. They include bodies connected to the Uighur genocide, nuclear weapons development and espionage. British museums are banning the use of the word “mummy” to describe the remains of the ancient Egyptians, says the Daily Mail, because it “dehumanises” the 3,000-year-old corpses. National Museums Scotland has instead adopted the term “mummified person”.


The Ocean Art underwater photography awards have announced their winners for 2022, including a jellyfish shaking off a hungry crab; sharks circling in the shallows of a Polynesian atoll; a metallic-looking blue dragon; a Taiwanese crab mirrored in the water’s surface; and clownfish peeking out from the fronds of a red anemone. See the full list here.

Inside politics

Let me paint a picture of my Wednesday night at Davos last week, says Jon Sopel in The News Agents podcast. We were at a party in a glorified log cabin. It had gone midnight. There was dancing going on in one room; in the corner of another sat Keir Starmer, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, and Tony Blair. As they chatted – it was Starmer’s first time at the Alpine corporate love-in – two of Blair’s former aides were rushing around the party trying to find “interesting, influential, important people” for Starmer to talk to. “It was like a court of medieval times, as the supplicants were brought to see who might be the new king.”


What anyone born in 1980s Britain will remember, says Morwenna Ferrier in The Guardian, is that whenever the heavens opened, off came the Dunlop Green Flash, and out came a pair of “anthropomorphised, amphibious wellington boots”. Today, almost 40 years later, “they’re back”. Haute Couturier JW Anderson – who made headlines last year for selling a handbag in the shape of a pigeon – has revived the Wellipets brand, launched in 1983 and until recently defunct, sending models down the Milan runway last week in an updated version of the frog-faced footwear. The revived “crogs” come in blue, yellow or “traditional batrachian green”. Ribbit 🐸.

Quirk of geography

The villages of Nahwa and Madha on the Arabian peninsula are a “geopolitical oddity”, says The Economist: an enclave within an enclave. Nahwa, part of the UAE, is entirely surrounded by Oman-controlled Madha – which is itself entirely encircled by the UAE. “On a map they look a bit like a fried egg, with Nahwa as the yolk.” Only a few “double enclaves” exist: there’s one on the Belgium-Netherlands border, and Bangladesh and India had them until 2015.


Spotify data shows how much music has changed over the past few decades, says the Stat Significant newsletter. The average track length jumped from 2min 45sec in the early 1960s to 4min 30sec in the 1990s, before dipping to around 3min 5sec in 2022. Music has become “more danceable”, probably because modern-day musicians make the bulk of their money from live shows rather than record deals. And the days of the extended guitar solos – think Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven – appear to be over; listeners now prefer “lyric-driven music”, particularly rap and hip-hop, with fewer instrumentals.


It’s Teddy Hobbs, who became the UK’s youngest Mensa member, aged three, after registering an IQ score of 139. The baby-faced boffin, from Portishead in Somerset, taught himself to read aged two, and by three could count to 100 in seven languages, including Mandarin and Welsh. Hobbs, now four, likes maths too. He once got “so excited over fractions”, says his mum, Beth, that he gave himself a nosebleed. Beth adds that his extraordinary abilities are both a blessing and a curse. “My friends can say, ‘oh should we have some c-a-k-e’ and their kids will not know what they’re saying, but Teddy will immediately spell it out and want some.”


quoted 23.1.23

“It is better to act and repent than not to act and regret.”

Niccolò Machiavelli