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24 April

In the headlines

Special forces have rescued 24 British diplomats, staff and family members from Sudan, as the bloody power struggle between leading generals continues to escalate. Africa Minister Andrew Mitchell says officials are now “exploring every single possible way” of extracting the 2,000 UK citizens still stuck in the country. Diane Abbott has apologised after being suspended from the Labour Party for claiming that Jewish people do not suffer from racism. In a letter to The Observer, the Hackney North MP said Irish, Jewish and Traveller people merely suffer from “prejudice”, of the sort experienced by “redheads”. Space tourists may have to sign a legal waiver promising to abstain from sex during their cosmic voyage. According to astrobiologist David Cullen, microgravity and radiation could lead to harmful effects on any resulting embryo.


Barry Humphries, who died on Saturday, belonged to a crop of “wonderfully funny” Australians who made their careers in the UK, says Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph. The reason these expats – others included Germaine Greer and Clive James – were so good at seeing the humour in British life is because “they had escaped a country that was almost a parody of it: patriotic, reactionary, dull”. As Humphries once said: “To live in Australia permanently is rather like going to a party and dancing all night with one’s mother.”


The violent power struggle in Sudan reflects a much wider global problem, says The Economist: war is “getting worse”. Conflicts are lasting longer than they used to, from an average of 13 years in the mid-1980s to nearly 20 years in 2021. There are more proxy conflicts: the proportion of wars involving major foreign forces soared from 4% in 1991 to 48% in 2021. And governments are under threat from multiple different actors. In the 2000s, around five countries a year were involved in more than one simultaneous war or insurgency; now it’s 15. Finding a compromise that satisfies two parties is no longer enough – you have to “please dozens of armed groups, any one of which may cock its Kalashnikovs again if unsatisfied”.

Quirk of history

Most iconic food and drinks tend to be consumed in large quantities by the countries that produce them, says Vine Pair. But not Cognac. Just 5.95 million bottles of the celebrated brandy were sold in its native France last year, 2.8% of overall production. It’s because Cognac isn’t really French at all – it was invented in the 17th century by the Dutch, who were looking for something with a long shelf life to give to sailors. The spirit was later popularised by the English (Martell) and the Irish (Hennessy). “In the minds of the French,” says Grey Goose cellar master Francois Thibault, “it’s something made by foreigners for foreigners.”

On the way out

Conservatories used to be “atavistically exotic”, says Andrew Billen in The Times. But now homeowners see the glassy add-ons as a bit naff. According to property site Rightmove, sales of homes with conservatories have halved over the past decade; the “informed talk” is that they can scratch £15,000 off a house’s value. There were just 77,000 installed nationwide in 2017, down from 500,000 in 2006. Much of the decline is due to the “very obvious design flaw” that in colder months – realistically most of the year in the UK – the room becomes “an icebox” that costs a fortune to heat.


You might have thought one of the best places to learn English would be, well, England, says Jonty Bloom in The New European. Not any more. Before Brexit, European children used to be allowed to enter Britain on school trips under a “group passport”. Now that that system has been axed, the number of EU student group visitors has fallen by a whopping 83%. For many, the best place to learn English is now Ireland. The joke doing the rounds in the industry is that “in 20 years’ time, every continental who speaks English will do so with a broad Irish accent”.


It’s a gigantic cargo plane that has been stranded at Toronto Pearson Airport since the invasion of Ukraine. Restrictions on Russian aircraft flying in Canadian airspace left the Antonov An-124 – one of only 26 in the world – in aviation limbo, says The Wall Street Journal. The 240-ft, 150-ton-capacity behemoth has since been parked up on “one of the few stretches of tarmac sturdy enough to hold its weight”. Officials want it gone, but the airline can’t get permission for mechanics to service it. Still, there is one upside: the plane has clocked up airport parking fees of $330,000.


quoted 24.4.23

“Thank heavens, the sun has gone in and I don’t have to go out and enjoy it.”

Logan Pearsall Smith