Skip to main content
The Knowledge logo

26 May

In the headlines

“The Party(gate) is over,” says The Sun, after Boris Johnson defied calls to resign and urged fellow MPs to “move on”. In a bid to do just that, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to announce a £10bn handout to help people pay their soaring bills, partly paid for with a windfall tax on energy firms. Surgeons in Leeds have performed the world’s first double hand transplant for scleroderma, a condition that leaves sufferers’ hands curled up and useless. After initially dismissing the idea as “space-age”, the 48-year-old patient can now turn on the tap and stroke his dog. A self-published American romance novelist who wrote an essay titled How to Murder Your Husband has been found guilty of murdering her husband. Nancy Crampton Brophy, 71, fatally shot her partner in 2018, seven years after writing her homicide guide.

Get The Knowledge in your inbox

signup box

We scour the world’s media sources and bring you the best – all in one place. Sign up to our five minute daily newsletter here.

Pay rises will make us poorer

People seem pretty relaxed about rising prices, says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. Yes, there is some talk about the high inflation of the 1970s, but the general feeling is we “won’t let things get that bad again”. I’m not so sure. The thing about inflation is it “brings its own politics”. Workers going on strike enjoy public sympathy because everyone knows how they’re feeling, creating “huge pressure to accommodate their demands”. But caving in leads to one thing: “more inflation”. If the rail workers who have just voted to strike secure their pay bump, it will lead to higher prices for passengers – who’ll then push for their own pay rises. And so on and so on.

This cycle won’t stop until requests for pay rises are resisted, either by employers or the government, or until rising unemployment dampens demand. Both options involve “people with not very much money having less” – which is why everyone, popularity-craving politicians in particular, push back against it. Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, has been heavily criticised over his calls for wage restraint. But he’s right. And the fact that people aren’t willing to accept that suggests things are going to get much worse before they get better. Do the Tories have the “resolve” to fight wage demands? Do Labour have the “boldness” to oppose striking workers? “I’m not too confident.”

Flapjacks and cheap wine – call that a party?

The “real scandal” of Partygate, says Gus Carter in The Spectator, “is just how sad the whole thing looks”. Most of the so-called parties involved little more than a few tubs of long-life flapjacks and Barefoot wine, “the drink of penniless students and struggling middle-class alcoholics”. Who wants to be cooped up with colleagues for relentless, miserable evenings of Colin the Caterpillar cakes and “wine time Fridays”? Didn’t the poor aides have any friends they could sneak off and see, like everybody else? It’s not just the drinking that was “totally low rent”. When I saw a picture of the Downing Street garden party, all I could think was: “only a civil servant could order a table and chairs that hideous”.

If the government’s going to be corrupt, at least “do it in style”. I was hoping for decadence: a raided Foreign Office wine cellar; Boris and his staff lolling on “vast leather Ottomans”; civil servants “chortling by the fire” while polishing off a “nice bottle of something from 1968”. A wheel of stilton here, an Iberico ham there – maybe “a decanter of port in the background”. Instead, our country’s most powerful figures were sitting around what looked like a “grubby municipal office” eating supermarket snacks. “What a hideous vision of institutional decline.” We once had a globe-spanning empire. Now we “can’t even put on a decent spread”.

Gone viral

These pictures of socially distanced trees have captivated Twitter users. It’s a phenomenon called “crown shyness”, where tree branches narrowly avoid touching each another. Woodland boffins reckon it’s the result of wind, which causes clashing branches to break off, and arboreal intuition: trees can sense light, so they know to stop growing when they near neighbouring foliage.


Demand for exorcisms in Italy is out of control, says The Sunday Times. Knackered priests say they are dealing with as many as 50 cases a day; some are even roping in psychologists “to filter out the many who are mentally unstable rather than possessed”. After a woman in Vincenza starting leaping across the pews of one church, assaulting monks and hurling abuse at them in Latin, Father Giuseppe Bernardi was called to quiet the demons in her with “nine hours of intense prayer”. It’s a “devil of a job”.


Shanghai University has been mercilessly mocked after it moved the mandatory swimming test for students “online”, due to the city’s harsh lockdown measures. The university posted a (now-deleted) notice asking undergraduates to fill out a “Basic Theory of Swimming” test – one Weibo user, above, tried to recreate the practical exam at home.


The word “fish” is plural only when you’re describing multiple members of the same species, says The New York Times. So, 20 yellowfin tuna are fish, but a group of 20 yellowfin tuna plus one skipjack tuna would be fishes. “Bust that out next time you want to blow a 10-year-old’s mind.”


It’s a machine called a HappyCow, which cheers up bored bovines by tickling them with a big brush. Any time a cow rubs up against the device, it spins for about 60 seconds, cleaning and clearly delighting the uddered beast.

Quirk of history

“Dying of laugher” is usually an exaggeration, says Caleb Madison in The Atlantic, but giggly demises actually “litter history”. The ancient Greek painter Zeuxis died because he was chuckling so hard at his portrait of an ugly old woman. Stoic philosopher Chrysippus met a similar fate, chortling uncontrollably after seeing a donkey eating his figs. And modern people aren’t immune: in 1989, a Danish audiologist kicked the bucket while guffawing at a screening of A Fish Called Wanda. “Apparently, the best medicine is also sometimes the sweetest poison.”


quoted 26.5.22

“Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”

Charles Bukowski