Skip to main content
The Knowledge logo

25-26 February


Following in JFK’s footsteps

“Why did Kate Forbes do it?” wonders Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. After years in frontline politics, the “smartest woman in Holyrood” must have been aware of the inevitable backlash she’d face by declaring her opposition to gay marriage. “Yet she did so anyway: immediately, almost proudly.” Even though she emphasised that she wouldn’t try to change the law, Forbes was denounced as a bigot and her backers in the SNP leadership race peeled away. Callers told a BBC Radio phone-in they’d feel “unsafe” with her in power; one even compared her with the Taliban. She appears to have torched not just her campaign, but likely her political career. “Why?”

Staying young

“It is no exaggeration to say that caffeine is a boon to humanity,” says Arthur Brooks in The Atlantic. The food writer Michael Pollan argues that its arrival in Europe in the 17th century “transformed the economy through enhanced productivity, innovation and safety”. More recently, coffee has been shown to reduce all-cause mortality, cut levels of fatty acids linked to diabetes and cancer, and encourage the body to clean out “cellular trash”. Sure, it has some bad qualities: the more you drink, the more caffeine you need to get your hit. But “this ‘problem’ is really just an opportunity to enjoy more coffee”. My Spanish mother-in-law, who died last summer aged 93, drank multiple cups a day – and she was “the happiest person I knew”. Her secret was simple: el amor, la fe, y el café – love, faith, and coffee. “That sounds exactly right.”


The earliest known skis date back to 8000 BC and were found in Northern China, says Flashbak. They were made of two-metre-long pieces of wood and covered in horsehair. “As equipment goes, they were probably not conducive to a gold medal at an Olympic Winter Games.” It wasn’t until 1928 that a Salzburg accountant named Rudolph Lettner had the bright idea of adding metal blades to the sides of his skis, after nearly sliding to his death when the sharp edges of his wooden ones wore away. In 1936, the chairlift was invented and downhill skiing had become popular enough to feature in the Winter Olympics. The alpine resort boom that followed coincided with a golden age of poster adverts. See more here.

Quirk of history

During the Second World War, American officials decided every soldier should be given a novel, says Brianna Labuskes in LitHub. These “Armed Services Edition” paperbacks were specially designed to carry into war: sized to match the dimensions of an army uniform’s pocket, with text set out in two columns so that the soldiers didn’t strain their eyes with long sentences. Troops were sent an eclectic range of titles, “from classics to Westerns”, but the servicemen’s favourites were books that reminded them of everyday life at home, like Rosemary Drachman Taylor’s Chicken Every Sunday. “They are as welcome as a letter from home,” wrote one GI. “They are as popular as pin-up girls.” One soldier remembered hearing “laughter coming from the foxhole between bursts of the Germans’ anti-tank guns”, as a serviceman read aloud a particularly entertaining passage from Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.


Quoted 25.2.23

“An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have: the older she gets, the more interested he is in her.”

Agatha Christie


Sally Mapstone, principal of the University of St Andrews, got in trouble recently for telling staff they shouldn’t wear corduroy. Personally, says Pilita Clark in the FT, I have a “secret fondness for bosses with such foibles”. Longtime FBI head J Edgar Hoover was so obsessed with weight that he subjected agents to surprise weigh-ins. Tyler Brûlé, founder of the Monocle media group, is known for loathing green pens and jackets hung on the back of chairs. Former Tatler editor Kate Reardon hated messy desks so much that staff cleared away everything – from in-trays to pencil holders – at the end of each day. Dealing with these neuroses is probably a bore for employees. But “the world would be a far duller place if all the bosses who harbour such passions were never able to air them”.


A friend once asked me if I ever got “in the boxing ring with Norman Mailer”, says James Marcus in the Times Literary Supplement. It wasn’t an absurd question: Mailer was a boxing fanatic, and “had a habit of sparring with his youthful admirers”, my friend among them. “I never hit him in the head,” my pal assured me. “I didn’t want to wipe out any of Mailer’s brain cells.” Once, in the greenroom before appearing on a late-night chat show, the pugnacious author headbutted his literary rival Gore Vidal. He was even buried in his boxing regalia ­– “a fighter to the end”.


The estate

This $200m compound on the island of Mustique is the most expensive home ever to come on sale in the Caribbean. Built in 1986, it is set across 17 acres and nine separate structures. The main villa is a nine-bedroom, 16,000 sq ft residence designed by the architect Tom Wilson as an homage to 16th-century Italian palaces. Other features include three swimming pools, several guest cottages, and a 12,000 sq ft entertainment space connected to the main building by a 60-foot tunnel. Barbados is a 45-minute flight. Put your offer in here.

The town house

This Grade II-listed, three-bedroom home has a coveted position at the heart of the historic market town of West Malling, Kent. Built as a vicarage in the 18th century, the property boasts elegant French windows and an original Regency door. Inside, a glass cupola above the curved atrium staircase illuminates the hallway even in the depths of winter. Trains to London Bridge from nearby West Malling station take 40 minutes. £1.3m.



quoted 25.2.23 Markoe

“It’s like magic. When you live by yourself, all your annoying habits are gone!”

American writer Merrill Markoe