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26-27 November

Tomorrow’s world

Rolling the dice to save the planet

You may not have heard, says Bill McKibben in The New Yorker, but scientists already know how to reverse global warming. It’s called solar geoengineering, and basically involves spraying particles of some “highly reflective” material – probably sulphur dioxide – into the stratosphere to deflect sunlight. This already happens naturally with big volcanoes: an eruption like that of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 can “measurably cool the world for a year or two”. And it’s cheap – climate boffins reckon it would cost only a few billion dollars a year. The thing is, everyone who studies this technique “seems to agree that it’s a terrible thing”. Because the question isn’t whether solar geoengineering can work. It’s: “What else would it do?”

Eating in

In France, potatoes used to be reserved for animal feed, says Jane Stannus in The Spectator. It took an ingenious PR campaign from 18th-century pharmacist and tuber evangelist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier to introduce it into the French diet. He enlisted the help of King Louis XVI, who set a fashion at court of wearing a purple potato flower in his buttonhole. “Marie-Antoinette seconded the king’s efforts by wearing potato flowers in her hair.” Parmentier set up a crop of spuds on a patch of military land – thieves, thinking the soldiers were guarding a prestigious plant, stole some and dispersed them throughout France. In 1795, “Parmentier’s genius was recognised” when a poor wheat harvest was prevented from causing famine thanks to the humble tattie. To this day, his grave in Paris is surrounded by a potato patch. Every now and then, a grateful member of the public comes by to add a potato to the collection on the tomb, marked in pen: “Merci pour les frites.”


“Over millions of years of evolution, nature has worked out solutions to many problems,” says Phoebe Weston in The Guardian. And we humans have “pinched” quite a few of them. Velcro, for example, was invented after a Swiss engineer “marvelled at the burdock burrs that got stuck to his dog’s fur”. To reduce the sonic boom Japan’s bullet trains made when exiting tunnels, their fronts were redesigned “to mimic a kingfisher’s streamlined beak”. And flora and fauna are still inspiring us today. Scientists think the “sticky proteins” that enable mussels to cling to rocks could help them create a non-toxic glue for closing surgical wounds. When ducks swim in a line, a phenomenon called “destructive wave interference” pulls them forward behind the leader so they use less energy to paddle along. Boffins think this could be used to ship goods around the world in more energy-efficient ways, by creating “water trains” of multiple vessels.


quote 26.11.22

“Anyone who says money can’t buy you happiness doesn’t know where to shop.”

Joan Collins


The Afghan general exiled in London

Like countless other political exiles in London, says Colin Freeman in The Daily Telegraph, “Sami Sadat dreams of freeing his country from tyranny”. A dream is all it may ever be: his homeland is Afghanistan, where he was a top general until America “abandoned it to the Taliban” last year. Forced to flee, he has vowed to “raise a new army and return to end Taliban rule”. Sadat is the star of Retrograde, a new documentary that offers an “uncomfortable ring-side seat” on his losing battle with the theocratic warlords. His attempts to rally the troops put him in the “top three” on the Taliban’s kill list, and he had to dodge 17 suicide bombers sent to kill him. One got close enough for the blast to burst his right eardrum.

Quirk of history

Ahead of the 1966 World Cup in England, the Jules Rimet trophy wasn’t exactly well-guarded. Silversmith George Bird would transport it from one display venue to another in his bike’s front basket. Nevertheless, when it was stolen from a stamp exhibition in Westminster, the police and the FA were shocked. Thankfully the mystery didn’t last long: the trophy was found a week later by a dog called Pickles, who rooted it out from under a bush in southeast London. The silverware had been dumped there by Sid “Mr Crafty” Cugullere, a minor criminal who stole it on a whim while he was casing the exhibition for a potential stamp theft. He put it on his mantelpiece as an ornament – until his wife realised what it was and insisted he get rid of it.


The novelist Marcel Proust died a century ago, but coverage of the anniversary has overlooked a crucial point, says Richard Glover in The Sydney Morning Herald: “Why does no one mention how funny he was?” Proust is a first-class satirist. He has a pop at aspiring aristocrats: “the more doubtful the titles, the more space the coronets occupy on the glasses”. He rubbishes German philosophers as wannabe ancient Greeks “with sauerkraut and no rent boys”. It’s always the way in literature that funny novels and funny writers are looked down upon: PG Wodehouse never got a Nobel Prize; Philip Roth won the Pulitzer for American Pastoral rather than the hilarious Portnoy’s Complaint.


The country house

This Grade I listed, nine-bedroom manor is on the outskirts of Plymouth’s Manadon Woods, around 15 minutes from the city centre. It features two large living areas, two spacious kitchens, and a wealth of original features including a Jacobean oak staircase, stained glass doors and moulded granite archways. The home also has three acres of parkland gardens, and is accessed via a sweeping driveway, granting the property complete privacy. Trains from nearby Plymouth station take 3hr 15m to London Paddington. £1.5m.

The townhouse

This two-bedroom apartment is on a quiet street on the outskirts of Brockley, southeast London. The beautifully crafted interior has a generously sized kitchen with an island unit, a large window seat in the living room, and a landscaped garden complete with a raised deck sheltered by an elder tree. The neighbourhood has an array of buzzy bars and eateries, while the nearby Horniman Museum and Gardens hosts a farmers’ market every Saturday. Honor Oak Park and Crofton Park stations are both 10 minutes away. £525,000.



quoted 27.11.22

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”

Oscar Wilde