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27-29 August

Heroes and villains

Indian air force officers, Lying Down Champion and Tesco

Giles Keating, who has managed the enviable feat of heating a stately home for almost nothing. The 50-room Athelhampton House in Dorset (pictured), which was mentioned in the Domesday book and inspired Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, used to cost £50,000 a year to power. Since buying the property in 2019, Keating has installed 400 solar panels across the estate, along with a network of heat pumps. The system now produces excess energy, which is stored in a collection of Tesla batteries.


When Britain was “blissfully boring”

August used to be “silly season”, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. With no actual news to report, the papers were filled with stories of comically little consequence. In 2003, we learned that the most people you could fit inside a phone box was 14; three years later, the big news was that “cows moo with regional accents”. These non-stories were often ridiculed. “But how we miss them now.” This summer, everything is deadly serious: strikes, inflation, NHS chaos, “seas full of sewage”. It’s miserable. How I long to read about “a parrot that can sing The Archers theme tune”.

Staying young

For those in middle age, there are many “simple DIY tests” you can do to check how healthy you are, says Peta Bee in The Times. If you can stand on one leg for more than ten seconds, both left and right, you’re at a reduced risk of falls, fractures, and other health issues. See how many times you can stand up from and sit down in a chair in 30 seconds: average scores for ages 30 to 60 are 24-25 for women and 25-27 for men; for 60 to 70, it’s 21 for women and 24 for men; for 70 to 79, 17 for women and 19 for men. Another sign you’re in decent shape? If you can get up from sitting cross-legged on the floor without using your hands, arms or knees.

Read the full list of nine tests here.

Long reads shortened

When Washington almost went nuclear

Insisting that a war must end with a victory used to be “deemed a mark of virility”, says Max Hastings in Bloomberg. In 146 BC, for example, Cato the Censor repeatedly told the Roman Senate Carthaginem esse delendam – “Carthage must be obliterated”. In the 21st century, anything even resembling conclusive victory has “become elusive”. Yet people still talk about Ukraine in exactly this context. For them, Kremlin esse delendam.

Staying young

Wellness weirdness is nothing new

Contraception in the Middle Ages was truly bizarre, says Laura Freeman in The Times. One guide, from the 1100s, advised women to carry around weasel’s testicles wrapped in goose skin. Alternatives included a mule’s ear, elephant dung, or “the small bone from a donkey’s vulva”. If none of that worked, a woman could try “putting peppercorns inside her, um, pepper pot”. Medieval prescriptions for gout were no less strange: one involved “stuffing a puppy with sage and snails before roasting it and using the rendered fat as a salve”. Cataracts? Mix a hare’s gall bladder with honey and dab it on the eye with a feather. “Apply nightly, for three nights.”


Middle-aged Hollywood men have started adopting a new persona, says Allie Jones in Bustle: the “hippy dad”. It includes growing your locks out to a bohemian length, keeping your facial hair unkempt, and taking strolls to independent bookshops. Chris Pine is a recent convert, but the real pioneer of this laidback look is Brad Pitt: he’s sporting dishevelled hair, has taken up pottery, and recently “launched a line of $2,000 cashmere button-downs with a spiritual healer”.


Quoted 27.8.22

“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”

Harry Truman


How James Joyce conquered Ireland

To mark 100 years since its publication, I recently read Ulysses for the second time, says Chris Fitzpatrick in The Irish Times. It wasn’t much fun. Aside from a few standout passages, I was mostly wading through “page after page of turgid prose”. And the protagonists just seemed boring: “If Stephen Dedalus walked into a pub I was in, I’d duck.” Short reading sessions, long reading sessions, reference books, audio recordings – I tried them all and nothing helped.

Quirk of history

The first modern lawn was grown at Versailles in the 17th century, says Tom Banham in The Economist. The tapis vert, or “green carpet”, was designed to be an “expression of Louis XIV’s absolute power over the natural world” – much like the rest of the estate’s gardens. The fountains, for example, were so elaborate that at full whack they consumed more water each day than the population of Paris. In an effort to be slightly less wasteful, the engineers “devised a system of whistles to warn each other when the Sun King was approaching, so fountains could be switched on and off as he passed”.


The children’s classics that stay with us

My nine-year-old daughter has read and watched Black Beauty about a dozen times, says Myke Bartlett in The Critic. On every occasion, I can tell from three rooms away “when poor Ginger has carked it”; when she recently read me the final line, “her voice cracked”. It reminds me of “how important melancholy is to children’s fiction”. Nowadays the idea of exposing kids to sadness “feels quite counter-cultural”. Popular titles boast endless optimism, like You Are a Champion, penned by footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford, and Jess Sander’s You Are Enough: A little one’s guide to embracing self-love. But shielding children from any tinge of trauma denies them both the joy of literature and the life lessons it offers.

Eating out

Mezli, in San Francisco, is “the world’s first fully robotic restaurant”, says Eater. It opened in San Francisco yesterday, and is essentially a large, refrigerated shipping container stuffed with machines that portion out ingredients, heat the meals up and present them to diners. The food itself – Mediterranean-style bowls – is prepped offsite by a couple of “good old-fashioned carbon-based” humans. But the robots take care of everything else, “serving hundreds of meals without any human staff”. With few people needed on the payroll, Mezli can offer food at a lower price than most rivals. Whether it tastes any good is for “hungry San Franciscans to judge”.


Quoted 28.8.22

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”

Dorothy Parker in a book review

On the money

The most expensive liquid in the world

“Horse semen is a big business,” says Isobel Thompson in The Fence. With breeders desperate to produce the next champion equine, one sample of the stuff can go for six figures. The ejaculate of Galileo, a stud who was put down last year aged 23, was reportedly worth £40m a gallon, making it “the most expensive liquid in the world”. Each “exertion” of another horse, Dubawi, costs £250,000. Darren Blanton, a Texan once dubbed the “Cowboy Venture Capitalist”, claims to own £16m in frozen semen produced by a single stud.

Love etc

The trouble with toy boys

There’s been a “flurry” of stories recently about the “great and life-enhancing” practice of older women sleeping with younger men, says India Knight in The Sunday Times. Author Melanie Blake, 45, has written about having “three lovers in their twenties”. In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, Emma Thompson stars as a “repressed middle-aged widow” who has a sexual awakening with a younger male prostitute. All too often, mature women hook up with youthful men for sex, then publicly trumpet the fact “as if it were cool”. But publicly trumpeting “the excellence of the sex you’re having” is most definitely not cool.


Archie Norbury was just four years old when he was listed by Guinness as the world’s youngest club DJ, says BBC News. Three years on, the seven-year-old “DJ Archie” has spent the summer playing to 20,000-strong crowds at Boomtown and Raver Tots festivals. “I felt quite scared at first,” says the mini mixing master, but “I just play all the tunes and they get hyped up”. Archie largely spins drum and bass – “I like the beats and the drop” – and between live shows shares new mixes with his 55,000 TikTok followers. Next year, he’s eyeing a spot on the Glastonbury line-up; after that, the dream is to be “really famous”. And, of course, to “show off to people”.



This sprawling, Category A listed castle sits on the bank of Bardowie Loch, a 25-minute drive north of Glasgow. The eight-bedroom property still boasts many of its 16th-century features, including the oldest privately owned beamed ceiling in Scotland – believed to be around 500 years old – and ancient stone carvings on the walls. The seven acres of gardens include a tennis court, a jetty and a paved patio with views over the water. £2.25m.


This luxurious houseboat is moored at Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, west London. The vessel’s 1,850 sq ft interior includes a drawing room, an open-plan kitchen and two double bedrooms, both with en-suite bathrooms. It also has underfloor heating throughout, and a large, wood-panelled terrace offering views across the Thames. Imperial Wharf station is an 18-minute walk away. £1.65m.


A Panama-based start-up has unveiled a futuristic fleet of rounded, three-storey homes that sprout out of the sea on long steel stalks. Each SeaPod will have 833 sq ft of living space, including a luxurious kitchen diner with glass sliding doors. Small boats will be on hand to ferry residents back to land, while essentials like food and medicine can be ordered online and delivered by drone. The watery residences, priced between $295,000 and $1.5m, should also help grow thriving underwater ecosystems, with sea creatures using their shady undersides for shelter. Production on pods is scheduled to begin next year; reserve yours here.


The Royal Meteorological Society has released the shortlisted images for 2022’s Weather Photographer of the Year. Selected shots include lightning striking a Chinese skyscraper, a partially frozen Niagara Falls surrounded by dangling icicles, and sheets of water cascading down a Cumbrian dam. View the whole shortlist here.


Quoted 29.8.22

“The heart, like the stomach, wants a varied diet.”

Gustave Flaubert