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29 March

In the headlines

Roman Abramovich is attending peace talks between Russia and Ukraine today despite claims he was poisoned by “Moscow hard-liners” at a previous summit, says the Daily Mail. The Russian oligarch reportedly went blind for several hours, and had skin peeling off his face and hands. Twenty “Partygate” fines will be handed out to Whitehall and Downing Street staff today as part of the police investigation into illicit knees-ups during lockdown. The fixed penalty notices rather undermine the PM’s claim that “no parties took place and that the rules were followed”, says Politico. Having just basked in 20C temperatures, Britain is facing “snow up and down the country” later this week, says the Daily Mirror. Temperatures could drop as low as –6C in Scotland and –2C on the south coast of England.

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Russia’s plummeting people power

“Russian power has always been built on the foundation of demography,” says Paul Morland in UnHerd. At the beginning of the 20th century, the country’s population was 136 million – and booming. The German historian Friedrich Meinecke fretted over the “almost inexhaustible fertility” of the Slavs, and in the Second World War it was “the endlessness of Russian manpower” that eventually ground down the Nazi army. “We confronted a hydra,” said the German Field Marshall Erich von Manstein. “For every head cut off, two new ones appeared to grow.”


The fastest way to stop Putin

Plenty of people now talk about the “supposed naivety” of globalisation, says Rainer Hank in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. They say the war in Ukraine has shown the dangers of “making the global economy too closely intertwined” – Germany’s dependence on Russian gas and oil, for example, limits how we can sanction Vladimir Putin. This ignores the upside: these networks of trade mean we can react to Putin’s “barbarism” with an “economic war” that properly punishes him, and yet doesn’t escalate the military situation. We could never have done this with the Soviet Union, which was “hardly integrated” into the world economy to begin with.


Professional gardeners have a new weapon: handheld “zappers” that electrocute weeds to death without harming surrounding plants. The Rootwave Pro, which costs about £12,000, delivers a 5kV shock to plants that sends electricity coursing through their roots, boiling their cells in the process, says The Times. Transport for London, which has been using the “electricide” tech to tackle Japanese knotweed, says a three-man team with the tool can achieve the same results as 12 people using the herbicide Roundup.

Staying young

Kindly boffins at the University of Auckland have invented a foot-tickling machine that creates “the optimal stimuli” for uncontrollable laughter, says New Scientist. The ingeniously named “TickleFoot” has three magnet-driven brushes and can be inserted into any normal shoe. It is designed to relief stress or – when operated from afar – to provide “remote social interaction between couples”.


Italy’s population of 59 million drink 30 million espressos a day. Now the country wants Unesco to recognise its distinctive caffeine habit on the organisation’s “intangible cultural heritage” list, alongside other Italian traditions like pizzas, puppet theatre and truffle hunting.


It’s a £62,000 golf buggy of the kind the Queen uses to zip around Windsor Castle. Nicknamed the “Queenmobile”, the cart comes with a fridge and Bluetooth speakers, and can reach speeds of 43mph.

Quirk of history

During the D-Day landings, Brigadier Simon Fraser had a private piper, says India Knight in The Sunday Times. Bill Millin, a 21-year-old Scot, wore the kilt his father had worn during the First World War, and played Highland Laddie “as he waded ashore through the waist-high, already bloodied water”. As the fighting continued he then walked slowly up and down the beach, playing Road to the Isles. Later, Millin “piped” his fellow soldiers through a village – a situation so dangerous he had to do it while running – and across a bridge while under sniper fire. He survived the war and lived until 2010.

On the way back

The Charles Dickens Museum, which has been reinstated on TikTok after a temporary ban. The north London institution’s account was made unsearchable because it has the word “dick” in it. The confusion has since been cleared up, and the video-sharing app says it has “great expectations for the museum’s success”.


quoted 29.3.22

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”