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30 December

In the headlines

Ghislaine Maxwell has been found guilty by a New York court of sex trafficking underage girls for the late financier Jeffrey Epstein. The British socialite, 60, faces up to 70 years in an American prison. With the number of people in hospital with Covid above 10,000 for the first time since March, the NHS is setting up new Nightingale “surge hubs” to increase capacity. The good news is that the average length of stay in hospital appears to be shortening, says The Spectator. During the last wave, 64% of over-80s who survived their infection were discharged within 14 days; this month the figure is 99%. A new Whitehall style guide advises civil servants to avoid using the word “Brexit”. The preferred term is “31 December 2020”, the date when the UK nominally left the EU.



Writers should heed Orwell’s wise words 

In December 1936, George Orwell met American writer Henry Miller in Paris. The two couldn’t have been more different, says Ian McEwan in The New Statesman. Miller, a “tirelessly sexually active” bohemian, had a profound disregard for politics of any kind; Orwell was “deeply engaged in the anti-fascist cause” in Spain and incensed by social injustice in Britain. They parted on friendly terms, despite disagreeing on everything, and Miller gave Orwell his corduroy jacket to keep him warm while fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Inspired by their meeting, Orwell later wrote the essay Inside the Whale, which defends a writer’s “liberty to refuse political engagement”.

Gone viral

A white cat navigating an obstacle course was the UK’s most popular TikTok video this year, racking up 185 million views for Mia the Cat (@mmeowmmia). In third place was a video of a filthy swimming pool being cleaned (@thep00lguy). Other runners-up included Gordon Ramsay’s daughter Tilly dancing in the kitchen and a farmer changing a horseshoe. 


Google has published its most searched-for terms of 2021, and it’s clear what was on British minds this year. The five most frequently asked “When” questions in the UK were:  

1 When will lockdown end?
2 When will I get the vaccine?
3 When does Love Island finish?
4 When does lockdown start?
5 When does Love Island start?  

Tomorrow’s world

Flying taxis, 3D-printed bone implants and delivery drones could all “burst into prominence” next year, says The Economist. “Direct air capture” – essentially sucking carbon out of the sky – is another potential breakthrough, with Canadian company Carbon Engineering set to build a facility in Texas capable of absorbing a million tonnes of carbon a year. Also on the horizon are hydrogen-powered planes: Californian start-up Universal Hydrogen hopes to see a 40-seat plane take off next autumn. 


“Move over tennis and golf,” says Felix Gillette in Bloomberg. The breakout amateur sport of 2021 was pickleball – a game like tennis, but played on a smaller court, with a plastic ball. An estimated 4.2 million Americans play at least once a year, from Silicon Valley billionaires to Florida retirees. Celebrity fans include Kim Kardashian, Larry David and Melinda Gates; George Clooney has built a court at home and Leonardo DiCaprio apparently plays every day, making up the rules as he goes along. 


Quoted 30-12

“All discarded lovers should be given a second chance, but with somebody else.”

Mae West

The great escape

Part of the French West Indies, St Barts is an idyllic island with glorious white-sand beaches and seriously chic boutiques. Stay at the Eden Rock hotel, a sophisticated seaside spot that serves truffled croque-monsieur for lunch and has played host to Greta Garbo, Gore Vidal and assorted Rothschilds and Rockefellers. Book a room with a plunge pool and have a cryotherapy session in the spa, or flop in a lounger on the beach with an alcoholic lolly from the “frozé” cart. Doubles from £2,270 for three nights.