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31 October

In the headlines

Boris Johnson lacked the skills to deal with the pandemic effectively, one of his former top aides told the Covid inquiry this morning. Lee Cain said the then PM would often delay making key decisions and change his mind on the big issues. Dominic Cummings is giving evidence this afternoon. The World Health Organisation has warned of an imminent “public health catastrophe” in Gaza, as Israel’s ground invasion continues. Labour MP Andy McDonald has been suspended for using the phrase “between the river and the sea” – widely considered an implicit call for the destruction of Israel – at a pro-Palestinian rally. Celebrities have already set a high bar for Halloween costumes this year, says Variety. Top outfits so far include singer Chlöe Bailey’s Game of Thrones homage; Hailey Bieber aping Carmen Electra’s turn in Scary Movie; Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly as characters from Kill Bill; and Lizzo as the late Tina Turner.


To mark Halloween, Atlas Obscura has announced the winners of its annual Spooky Snaps Photo Contest. They include eerie images of a rusty barber’s chair in an old Philadelphia prison cell; a giant, mouthless bust of US President Chester A Arthur in Virginia; a graveyard statue in a Paris cemetery; a wheelchair at an abandoned psychiatric centre in New York; and the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. See the full list here.


Fourteen years after George W Bush’s presidency ended, says Axios, he is still younger, at 77, than the frontrunners for the next election: Joe Biden is 80, Donald Trump is also 77, but a month older than Bush.


Standing out in the “saturated market of celebrity tequila” isn’t easy, says Danielle Cohen in The Cut. So you have to admire Matthew McConaughey, who recently launched Pantalones Organic Tequila with his wife Camila. Pantalones is Spanish for trousers, and in the first promo the couple ride motorbikes through fields of agave, entirely naked from the waist down. They claim they’re trying to inject some “fun” into tequila. But watching them zoom through the “dusty, dry desert” wearing nothing but a shirt, I was just “overcome with concerns about chafing”.

Quirk of language

Americans have all sorts of names for ghosts, says Mental Floss. In the Pacific Northwest, you might encounter a “skookum”; in the south, a “bugaboo” or a “catawampus”. There are “duppies” in Louisiana, “swogons” in Maine, and “plat-eyes” in South Carolina. Some of the ghoulish names are more specific: a ghost that lives in a mine is a “tommyknocker”; an imaginary creature that always hides behind an object a “hide-behind”. And if you’re ever in Alabama, steer clear of anyone who might be a “hot steam”, described in To Kill a Mockingbird as “somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads”.

On the money

Range Rovers have become “virtually impossible to insure” in London, says The Daily Telegraph. The top-end SUVs are Britain’s most stolen vehicles – three times more likely to be pinched than a Mercedes-Benz, the second-most pilfered marque. For a 35-year-old woman with six years of no claims trying to cover a Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic in the capital, the average quote on insurance site Quotegoat is £22,515. For the same driver in Sussex, it’s £1,978.


It’s Princess Leonor, heir to the Spanish throne, who turns 18 today. Her birthday will be marked by a formal ceremony at parliament in Madrid, and then a (presumably less boring) party at the Royal Palace. The infanta has been kept out of the limelight – she went to school in a remote castle in Wales – but there is already talk in Spain of “Leonormania”. Earlier this year, there were rumours she was going out with Spanish footballer Gavi. That turned out to be nonsense, says the BBC, but it highlighted the appetite for the princess to be a part of pop culture. ¡Ay dios mio!


Quoted 31-10-23

“Knowledge isn’t power until it is applied.”

American writer Dale Carnegie