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11-12 February

Tomorrow’s world

Decoding the language of animals

There were numerous attempts in the 20th century to teach human language to animals, says Karen Bakker in Scientific American. But apart from a young gorilla called Koko who learned to “talk” using 1,000 hand signals, those efforts all failed. Today, rather than trying to find out whether bees can speak English, scientists are trying to decode the language they already use with one another. “Bioacoustics” researchers are installing a new generation of tiny microphones everywhere from the Arctic to the Amazon, and on the backs of deep-diving turtles and high-flying birds. Advanced AI then scans the “data deluge” these recorders log, in a bid to spot “patterns in non-human communication”.

Love etc

Roses haven’t always symbolised “courteous romance”, says Matthew Wilson in The Spectator. They used to be considered quite smutty, with an association stretching back to the classical world with “decadence, immorality, and rampant sexual desire”. The “pouting red blooms” in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Venus Verticordia (above) so offended art critic John Ruskin “that he refused to continue his friendship with the painter”. And according to one “well-known rumour”, the “Rosebud” of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane alluded to a private joke: William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for the title character, used it as the codeword for his mistress’s “pudenda”.

Inside politics

“It’s much tougher for ex-MPs than people realise,” says Rory Stewart on The Rest is Politics. Back in the day, former ministers went off to run nationalised industries or sit on the boards of big companies. But the former is no longer an option, and the reputation of MPs has fallen so much that the latter rarely happens either. As a result, many end up in the miserable world of lobbying and public affairs. I remember sitting in the House of Commons coffee shop as an MP, watching my former colleagues “very politely making their way from table to table, with strange packets of leaflets”. They’d come over and say, “Rory, can I have a word with you, I’m now representing this company”. They never seemed to think it would go anywhere – they just wanted to be able to tell their company that they’d spoken to several MPs that day. It looked like “pretty depressing” work.


Quoted Wilde 11.2.23

“There are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

Oscar Wilde


We’re living in a “new age of etiquette”, says James Marriott in The Times. Friends in academia tell me meetings now begin with attendees explaining to everyone what they look like (“My name is James, I’m a white man in square glasses wearing a white shirt with one too many buttons undone”). Apparently, it’s to make the partially sighted feel more comfortable. The courtesies are even more extreme in corporate America. Microsoft kicked off a recent conference by formally acknowledging that the land they were on “was traditionally occupied by the Sammamish, Duwamish, Snoqualmie, Suquamish, Muckleshoot, Snohomish, Tulalip, and other coastal Salish people since time immemorial”. I’m not sure this will catch on in the UK. There’s just less of a ring to “we want to acknowledge that this land has been traditionally occupied by dukes of Westminster”.

Love etc

Forget the steaks, lobsters, truffles and oysters that usually feature on Valentine’s Day menus, says Emily Heil in The Washington Post: the most romantic dish of them all is the humble roast chicken. Back in the 1980s, there was a famous dish – the lemon-stuffed “engagement chicken” – that supposedly helped four staff at Glamour magazine bag a marriage proposal within days. More recently, Prince Harry revealed that he proposed to Meghan while roasting a chicken. And as food blogger Adam Roberts says, “you can tell a lot about a person’s sexual prowess by how they tackle the bird. If they use a knife and fork, they’re a snooze in the sack. If you see them tearing it apart with their hands… that one’s a keeper.”


The apartment

This one-bedroom flat in East Dulwich, south London has an open-plan kitchen and dining room with two large bay windows. Looking out over the tree-filled Goose Green, it is close to the area’s many chi-chi shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Peckham Rye and East Dulwich train stations, with services to London Bridge, are each about a 10-minute walk. £450,000.

The eco house

This award-winning three-bedroom property is in a conservation area in west Cambridge. The L-shaped single-storey building is made of natural materials, has an underground storage tank to harvest rainwater, and uses solar panels for the hot water supply. The city centre is a 20-minute walk. £2.5m.



quote 11.2.23 Coolidge

“When you see 10 troubles rolling down the road, if you don’t do anything, nine of them will roll into the ditch before they get to you.”

Calvin Coolidge