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7 December

In the headlines

If you think you’ve got a cold, there’s at least a one in four chance you’ve got Covid, epidemiologist Tim Spector tells Times Radio. Omicron will be the dominant variant within weeks and the vaccine booster rollout has come to a “standstill”, says the Telegraph. Fewer than 5% of those who asked the Foreign Office for help during the evacuation of Afghanistan received it, according to testimony to the Foreign Affairs Committee by civil servant Raphael Marshall. Mice that were injected with grape-seed extracts in a scientific study lived 9% longer than those that weren’t – equivalent to a decade for humans. There are “grape expectations” that a similar treatment can be developed for us, says the Daily Star. 

Comment of the day

UK politics

Priti Patel’s “Orwellian” power grab

The government’s new policing and crime bill “wouldn’t look out of place in Soviet Russia”, says Camilla Cavendish in the Financial Times. And ministers are trying to prevent Parliament from scrutinising it. Home Secretary Priti Patel last week added 18 pages to the bill that weren’t there when MPs voted for it in July. These “Orwellian” additions include giving the police power to stop and search people “without suspicion”, and to arrest and imprison protestors who cause “serious unease” to bystanders. It’s dangerously vague language.


Sex and the City crushed my male ego

I watched Sex and the City for the first time 22 years ago “under wincing duress”, says Simon Mills in The Times. I remember “squirming at the sight of thirtysomething women behaving like male predators”, commodifying men in terms of wealth, genital proportion, intellect and sexual technique. The girlfriends dated more than 100 men between them over six seasons, bedding 45 – then chucking them, in “just the same way that we men had objectified women” for decades.

Gone viral

When Elise Harmon blew $825 on a Chanel advent calendar, she thought she’d be getting luxury, says Vanessa Friedman in The New York Times. Instead the Californian opened box after box of tat – stickers, key chains, a miniature snowglobe and a drawstring sack for storing shoes. Harmon documented her dismay on TikTok, racking up more than 50 million views and attracting thousands of furious comments. One simply reads: “You wuz robbed.” Chanel has blocked her on TikTok and deactivated its own account. As Friedman puts it, “hell hath no fury like a social media mob that thinks it has identified a luxury scam”. 

On the money

After the 2003 Sars crisis, the All England Club, which manages the Wimbledon tennis tournament, began paying £1.5m a year to insure against the cost of a pandemic. So when Covid hit and the 2020 tournament was cancelled, “the club trousered cheques totalling £174m”, says John Lanchester in the London Review of Books.


The centuries-old tradition of Turkish fortune-telling has been brought into the internet age. Every day a million people upload pictures of their coffee grounds to an app called Faladdin, then receive a personalised, AI-generated reading within 15 minutes. The company seems to be alert to the problems of mass fortune-telling – one of the FAQs on its website is: “It sent me the same reading that it sent to my friend – weren’t the readings specific to me?”  


Quoted 06-12

“Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but there it is.”

Winston Churchill

Snapshot answer

It’s a 62-year-old Ikea Cavelli armchair, which has sold for £12,473 at a Swedish auction – setting a world record for a piece of the company’s furniture. Vintage Ikea can be a goldmine, says Stuart Heritage in The Guardian: a Kromvik queen bed once went for £4,977, an Impala easy chair for £6,210 and a Skye chaise longue for £3,300. “Look after your Billy bookcase. It might be your retirement fund.”


A train lover from Yorkshire has built Britain’s largest model railway. Simon George, 53, made it over eight years at a cost of £250,000 – the finished article is 200ft long and 50ft wide. Fearing that a passion for toy trains wasn’t sexy, he initially hid his project from his girlfriend, Maria. “She knew I leased a mill with a huge basement,” he told the BBC, “but I kind of led her to believe I was a wine merchant because that sounded cooler than building a model railway.”