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8-9 July


Why won’t we leave our Covid cages?

What happens when “social creatures are deprived of social contact”, asks Martha Gill in The Observer. It’s the type of experiment that would “get animal rights extremists in a lather” if conducted on monkeys, and yet for three years, we’ve happily tested it out on ourselves. The “main convener of community” – the workplace – has been split up, leaving us sequestered in our homes. Sure, remote working made sense during Covid. But when the “cage doors finally opened”, many of us refused to venture back out into the wild. In 2019, around 12% of Brits surveyed said they had worked from home in the previous seven days; that figure is now 40%, with 16% not going into the office at all.

Quirk of history

In 1963, I met Ian Fleming at his “much-loved” club, Boodle’s, says Algy Cluff in The Oldie. He was “charming and not at all intimidating to a youngster of 23”, though he said he didn’t enjoy the fame he had accrued from writing the James Bond books. “Well,” I impudently asked, “what did you want in life, then?” He replied: “I wanted to be the captain of the Royal St George’s Golf Club.” This club, in Sandwich, inspired the Royal St Mark’s in Goldfinger. Fleming was already the “captain-elect” when I spoke to him, but, tragically, he died the following year in Kent before he could take up the position.


My favourite beach genre is usually the “smart rom-com”, says Janice Turner in The Times, like Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible or Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman is in Trouble. But this year, my favourite read has been Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess: a story of two Goldman Sachs analysts, a black woman and a white man, who navigate race, US politics and background difference in search of love. “There, I’ve made it sound dull and worthy.” Don’t let that put you off. With its “un-PC wit, nerdy intelligence and smashing of shibboleths”, it’s anything but. Click on the titles above to buy.


quoted 8.7.23 West

“I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond.”

Mae West

Inside politics

Enoch Powell is best known for his anti-migration “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968, says Isabel Hardman in The Spectator, but he also played a surprisingly large role in the history of the NHS. When the service was set up 75 years ago this week, it didn’t involve new hospitals or staff, just increased access to healthcare for ordinary people. It was Powell, as the Conservative health secretary in the early 1960s, who managed to wring enough money out of the Treasury to finally replace Britain’s crumbling Victorian hospitals. He also “shocked the healthcare world” with a 1961 speech attacking the practice of locking up the mentally unwell in asylums. Thanks to him, we started down “the very long and potholed road of treating mental illness with greater dignity”.


According to leaked documents, the Kremlin is spending nearly £60m on sprucing up Vladimir Putin’s personal train, say Jörg Schmitt and Ralf Wiegand in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian leader has travelled by rail “almost exclusively”, as it’s much harder to track than going by plane. Though the presidential locomotive shares the same red-and-grey paintwork as other vehicles on the Russian railway, the carriage walls are armoured and can withstand Kalashnikov assault rifles and sniper fire. Inside are all kinds of luxuries, including a “sports and recreation” carriage with a Turkish bath, gym and beauty salon. It was commissioned in 2017 – “after a test drive”, Kremlin officials complained about the lack of rubbish bins in the cosmetics room, and demanded a tatami mat “made of Japanese rice straw”.

Tomorrow’s world

The nine atolls that make up the Pacific nation of Tuvalu are “disappearing under the rising sea”, says The Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast. Scientists predict that because of the world’s carbon emissions, much of the country will be uninhabitable in 30 years, and it could be “gone altogether” by the end of the century. With this in mind, the government has thought up a “novel way” of preserving the islands’ culture for future generations: uploading it into a “digital archive”. Displaced citizens will create online avatars that mirror their speech and actions in recreations of their former villages. Tuvaluans will be able to use the VR system to conduct authentic weddings in their former communities, and participate in national traditions like fatele dancing.


The townhouse

This three-bedroom house on a quiet street in Brockley, southeast London, was shortlisted for multiple architectural awards. The modern interior includes an impressive blackened steel staircase, poured granite terrazzo flooring in the kitchen, and underfloor heating throughout. There’s also a private courtyard garden and plenty of nearby green space. Crofton Park Thameslink station is a three-minute walk away. £850,000.

The country house

This award-winning, four-bedroom house sits in one and a half acres of grounds in Maidencombe, Devon, with sweeping views across Dartmoor and the coast. The 2,500 sq ft interior includes a modern kitchen, a light-flooded dining room, and a bridge that connects the living room with the first-floor terrace. Outside, there’s a large lawn and an orchard of plum and apple trees. £1.5m.



quoted 8.7.23 Twain

“Man was made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired.”

Mark Twain