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9 December

In the headlines

“Is this the beginning of the end” for Boris Johnson, asks Allister Heath in The Daily Telegraph. The PM’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton tearfully resigned yesterday, amid growing anger over government Christmas parties allegedly held during lockdown last year. Meanwhile, Tory backbenchers are furious about the new guidelines on mask-wearing, vaccine passports and working from home, which they have labelled “draconian” and unnecessary. The PM’s wife, Carrie, has given birth to a baby girl. “No, darling, I’m afraid we didn’t keep any of the newspapers from the day you were born,” jokes former Labour adviser Tom Hamilton on Twitter. Officials in Saudi Arabia have disqualified more than 40 entrants to a camel beauty pageant for cheating. With £50m in prize money at stake, it’s no wonder many resorted to Botox and face-lifts for their pedigree animals.

Comment of the day


A damning verdict on Whitehall 

The Foreign Office must be ruing the day it hired Raphael Marshall straight from Oxford University with a double first, says Ross Clark in the Daily Mail. The 25-year-old’s lengthy submission to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee is “perhaps the most damning indictment of the modern civil service ever produced”. Marshall was outraged by the “can’t-do attitude” he encountered when he was put on a desk overseeing the evacuation of Afghans who had helped with the allied occupation. At times he was manning the phones single-handedly. Thousands of desperate emails went unanswered.

The pandemic

What a miserable place Australia is

Australia’s “zero-Covid strategy” illustrates the dangers of single-mindedness, says Louise Perry in The New Statesman. Obsessed with clamping down on transmission, the country has established authoritarian policies that have caused ample “human misery”. One woman, Sarah Haider, experienced pregnancy complications while quarantining in Brisbane – her baby was delivered “behind a surgical curtain” and she wasn’t able to hold or even look at him afterwards. With infections tightly controlled, few people have direct experience of the virus, so most believe the “alarmist reporting” in the Australian media. “It is easy to overestimate the threat of an unknown danger.”




Five honeybee hives survived 50 days under volcanic ash after Cumbre Vieja erupted in the Canary Islands in September. The bees used propolis, known as “bee glue”, to seal their hives, protecting themselves from heat and deadly gases. They feasted on honey until a beekeeper came to their rescue. Fresh rivers of lava burst from the volcano last week, reaching a speed of nearly 20ft a minute as they flowed towards the sea.

On the money

In May 2020 the cost of vaccinating the entire planet was estimated at $25bn. “That’s a lot of money,” says John Lanchester in the LRB. On the other hand, the US military spent $20.2bn a year on air conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq. 


Led Zeppelin’s tour manager Richard Cole, who has died aged 75, was just as much of a hellraiser as the band’s members. He once raced a motorcycle down hotel corridors in Los Angeles and used a samurai sword to chop down the door of bassist John Paul Jones’s room at the Tokyo Hilton. He also acquired a Boeing 720B aircraft so the band could entertain their admirers. Nicknamed the Starship, it had a waterbed and a faux-fur bedspread.


Irish people are the most likely to regret getting drunk, according to the 2021 Global Drug Survey. The Finns and the Danes are the least likely to rue a heavy night.


Quoted 09-12

“I hate myself, I hate clover and I hate bees.”

Charles Darwin


Self-portraits by celebrities have fetched £20,000 at a charity auction for Save the Children. The bestseller was by David Bowie, whose abstract scribble, pictured left, sold for £2,400; Cindy Crawford’s lipstick-embellished sketch raised £200. Not everything was so pricy, says Peter Chappell in The Times. “The cricketer David Gower’s self-deprecating effort, featuring the comment ‘Can I have another go please?’, sold for a bargain £25.”

Snapshot answer

It’s the real-life house from the classic Christmas film Home Alone, which is available to rent for one night only as part of an Airbnb competition. Up to four people will stay in the privately owned property near Chicago on Sunday, for the princely sum of $25. The film’s plot hinges on a burglary, so good luck to the winners, says Meera Navlakha in Mashable. “Hopefully no one actually tries to break in.”