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All the week’s wisdom in one place
7-13 June 2023

Behind the headlines

Could AI wipe out humanity?

This week, more than 350 artificial intelligence experts signed a 22-word statement warning that humanity faces “extinction” unless the risks of the technology are properly mitigated. The big danger, says the so-called “godfather of AI” Geoffrey Hinton on The Daily, is that these machines will stop at nothing to achieve what we ask them to do. Say you tasked an advanced AI with making money for you: it would happily break into an online banking system and steal funds, or buy oil futures and foment a revolution in Central Africa to boost prices. These machines are essentially “psychopaths”, devoid of any moral compass.

Staying young

“Miss Perpetual Motion” at 90

I once asked Joan Collins for the secrets of her success, says Gyles Brandreth in The Oldie. “How many do you want?” she replied, not batting an eyelid. “Five,” I replied, ambitiously. She nodded, “narrowing her eyes”, and began. “One, energy. Mine is God-given. My mother used to call me Miss Perpetual Motion because I never kept still. Two, exercise. Use it or lose it. That’s true of everything. If you stop talking for a week, your tongue would atrophy. Three, optimism. Cultivate it. Do you know the story of the twins who went into the shed full of horseshit? The first boy said, ‘Ugh, this place smells terrible.’ The second boy said, ‘Mmm, horse shit… There must be a pony here somewhere.’ Four, work, work, work. If you want to do something, do it for yourself. Nobody ain’t going to do it for you. Five, live for today. Remember yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Her secrets have served her well: this week she turned 90. It’s hard to believe, “even when you look very closely – and I have”.


Serendipity in the book stacks

For the capital’s “writers, thinkers and actors”, the London Library is a haven, says Daisy Dawnay in Air Mail. Everyone from Virginia Woolf to Charles Darwin has ascended the “grey stone steps at the northwest corner of St James’s Square”. For the £49-a-month membership – less than half the cost of a hot desk at WeWork – attendees rub shoulders with the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Kazuo Ishiguro and Simon Schama. The library’s steel stacks hold more than a million books categorised by subject, leading to a “wonderful serendipity” for readers. “I’ve got a book out now – Chasing the Sun, by Linda Geddes – all about the effect of sunlight on our bodies,” former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman tells me. “I was looking for a book on snow, and there it was, under ‘Weather’.”

Long reads shortened

The decimation of our oceans

“Oceans account for 96% of all habitable space on Earth,” says Chris Armstrong in the London Review of Books. Yet many of the species that “once teemed in their millions” in these waters have been “harried close to extinction” by industrialised fishing. For every 300 green turtles that once swam in the Caribbean, just one remains. Nine in 10 of the world’s large fish and oyster beds have gone. “Seagrass meadows are disappearing at a rate of 7% per year.” This deep-sea decimation has required an “immense, dogged effort” by fishermen, using “nets that could swallow a Boeing 747” and longlines – fishing lines carrying vast numbers of baited hooks – “that extend for 100km”.

Inside politics

Has Rishi turned red?

Few British politicians “embody the capitalist spirit” more than Rishi Sunak, says Kate Andrews in The Spectator. He’s a graduate of Stanford business school, a former Goldman Sachs banker, and the richest prime minister in history. As chancellor, he was a “fiscal hawk” perpetually trying to rein in Boris Johnson’s spendthrift instincts. But now he is in No 10, he is residing over a state twice as big as that of the 1970s, and the highest tax burden of Britain’s postwar history. “These are government interventions that Tories would have once mocked” – indeed, even Labour has derided the recent proposal for “voluntary” supermarket price caps. The PM likes to make big speeches criticising the “ever-expanding state” and praising free enterprise. “But governments are judged by what they do, not what they say.” And the more he steals Labour’s economic playbook, the more “leeway” he gives the opposition to go even further once they get back into power.


quoted Welles 3.2.23

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

Orson Welles

Arts and leisure


I miss the days when writers behaved badly

There was something nostalgic about the obituaries of Martin Amis, says Martha Gill in The Observer. Specifically, the “semi-tolerant fascination” with his personal life. It was a throwback to when people were more relaxed about the proclivities of writers: “their outrageous love affairs, their bad political opinions”. Back then, a flawed personality was “part of the package” for the likes of Amis (“lothario”), Christopher Hitchens (“drunken raconteur”) and Philip Larkin (“recluse”). Readers enjoyed speculating over where “fact met fiction”; over which characters were based on whom. No longer. Today, few novelists with “messy lives or offbeat opinions” top the bestseller lists. Sally Rooney lives a quiet life in Ireland; “there are no Ernest Hemingways or Ted Hugheses”. For writers, painters, musicians and the rest, “personality is out of fashion”.


Jilly Cooper meets Westminster

Cleo Watson insists her debut novel Whips – a “Jilly Cooper-style canter” around Westminster complete with “lots of lashes and quivering naked buttocks” – isn’t based on real events, says Sasha Swire in The New Statesman. But Boris Johnson’s former deputy chief of staff “is being slightly disingenuous”. There’s a bumbling posh prime minister, and a “politically ambitious wife with a direct line into the top hacks”. There’s an education secretary constantly “babbling like a f***wit”. There’s a female PM pulling swords out of her back. The only glaring omission is a “Machiavellian Chancellor of the Exchequer”.


What everyone’s watching

Poker Face, a 1970s-style “murder of the week” crime series, has already taken the US by storm, says Ed Power in The Telegraph, and now it’s finally arrived in the UK. The “charismatically husky” Natasha Lyonne stars as Charlie, a cocktail waitress with a “semi-mystically ability to detect lies”. She’s a “rasping powerhouse”, seeming possessed by the “restless spirit of post-Godfather, pre-Scent of a Woman Al Pacino”. It’s also chock-full of “game-for-a-chuckle” guest stars, from indie-cinema doyenne Chloë Sevigny to The Pianist’s Adrien Brody, and the tapestry of forlorn diners, sweltering rib joints and dingy bars gives the programme the authentic feel of the “American underbelly”. Anyone who claims not to like it “is probably telling porky pies”.


What to book now

If you’re looking for ways to entertain the kids during the school holidays, says The Telegraph, then you’ll struggle to find better than this “silly, heartfelt and charming” adaption of the iconic TV series. There are infectious songs written by an “array of top music talent” – from Aerosmith and Panic! At the Disco to Cindy Lauper – and the seamless incorporation of “real-world issues” into a kiddie format means that even as an adult it’s “hard not to get choked up”. Book tickets here.


The pile

Otterburn Castle in Northumberland dates to the reign of William the Conqueror. It retains many of its historic fittings, from stone-mullioned windows and a huge oak-panelled dining room to a carved staircase and an ornate Florentine marble fireplace. There are 18 bedrooms, including two in the castle’s tower, and the 32 acres of gardens include ancient woodlands and a small lake. The nearby town of Bellingham has several pubs and restaurants, and good public transport links across the north. £3m.

The barn

This spacious three-bedroom barn conversion has stunning views across the Somerset countryside. The property has wooden beams, high ceilings and French doors, but is otherwise empty, offering an exciting renovation project for prospective buyers. Bristol and Bath are both less than an hour’s drive. £400,000.

The getaway

This south-facing, four-bedroom villa is in one of Malaga’s most sought-after neighbourhoods. It has a modern kitchen and living space, with huge sliding doors opening on to a large terrace complete with a salt-water swimming pool. There are also stunning views over the Mediterranean. Malaga airport is a 15-minute drive away. €2m.

The rural retreat

This Grade II listed apartment is set within a former 18th-century public house in the market town of Bridport, Dorset. Its three-storey, 1,500 sq ft interior includes three bedrooms, an airy sitting room, and period features including sash windows and exposed timber beams. The town is famed for its kooky antique stores and specialist bookshops, and nearby Dorchester South station has trains to London Waterloo in under three hours. £350,000.

The townhouse

This spacious maisonette sits on a tree-lined street in Holland Park, west London. The 2,100-sq ft interior is set across two floors, with three large bedrooms and a generous open plan kitchen-and-living area. It also has huge bay windows, underfloor heating and original cornicing. Holland Park Tube station is a seven-minute walk. £3.25m.


Le Sivadal is a six-bedroom stone farmhouse near the award-winning medieval village of Cordes-sur-Ciel in the southwest of France. The kitchen and living space in the main house boast beams and high ceilings, along with a huge wood-burning stove for cold winters. Outside there is a swimming pool and around 2.5 acres of grounds, with open views around the surrounding countryside. The property has income potential via lettings. Toulouse airport is a one-hour drive. €575,000. Click here for more details.

The great escape

France’s “devil-may-care” hotelier

Patrick Diter thought his luck had run out when, in 2020, France’s highest court ruled that he had to knock down Château Diter: the 30,000 sq ft dream home he’d illegally built on the Côte d’Azur. Three years on, says John Von Sothen in Air Mail, not only is the chateau still standing, it has become one of the region’s most in-demand hotels. The Provence pad, with its opulent furnishings, imposing fireplaces and Venetian chandeliers, is available to rent for around $120,000 per week ($160,000 if you’re after a live-in chef). And the major selling strategy is cashing in on the property’s “legal limbo”. “You probably want to see it,” the website reads, “before it gets knocked down.”

Five of the best

Best value

This model is a “budget powerhouse”, says The Telegraph. It takes up hardly any room, and the manual dial means it’s “much easier to use” than fancier competitors with touchscreen displays. £40.

Best premium

The top-end kitchen gadget has separate compartments, letting you cook two different dishes ready to serve at the same time. It scores “perfect marks” on everything from perfectly crisping chips to evenly baking fairy cakes, says Good Housekeeping. £200.

Best smart

This model comes with its own smart app which sends notifications to your phone updating you on how dishes and coming along and letting you turn it on and off remotely. It’s also dishwasher safe, making cleaning easy. £110.

Best for meat

This gadget is “what would happen if you combined an air fryer with a maxi-sized George Forman grill”, says The Telegraph. It has a flat plate perfectly charred steaks and burgers, and comes with a digital cooking probe so you can roast a whole joint with peace of mind. £299.

Best for families

With a huge 6 litre capacity, this device can cook up to five servings of chips at once. You can also connect it to your Amazon Alexa, says The Sun, so even “the laziest couch potato” can operate it remotely. £161.

From the archives


The PM who puts today’s leaders to shame

One day in the late 1920s, Stanley Baldwin, Britain’s then prime minister, got chatting to a stranger on a train. He had been, perhaps, lost in The Times crossword, says Dominic Sandbrook in UnHerd, when a man leaned over and tapped him on the knee: “You are Baldwin, aren’t you? You were at Harrow in ’84.” Stanley nodded. Then came a second tap. “Tell me, what are you doing now?” Even if the story isn’t true, it tells us something of the “modest man” who steered Britain through the 1926 general strike, the Depression, and Edward VIII’s abdication. That he is barely remembered today is deeply unjust. He has been accused, for example, of sending Britain defenceless into World War II – when in fact he commissioned almost 100 new RAF squadrons “in the teeth of fierce opposition from a near-pacifist Labour Party”.

Desert Island Discs

“The devil has the best tunes”

When Brian Cox was younger, he tells Lauren Laverne on a 2020 episode of Desert Island Discs, he worried about why he was always cast as “nasty” characters. But after bagging the part of billionaire patriarch Logan Roy in Succession, he has learned to embrace it. After all, “the devil has the best tunes”. Logan and I “both have one thing in common”, Cox says. “We find the human experiment rather disappointing.” His only gripe with the role is that whenever he goes out, he is mobbed by fans asking if they can video him “telling them to f*** off”.

In 1978, the BBC’s science presenter James Burke created what became known as “the greatest shot in television history”. Explaining how a rocket works, he tells viewers that if you mix hydrogen and oxygen in a confined space, “then set light to them, you get… that” – and points behind him, where a rocket takes off at that exact moment.