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February 2

In the headlines

The Bank of England has raised interest rates for the 10th time in a row, from 3.5% to 4%. But it’s not all bad news, says the BBC: analysts believe the rate will peak at 4.5% in the summer, lower than what was predicted after the chaos of last year’s mini-Budget. Speaking of which, says the I newspaper, Liz Truss is planning a return to frontline politics, in a move that could spark a “fresh Tory civil war”. The former PM is setting up a new group of like-minded Tory MPs to lobby Rishi Sunak to back her “pro-growth” policies. Gillian Anderson is asking women to (anonymously) send her their sexual fantasies. The actress wants to create her own version of My Secret Garden, a cult 1973 book about female sexual desires. Submit yours here.

Noted

In 2025, London will get “its own answer to New York City’s High Line”, says Bloomberg: a 1.2km elevated walkway along disused train tracks in north London. The £14m Camden Highline secured planning permission last month, and will run from Camden Town to King’s Cross. With greenery to dampen noise pollution, the stretched-out park could become a “thread of calm” in the city – providing “it doesn’t get too popular”.

On the money

A letter to The Guardian:

Nesrine Malik tells us the system is rigged in favour of the 1% by wealth. Entry into the global 1%, by the definition used by Oxfam, requires $1m in assets. As the Office for National Statistics tells us, that’s around the 75th percentile of British households by wealth. In other words, 25% of British households are in the top 1% of the global wealth distribution. I’d be willing to bet a substantial sum that 25% of the Guardian’s readership is too. As Pogo said in Walt Kelly’s strip cartoon for Earth Day in 1971: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Tim Worstall, senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute

Noted

Coffee lovers looking for a strong pick-me-up should head to Costa: its cappuccinos deliver 325mg of caffeine, the equivalent of four cans of Red Bull and a whopping five times as much as Starbucks’s 66mg offering. Research by Which? Magazine found that Greggs and Pret a Manger delivered the second- and third-strongest cups of joe, at 197mg and 180mg respectively, while Caffè Nero ranked second weakest with around 113mg.

Fashion

Disco is back, says Anna Murphy in The Times, but now in the daytime. The latest trend among women of a certain age – fiftysomething fashionistas, basically – is to liven up office outfits with all manner of ballsy blue sequinned jackets and gaudy gold trousers. Shiny shoes “are the most subtle way to add some Summer, by which I mean Donna, to your look”. Or why not just go full throttle? “There are no rules about what to wear anymore,” says one disco devotee. “People will stare anyway, so it is better to blind them with sparkles.” Quite right.

Gone viral

This clip captured by a camera drone descending Dubai’s 830m-tall Burj Khalifa has racked up more than 400,000 views on Twitter. “Feels like I’m falling off it,” comments one user. See the full clip here.

Snapshot

It’s the face of a bear on the surface of Mars. The astronomers who spotted the ursine portrait, which was taken by Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, say it is probably just two small craters (the eyes), a partially collapsed hill (the nose), and a filled-in crater (the outline of the circular face). Whatever the explanation, says NPR, it’s a good example of “pareidolia”, the word for “recognising images or patterns where they don’t exist”.

Quoted

quoted 2.2.23

“I do not have to forgive my enemies. I have had them all shot.”

19th-century Spanish PM Ramón María Narváez, when asked on his deathbed if he forgave his enemies


1 February

In the headlines

Today is the biggest day of industrial action in over a decade. More than 150,000 teachers are on strike, leaving 85% of state schools in England and Wales at least partially shut, along with 100,000 civil servants, 70,000 university lecturers and 12,500 train drivers. Britain and the EU have struck a customs deal that would avoid the need for checks on European products destined for Northern Ireland, according to The Times. Officials in Brussels have also reportedly conceded that the European Court of Justice can rule on issues relating to the province only if a case is referred by the Northern Irish courts – a “critical step towards ending the impasse” over the protocol. A pea-sized radioactive capsule that went missing in Western Australia has been found. Emergency services armed with radiation detectors located the gamma-gushing gadget by scouring a road 870 miles long – roughly the distance between John O’Groats and Land’s End.

Art

Top prize in the 2022 Close-up Photographer of the Year competition went to Samantha Stephens’s shot of two young salamanders inside a carnivorous northern pitcher plant. Other finalists included a sunflower refracted through dozens of water droplets, a female jumping spider perched on hot rocks, and the one-millimetre-wide capsule of a Schistidium moss plant. See the full selection here.

On the money

Banks in Argentina are running out of space in their vaults. With inflation at almost 100%, says Bloomberg, the volume of cash is growing so fast that there simply isn’t enough room for the “piles of pesos”.

Noted

Two of Britain’s largest water companies are still using the “scientifically discredited method of dowsing” to locate leaky pipes, says New Scientist. After a 2017 investigation found that nearly all providers regularly used the ancient technique – walking around with two rods in the belief they will cross in the presence of subterranean water – regulators demanded that they stop. Today, nearly all the country’s tap-fillers have complied, with the exception of Thames Water and Severn Trent Water. “Some people they work for, some people they don’t,” says Thames Water’s Lloyd Butter. “If they work for you, you come to trust it.”

Gone viral

An observatory in Hawaii captured this footage of a flying spiral swirling across the night sky in the early hours of 18 January. Spoilsport scientists say the phenomenon is not the result of aliens or a distant galaxy – it was probably part of a SpaceX rocket jettisoning excess fuel.

Love etc

For $10 this Valentine’s Day, San Antonio Zoo in Texas will name a cockroach after your ex and feed it to an animal. You can also upgrade to a dead rodent, for $25, or pay $150 for the zoo to record a personalised video message showing the named nosh being devoured. Order your ex-cursing package here.

Snapshot

It’s John Major, looking downcast after a speech in 1994. The photo was constantly used by the newspapers to illustrate stories about his premiership going wrong, says Matthew Parris in The Times, but I’m told the truth behind it is rather different. Someone else was making a lengthy speech, and Major was “composing a limerick on a scrap of paper on his lap” – looking down to shield his eyes from the “dazzling” lights. Rishi Sunak should take heed: once a “media narrative” sets in, it’s difficult to shake it off.

Quoted

quoted 1.2.23

“One must not be a name-dropper, as Her Majesty remarked to me yesterday.”

Tory MP Norman St-John Stevas


31 January

In the headlines

The UK will perform worse than every other major economy this year, including Russia, according to the IMF. GDP is expected to contract by 0.6% in 2023, due to high energy prices, rising mortgage costs and increased taxes. Britain is the only one of the 30 nations included in the forecast not expected to grow. Joe Biden has ruled out sending American F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, despite repeated requests from Kyiv. Germany’s Olaf Scholz has taken a similar stance, says the FT, but France has “signalled openness” to shipping over some of its home-grown Mirage warplanes. Shoppers are swapping expensive loo roll for “bog-standard” supermarket brands, says the Daily Star. Sales of premium paper fell 4.1% last year because of the cost-of-living crisis. “We’ve really hit the skids.”

The monarchy

Let the Sussexes come to the coronation

It is “beyond extraordinary”, says Melanie Phillips in The Times, that the King has had to ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to broker a deal with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for them to attend the coronation in May. But then, it’s beyond extraordinary that Harry and Meghan have “declared war upon the royal family”. Much of the British public want to see “nothing more of either of them”, and if they do come, “they may find themselves booed”. Prince William is said to be resisting his father’s wish for Harry to attend, fearing he will “pull some kind of stunt”.

Gone viral

This visualisation shows the location of each of the 8,000-plus spacecraft currently orbiting Earth. And it’s only going to get more crowded – some 400,000 satellites have been approved for launch globally, with 44,000 of those made by Elon Musk’s Starlink alone.

Noted

Mining giant Rio Tinto has apologised for losing an extremely radioactive caesium-137 capsule somewhere over an 870-mile stretch of Western Australia. The device, exposure to which could cause skin burns and even cancer, fell off the back of a lorry and measures just 6mm by 8mm – “the perfect size to get lodged in a tyre”, says Walt Hickey in Numlock News. Still, locals can comfort themselves with the fact that it’s probably “not even in the top 10 most dangerous things in Australia”.

Art

Whimsical British artist James Cook recreates famous paintings using the letters and symbols on a vintage typewriter, says My Modern Met. In each piece, you can find words and phrases related to the individual artwork: the reproduction of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, for example, features “girl”, “pearl” and “earring” among an assortment of symbols to render the details of the face. The shading effect is created with multiple layers of script on top of each other.

Staying young

The “miracle” slimming jab semaglutide is “the worst-kept secret in Hollywood”, says The Sunday Times. Celebrities like Elon Musk and Kim Kardashian (pictured) are rumoured users of the drug – delivered through a weekly, self-administered injection – which hijacks the brain’s appetite regulation system and curtails hunger. “It’s the equivalent of eating a Christmas Day meal many times over,” says one UCL professor. “You can’t even face looking at food.” In trials, users lost up to 33% of their body weight while taking the drug. The problem is that semaglutide is primarily used to treat type 2 diabetes, and manufacturers are struggling to pump out enough of it to meet the extra demand.

Inside politics

Pretty much everyone in the Republican Party agrees that “it’s time to move on” from Donald Trump, says McKay Coppins in The Atlantic. But with no obvious way to do so, many have privately decided that the “least disruptive path” may just be to wait for him to die. Their rationale is simple: Trump is 76, overweight, thinks exercise is bad for you, and “appears to maintain the diet of a college freshman”. Why risk alienating his supporters “when nature will take its course sooner or later”? It’s not exactly a “foolproof strategy”, however – Trump’s mother died at 88 and his father at 93.

Snapshot

It’s a rare “mother-of-pearl” cloud, images of which were captured by stargazers across Scotland on Sunday evening. Also known as nacreous clouds, the formations are usually only seen in extremely cold conditions above polar regions. They develop in the stratosphere, around twice as far from the Earth’s surface as normal clouds, and get their pastel colours from sunlight diffracting around tiny ice crystals.

Quoted

quoted 31.1.23

“I can’t think of any sorrow in the world that a hot bath wouldn’t help, just a little bit.”

American writer Susan Glaspell


30 January

In the headlines

Nadhim Zahawi may not go quietly after his sacking as Tory chairman yesterday, says The Times. An independent ethics inquiry concluded that the multimillionaire had repeatedly broken the ministerial code over his tax affairs, but he is considering publishing a formal response to put across his side of the story. Five thousand new beds will be added to hospitals across England before the end of this year, boosting NHS capacity by 5%. The £1bn investment will also include 800 additional ambulances, increasing the overall fleet size by 10%. A “selfie-crazy” black bear has snapped more than 400 pictures on a motion-activated wildlife camera in Colorado. The photogenic predator was caught testing out a variety of poses, from full-face staring into the lens to side profile and tongue out.

Art

Photographer Chris Hytha uses drones to capture striking images of iconic skyscrapers across the US, says My Modern Met. They include the Baltimore Trust Building, the Guardian Building in Detroit, the Carbide and Carbon Building in Chicago, and the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh. See more of his work here.

Sport

Donald Trump’s deceit on the golf course is “legendary”, says The Upshot, whether he’s “booting away opponents’ balls” or claiming “fictional holes in one”. In a recent competition at the club he owns in West Palm Beach, the “commander-in-cheat” missed the first day’s play. So players arriving for day two were “a little surprised” to see Trump’s name at the top of the leaderboard. The former president explained he’d played a “very good round” earlier in the week, and would use that as his first day’s score. The eventual winner of the tournament? Mr Donald J Trump – “a worthy champion!”

Noted

Prince Andrew “just cannot help himself, can he”, says Camilla Long in The Sunday Times. Presumably as part of a campaign to reopen his out-of-court settlement with Virginia Giuffre, the Telegraph has presented us with “the photo that ‘clears Duke’ over bath sex”. Organised by Ghislaine Maxwell’s brother Ian, the picture shows two people sitting in the tub in which Giuffre claims Andrew once licked her toes and feet – supposedly proving it is “too small for any kind of sex frolicking”. Yes, that’s right – “they took a picture of two people in a bath to show that two people couldn’t get into it”. Not only that, the two models had pictures covering their faces: one of the Duke, one of Giuffre. How on earth did anyone – anyone – think this was a good idea?

On the way out

Bands are now almost entirely absent from the music charts, says The Observer. Only four new songs by groups made it into last year’s top 100 singles, along with a “smattering of classics” by old timers like Fleetwood Mac and Arctic Monkeys. One factor is social media. Rather than “trying to size up a four-piece performing in a sweaty pub”, record labels are scouting new talent online – and platforms like TikTok and Instagram are much more of an individual pursuit. Another is technology: with today’s kit, solo artists can “release studio-quality music from their bedrooms for less than the cost of an electric guitar and amplifier”.

Quirk of history

Until the late 18th century, it was widely believed that ringing church bells during a storm would stop lightning from striking the steeple, says The New York Review of Books. This had some rather unfortunate consequences: between 1753 and 1786, 386 churches in France were struck by lightning – and 103 bell ringers were electrocuted.

 

Snapshot

It’s the Rezvani Vengeance, a hyper-secure 4×4 designed to keep baddies out. It’s styled like a “steroidal tank”, says The Guardian, and features include bulletproof glass, electrified door handles and blinding strobe lights. Drivers can also blast pepper spray out of the wing mirrors and release a James Bond-style smokescreen out of the back. Get yours, with all the bells and whistles, for just £400,000 here.

Quoted

Quoted 30.1.23

“To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.”

Anonymous, from the 1978 Farmers’ Almanac