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All the week’s wisdom in one place
12-18 November 2021

Behind the headlines

Westminster sleaze

Can Boris win back voters’ trust?

This week in Westminster has been decidedly “swampy”, say Esther Webber and Emilio Casalicchio in Politico. In a growing sleaze scandal, Tory MP Geoffrey Cox was accused of earning thousands by working as a lawyer from the sunny British Virgin Islands instead of attending to constituents back home. And Cox is not the only part-timer in the House of Commons to be outed. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is at the centre of inquiries into how his Caribbean holiday and Downing Street flat refurb were paid for.

Cancel culture

The “anti-woke” university

Today’s academics are hounded mercilessly by woke mobs, says Pano Kanelos in Bari Weiss’s Substack newsletter, Common Sense. That’s why we’re starting the University of Austin in Texas – under the banner of free inquiry and “the fearless pursuit of truth”. We’ll have an undergraduate college by 2024, annual fees of less than $30,000 and “brave professors” such as Kathleen Stock, who resigned from the University of Sussex after she was threatened on campus over her research on sex and gender. She’ll be joined by historian Niall Ferguson; Steven Pinker, a Harvard linguist and psychologist; playwright David Mamet; and Glenn Loury, an economist at Brown. “We are done waiting for universities to fix themselves.”

Global Update

Heroes and villains

Argentine model | Vietnamese general

Argentinian model Belén Rodríguez saved a threatened beauty spot with a single Facebook post after 25 years of fruitless struggle by environmentalists. After posing for a photo shoot, Rodríguez, 37, complained to her five million followers that Punta Bianca, a renowned spur of rippling white marble descending into the Sicilian Sea, was being spoiled by an army firing range close by. Within 24 hours, Sicilian president Nello Musumeci ordered a start to work on a 750-acre reserve around the steps.


quoted shrimsley 12.11

“France says threats and force are the only language the British understand. This, of course, is untrue. English is the only language the British understand.”

Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times

Inside politics

Merkel and Macron know their audience

Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel both have adaptable, “unclassifiable” politics, says Joseph de Weck in Le Monde: he raised the minimum wage more than his socialist predecessor, but lowered taxes on wealth. She legislated that new parents can split 18 months of time off between them, yet voted against gay marriage. But they sell their policies very differently. Merkel avoids “the debate of ideas”; she describes decisions as “sensible” or says she has “no real alternative”. Macron, however, gives even his “most mundane decisions” grand ideological justification. When imposing the first Covid lockdown, he invoked “the primacy of human life over the economy”.


I’m afraid I mentioned the war

John Cleese has pulled out of a talk at the Cambridge Union after the 200-year-old debating club announced a “blacklist” of banned speakers. The 82-year-old Monty Python star said he hoped to find another venue “where woke rules do not apply”. Union president Keir Bradwell revealed that he was preparing the list after students complained about TV art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon impersonating Hitler while making a point about how bad Hitler was.


noted Seoul 12.11

Seoul says it will be the first city to enter the metaverse. Next year, residents of the South Korean capital will be able to do everything from filing a civil complaint at a virtual city hall to bopping at a downtown festival by putting on virtual-reality goggles.



noted ross 12.11

Diana Ross will be playing the legends slot at Glastonbury next year. Watch out, the former Supremes singer is quite the diva, says Popbitch. When staying at Claridge’s, she would request a bunch of roses to be delivered daily to her room. She would then cut the heads off the previous day’s fresh flowers so nobody could enjoy them after her.

Staying young

Why late nights are great

I’m a proud night owl, says Flora Gill in the I newspaper. “The last time I went to bed before midnight I was seriously jetlagged.” And I’m not willing to give it up, despite a new study suggesting a 10pm bedtime leads to better heart health. The night is more fun and more elastic – no one ever does spontaneous karaoke after their morning jog. England, usually a buttoned-up country, becomes more sociable: you’re far more likely to make friends in a kebab shop at midnight than in a Pret at 9am.


Bridge cheats are prospering online

Elite bridge is built on trust, says Alan Yuhas in The New York Times. Top players can get six-figure sums from wealthy sponsors, usually financiers or rich hobbyists. Pros sit opposite each other in fancy clubs, trying to win a certain number of tricks in each hand, based on a predetermined bid. We “assume people to be gentlemen, and honourable, and ladies”, says a California club director – the average age of American Contract Bridge League members is 74.

After Hours


quoted theme park 12.11

“Britain is like an old theme park sliding into the Atlantic compared to modern China.”

Former Australian PM Paul Keating

The country house

You can walk to remote beaches from this Grade II listed Georgian house near Hartland Abbey, on the rugged north Devon coast. It has 10 bedrooms, an open fireplace in the living room, a kitchen garden and a wildflower meadow. £2.5m.

The houseboat

Banish all thoughts of cramped narrowboats: this two-bedroom Dutch barge in west London is a whopping 79ft long and has a Thames-side terrace with views of Kew Bridge. There’s a family room with floor-to-ceiling windows on the top deck and a light, bright living area below. £775,000.

The bolthole

There’s skiing all year round on the Grande Motte glacier in Tignes, one of the most snow-sure resorts in the French Alps. This one-bedroom penthouse is a stone’s throw from the slopes, bars and restaurants. It has a ski locker and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that open onto a balcony with mountain views. Chambéry airport is two hours away. €420,000.

The pied-à-terre

Cranley Mews is a quiet cobbled street near South Kensington Tube and Fulham Road. This two-bedroom, two-bathroom house has an open-plan layout on the ground floor, plantation shutters, a balcony and a generous loft space. £1.6m.

The cottage

Chapel Cottage is part of Grade II* listed Eshton Hall, a converted stately in the Yorkshire Dales with three acres of communal parkland. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a utility room. There are trains to Leeds and the bustling market town of Skipton from Gargrave station, a mile away. £485,000.


noted selfie 12.11

One person has died taking a selfie every 13 days since 2008, according to the Journal of Travel Medicine. Accidents in places such as waterfalls, cliffs and rooftops are by far the most common cause, accounting for 216 fatalities. The ratio of males to females is three to two.

Five of the best

Scenic train journeys

Zermatt to St Moritz

The optimistically named Glacier Express takes 7½ hours to travel between the two Swiss ski resorts, at an average speed of 24mph. But with dramatic mountain views the whole way, the time flies by. One-way tickets from £123.

Fort William to Mallaig

You’ll recognise the Glenfinnan Viaduct from the Harry Potter films, and the train that crosses it is the only daily steam service in the UK. The two-hour journey on the Jacobite was once voted the most scenic in the world. April to October; returns from £49.

Salta to La Polvorilla

The Tren a las Nubes translates as “train to the clouds”. The 16-hour trip takes you from Argentina to Chile and back, through the Andes and across the Viaducto La Polvorilla, 13,845ft above sea level. £120.

Tokyo to Osaka

You can see Mount Fuji on the Tokaido Shinkansen, but you’ll have to concentrate. The bullet train covers the 320-mile journey between the Japanese cities in 2½ hours – blink and you’ll miss it. £120.

Londonderry to Coleraine

It takes only 38 minutes, but Michael Palin described this as “one of the most beautiful train journeys in all the world”. The line follows Northern Ireland’s rugged coast and you can spot porpoises from the windows. £10.  


noted Biden 12.11

On the sidelines at Cop26, Indonesian President Joko Widodo asked Joe Biden how he was doing. “So far, so good,” Biden replied, before adding: “There’s this old joke. A guy jumps off [a] 100-storey building. As he passes the 50th floor, they ask him how he’s doing. And he says, ‘So far, so good.’”


From the archives

Quirks of history

quirk donkey 12.11

In 1822 an abused donkey became the first animal to receive justice in a British court, says History Today. There were gasps as the prosecuting lawyer, animal-rights activist Richard Martin, led the wounded beast into court, and its cruel owner, Bill Burns, blew a loud raspberry. Burns was found guilty of violating the donkey’s rights under the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act, which had been passed earlier that year.


7 Nov: Berlin, 7C 🪁

10 Nov: Châtellerault, France, 12C 🎈

7 Nov: Harbin, China, -2C ❄️

8 Nov: Gaza, 32C 🌅

9 Nov: Jakarta, Indonesia, 30C 💧

9 Nov: Yedigoller National Park, Turkey, 17C 🌲

9 Nov: La Palma, Canary Islands, 23C 🌋

10 Nov: Glasgow, 11C 🌱

8 Nov: Milan, Italy, 9C 🕊