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All the week’s wisdom in one place
25 June-1 July 2021

Behind the headlines


The new hardline face of Tehran

Ultra-hardline Islamist Ebrahim Raisi may have “comfortably won” the Iranian presidential elections this week, says the FT in an editorial. But his apparent landslide is a “pyrrhic” one. Iranian voters stayed home in record numbers, with just 48.8% voting, the lowest proportion ever. When the outgoing president, moderate Hassan Rouhani, was re-elected in 2017, he won 24 million votes. Raisi won just 18 million. And 3.7 million Iranians spoilt their ballots, more than voted for any of his “feeble” rivals after theocrats banned viable candidates. Iran’s “disgruntled majority”, in other words, opposes Raisi.

St Paul’s Girls’ School

Into battle with a swish of glossy hair

You’d hope St Paul’s Girls’ School would be the first to stand up for the female sex, says Allison Pearson in The Daily Telegraph. Instead, the “daft bints” have decided to axe the role of head girl because it’s too “binary”. From September, one of the best girls’ schools in the country will replace the role with “head of school”. Seven of the 778 pupils at the £26,000-a-year London private school identify as non-binary, and senior pupils feel the gender-neutral title is “more modern, age-appropriate and inclusive”. Give me strength. At least former pupils have quickly rallied. “As an Old Paulina” I find it tragic, tweeted Petronella Wyatt. SPGS was once proud “to produce females who revelled in being the superior sex”.

Global Update

Tomorrow’s world

A helmet that could boost your brain

American tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson is at “the forefront of the quantified-self movement”, says Ashlee Vance on Bloomberg. A 43-year-old former Mormon and overweight binge eater, he turned his life around by snorting stem cells and taking drug-induced “mind journeys” with his personal shaman. He now rises at 4am, eats a 2,250-calorie breakfast – and nothing else all day – before retiring at 8pm. As a result, he says he has the DNA of a 30-year-old.


Quoted Geoff Norcott 25.6

“A good dad is like being a cricket umpire. If youre not being discussed, youre probably doing a decent job. And all the big decisions get referred anyway.”

Comedian Geoff Norcott on Twitter

Inside politics

Hands, face, what a disgrace

“Hands, face and space weren’t quite what came to mind” when I saw The Sun’s “fabulous” pictures of Matt Hancock, says Melanie McDonagh in The Spectator. He was caught in an “adolescent snog” with Gina Coladangelo, an adviser and university chum. I haven’t enjoyed a story this much since Neil Ferguson was caught breaking the lockdown rules he was involved in drawing up to meet a “comely married blonde woman”. In both cases it’s the hypocrisy that galls. Cabinet ministers can’t hide behind the “personal life” defence when they have criminalised “any number of aspects” of other people’s personal lives. We were banned from kissing under regulations Hancock came up with. “One law for them, the other for us.”


Noted Love Island 25.6

Love Island 2021 is set to be “the most middle class ever”, says Polly Vernon in The Times. This year’s contestants include a PE teacher, an estate agent, a civil servant and a financial services marketing manager.



Noted Matt Hancock 25.6

On Thursday afternoon, Health Secretary Matt Hancock put up an Instagram story that read: “I work alongside some brilliant women. If you are a woman who wants to get involved in politics, swipe up.” Early on Friday morning, after pictures emerged showing him kissing a female aide, it was promptly deleted.

After Hours


What the critics liked

David Storey was “the exemplar of the northern working-class novelist who came to prominence in the 1960s”, says Michael Prodger in the New Statesman. Storey’s first book, This Sporting Life, is considered one of the best sporting novels ever written. A fierce dissection of the hypocrisies he faced as a professional rugby league player, it was turned into a successful film starring Richard Harris. Saville won the Booker prize in 1976 and his plays were premiered at the Royal Court “when the theatre was at its most influential”.

The townhouse

This three-bedroom Victorian house is on a tree-lined north London street, two minutes’ walk from Caledonian Road & Barnsbury Overground station and 10 minutes from Upper Street. It has original cornicing and fireplaces, high ceilings and Crittall windows that overlook the garden. There’s a separate one-bedroom flat on the lower ground floor. £2.75m.

The cottage

Merchants House is a timber-framed 17th-century cottage in Edingale, a pretty Staffordshire village. It has three bedrooms, a kitchen-diner, exposed beams, an inglenook fireplace, a potting shed and a front garden dotted with topiary. For trains to London, head to the cathedral city of Lichfield, eight miles away. £500,000.

The hideaway

Next to the River Fowey, on the south Cornish coast, the Old Sawmills is thought to have inspired The Wind in the Willows. Accessible only on foot or by boat, the seven-bedroom house is set in 32 acres of woodland and has a recording studio that’s played host to Oasis, Muse and the Stone Roses. The village of Golant is half a mile upriver. £2.25m.

The pied-à-terre

This two-bedroom flat is part of a Georgian terrace with communal gardens in Edinburgh’s Old Town, a stone’s throw from the castle. It has sash windows, a stone hearth and barrel-vaulted ceilings on the lower ground floor. There’s planning permission for a remodelling that would open up the smaller rooms. £645,000.

The country house

Plas Wiggin is a Grade II listed manor in the heart of the Shropshire countryside, near the Welsh border and 23 miles from Chester and Shrewsbury. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen with an Aga, an orchard and several outbuildings in its 5½ acres of beautiful gardens. £1.25m.


Quoted Deacon 25.6

“Imagine all the tips that hard-working pole dancers will miss out on, if the patrons have nothing to slip into their garters. Then there’s the humble cocaine user. Easy to roll up a banknote. Not quite so easy to roll up an iPhone or a MasterCard. And what are poor old muggers supposed to do if your wallet’s already empty in the first place? Ask you to set up a direct debit?”

Michael Deacon on the prospect of a cashless society, in The Daily Telegraph


Noted mongoose 25.6

Mongoose mothers within a group give birth on the same night, making it impossible to know whose offspring belongs to whom. This creates what researchers call a veil of ignorance”: parents give equal care to all the pups, improving their chances of survival.

Five of the best

Picnic scenes in art

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1893), Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

Edouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1863), Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Harvesters (1565), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Henri Matisse, Luxe, Calme et Volupté (1904), Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Florine Stettheimer, Picnic at Bedford Hills (1918), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia


Noted Hiccups 25.6

Scientists have invented a cure for hiccups: a gadget called the HiccAway. The L-shaped tool costs £10 and is similar to a straw – pop it into a glass of water, take a few sips, and your hiccups will disappear more than 90% of the time. Sucking through the device stimulates the phrenic and vagus nerves, which stop and start hiccups.


Everyone needs… a wetsuit

It’s all about staycations at the great British seaside this summer, so what better time to try surfing? Take your mind off the cold – and the fact that you’re not in Maui – in this patterned wetsuit from Roxy, £220.

We’re dreaming about… Gucci wallpaper

Gucci’s spectacular heron-print wallpaper will transform any room. Available in green or pink, it costs £365 for two 70cm-wide panels.

She’s wearing… Dôen

Every fashion type worth their salt loves the cool-girl Californian brand Dôen. Model and chef Vanessa Breuer is a fan, heading up their summer campaign. This dress in Liberty fabric costs £285.

It’s smoking hot… Morsø outdoor grill

Danish brand Morsø makes the most stylish barbecues. The Forno II Outdoor Grill, £599, is made from cast iron and teak. It has a barbecue grid and doubles as an outdoor fire if there’s a nip in the air.

We’re loving… Indian salad servers

Salad season is finally here. These buffalo-horn salad servers from Indigo will brighten up any alfresco summer lunch. They’re handmade in India and cost £28.

We’re playing… ping-pong

Give yourself the edge in any game of table tennis with a funky limited-edition bat from The Art of Ping Pong, £48. Its Koibird tables, £895, will guarantee family fun whatever the weather.


From the archives

Heroes at Glastonbury

Glastonbury was supposed to take place this weekend. In 2000, more than 250,000 people watched David Bowie close the festival on Sunday night – here he is playing Heroes.

Quirks of history

Quirks of history army 25.6

For the British Army to legally exist, Parliament must pass a new act every five years. This stems from the 1689 Bill of Rights, which forbids a standing army in times of peace without the people’s approval.


22 June: Athens, Greece, 30C 🏄‍♀️

23 June: Piedmont, Italy, 22C ⛰️

18 June: Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, 25C 🌿

21 June: Saltburn, North Yorkshire, 13C 🌅

21 June: Tiwanaku, Bolivia, 14C 🔥

20 June: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 23C ☁️

21 June: Dhaka, Bangladesh, 35C ☔