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All the week’s wisdom in one place
16-22 April 2021

Opening up

Back to the pub – as long as you’ve booked

“After the pandemic, it’s the plandemic,” says Martin Hemming in The Sunday Times. This week’s “grand reopening” has shown the “post-lockdown divide” is not between the vaccinated and the unjabbed, but between the organised and the disorganised. “Boring, calendar-filling nerds” have booked up every pub, restaurant and hairdresser. A woman I know had an outdoor breakfast, lunch and dinner on Monday; one colleague booked a table for drinks, a gym session and a “full MoT” at a beauty salon. Meanwhile, “the wild, free and spontaneous” are trapped at home with nothing to do.


Time for a shake-up in Whitehall

The collapse of Greensill Capital has shone an unflattering light into the “murky corridors of Whitehall”, says the Financial Times. Not that former PM David Cameron broke any strict rules when he lobbied senior ministers on behalf of his new employer. Nor did top civil servant Bill Crothers, who took a job at Greensill while still in charge of handing out government contracts worth £40bn to similar firms. No, what’s “shocking” is that within Whitehall this stuff is “neither contentious nor uncommon”. It would be naive to expect youngish retirees like Cameron, with time left for a second career, to pass up the chance to make some real money. And there is an “unspoken bargain” that underpaid ministers will be compensated later by parlaying their influence into lucrative jobs. But Cameron was right a decade ago when he said the revolving door between politics and business would be the next big scandal. “That moment has arrived.”


Have the Taliban beaten America?

The end of America’s “forever war” is finally in sight, says David Ignatius in The Washington Post. President Biden announced this week that all of the 2,500 or so US troops still in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by 11 September – the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks that precipitated the original invasion. “It’s a gutsy move.” US intelligence analysts have warned that civil war could “quickly erupt”, enabling the Taliban to overthrow the government in Kabul and al-Qaeda to re-establish a safe haven. If that happens, US troops may have to go back in to sort things out – just as they did with Isis in Iraq. Biden’s decision has the support of the American public, but he’s “rolling the dice”.


Senator quote 16.4

“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”

Former US senator Mark Hanna, quoted on

Inside politics

The political magic of the monarchy

The Queen could well be the most successful British politician of the past century, says Stephen Bush in the New Statesman. The modern Crown enjoys “a combination of unrestrained pomp and public popularity that no other European monarchy can match”. And since she married Prince Philip in 1947, Labour’s republicans have declined in number and confidence. Even Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong anti-monarchist, “felt obliged” as Labour leader to say he had watched the Queen’s Christmas speech. In British politics, it’s far safer to be overly deferential to the monarchy than the reverse – the greatest tributes to Philip are not media panegyrics, but “the bitten tongues and buttoned-up lips” of republicans.


Give us showbiz, not slogans

Anyone booking a theatre trip this summer should think twice. The stage has become a “pleasure-free zone in which snarling dramatists fight over their pet political causes”, says Lloyd Evans in The Spectator. The theatre’s current obsessions with “race hate, climate panic and psychological meltdown” are not remotely conducive to a fun post-lockdown night out. “Log on to the National Theatre and you’ll find a website that looks like a news channel.”


US AstraZeneca noted 16.4

The US is sitting on 20 million unused doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with up to 90 million more on order. But the jab hasn’t been approved there and the country is meeting its vaccination target with other shots, getting through three million doses a day. “Give them all away” to other countries, says health policy adviser Zeke Emanuel. “We’re never going to use them.”

Maria Callas

Her doomed affair with Onassis

Like a Greek tragedy, Maria Callas’s life was riven with torment, says Lyndsy Spence in Cast a Diva, a forthcoming biography based on previously unpublished letters. La Divina, as the singer was known, was adored around the world, yet never knew real love. Her “louse” of a first husband, Giovanni Battista Meneghini (26 years her senior), put everything in his name after they married, but took half of her possessions with him when he left her. “I was a fool… to trust him,” said Callas.


Parris quoted 16.4

“Whenever I hear of a great wave of public indignation, I am filled with a massive calm.”

Matthew Parris, quoting his grandfather in The Times

The country house

Chapel Rossan is a B-listed property in Dumfries & Galloway, with sea views, direct beach access and a hot tub and a boat shed in nearly four acres of gardens and grounds. It was recently renovated and has a large open-plan kitchen and dining area, a conservatory and five ensuite bedrooms. Stranraer is 11 miles away. £700,000.

The townhouse

This three-bedroom Victorian home in Bow, east London, has been beautifully restored and updated: the glossy kitchen has a fully glazed side return and bifold doors to the patio garden. There are bespoke wardrobes in the main bedroom and a cellar offers extra storage. Mile End Tube station and Victoria Park are a short walk away. £1.15m.

The getaway

St Mawes is a popular village on the south Cornish coast, with views that stretch to Falmouth Bay. The Boathouse was rebuilt in 2006 with those views in mind: the vast living/dining/kitchen area is designed for indoor/outdoor entertaining and there are two terraces, one with a hot tub. The property has four bedrooms, a games room, a lift and a boat store with direct access to the water. £3.25m

The pied-à-terre

This Victorian flat is on a peaceful road near Kentish Town station, a mile from Hampstead Heath. Recently restored by its owner, an antiques dealer, it retains original features such as large arched windows, shutters and wooden floorboards. The flat also has its own section of a south-facing garden. £540,000.

The cottage

Built in the 17th century, Grade II listed Addisford offers the rural Devon dream with a modern twist: the four-bedroom cottage was recently extended, adding a new kitchen with bifold doors to the terrace, and there’s an indoor pool. Two streams run through the 11 acres of gardens, water meadows, pasture and woodland. The cottage is half a mile from the village of Dolton and a 50-minute drive from Exeter. £1.75m.


Pizzly noted 16.4

Grizzly and polar bears, whose habitats have started to overlap because of climate change, are now mating. This produces the “pizzly” or “grolar” bear, which has a blotchy white and brown coat.


Hopkins quoted 16.4

“The art of acting is not to act. Once you show them more, what you show them, in fact, is bad acting.”

Anthony Hopkins

Castles in Britain

Bodiam Castle is small but mighty. This moated castle in East Sussex was built in the 14th century to protect against the French during the Hundred Years’ War. Booking essential; from £8 (free for National Trust members).

Brooding Bamburgh Castle has stood guard on the Northumberland coastline since Norman times, and there has been a fort on the site since AD547. From its nine-acre grounds you can see the Farne Islands and Holy Island (where you’ll find Lindisfarne Castle). Booking essential; £6.

Established by William the Conqueror in 1068 to quash rebellions in the Midlands, Warwick Castle offers a taste of medieval life. The ramparts remain closed for now, but you can admire them on a walk through 64 acres of landscaped gardens – and the kids will love the Horrible Histories maze. Booking essential; £17.

Pickering Castle was a hunting lodge, holiday home and stud farm for a succession of medieval kings. Set in an ancient market town near the North York Moors, this 13th-century fortress has commanding views. Booking essential; £5.90 (free for English Heritage members).

Henry VIII built Pendennis Castle to defend the Cornish coast against invasion, and it played an important role in both world wars. Set on a headland near Falmouth, it has panoramic sea views. Booking essential; £12.20 (free for English Heritage members).


Solar panels noted 16.4

Thanks to solar panels, Eswatini – formerly known as Swaziland – stands a better chance of fighting Covid. Last year not a single government-run health clinic had hot running water for patients, which made handwashing difficult. Now, in just nine months, a solar-panel project has given hot water to all of the country’s clinics. And it’s not just good news from a pandemic perspective, said local nurse Lindiwe Magongo. “I have also had a hot cup of tea every single day.”

Everyone’s wearing… knitted vests

Once the preserve of grandparents and golfers, knitted vests have made a surprisingly stylish return. Designer stroke-it girl Alexa Chung is leading the pack with her £180 alpaca wool argyle offering. For something cheaper, head to Depop, where second-hand sweater vests are two a penny.

He’s a fashion designer… Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt has designed a swanky seven-piece capsule collection with the luxe Italian menswear brand Brioni. It includes a velvet evening jacket like the one Brad wore to the Oscars in 2020, as well as a cashmere sports jacket, a charcoal suit and a cotton evening shirt. If you’re anything like us, you’ll want “to dress like Hollywood’s forever golden boy” your whole life, says Teo van den Broeke in GQ. From £530.

We’re loving… outdoor blankets

Lockdown easing means we’re back to spending all our time outdoors, despite the April cold snap. Stay warm at your hardy spring picnic or barbecue with Weaver Green’s gorgeous outdoor blankets, £45 each. Made from recycled plastic bottles, they come in a wide variety of patterns and colours.

It’s smart… the Xupermask

This smart mask from and Honeywell has three fans, a HEPA filtration system, LED lights and noise-cancelling headphones so you can play music and take calls. It’s even designed to stop glasses from fogging up. The wearer will look like “a sci-fi rhino warrior”, but if you don’t mind that, the Xupermask will set you back $299.

They’re collaborating… DVF and H&M

Calling all bargain-hunters; fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg has teamed up with H&M Home to create an affordable interiors range. Expect bright colours, zebra prints and everything to sell out quickly. The collection is out this Friday – race you to the checkout. From £18.

People Will Say We’re in Love

Oklahoma! was instrumental in Prince Philip and the Queen’s courtship, and this became their favourite song after they saw the musical in 1947. It’s performed here by Hugh Jackman and Josefina Gabrielle in 1998.

Quirks of history

Beer quirk 16.4

A 15ft tidal wave of beer swept through a London slum in October 1814, killing eight women and children. The London Beer Flood was triggered when a huge vat of fermenting ale burst at the Horse Shoe brewery, dislodging several other barrels and spraying more than 320,000 gallons of beer onto the streets. Nearby residents used containers to scoop up the free beer, apparently causing a further death from alcohol poisoning.

Apr 9: Bonn, Germany, 15C 🌸

Apr 11: Kayseri, Turkey, 0C ⛷

Apr 15: Islamabad, Pakistan, 20C⚡️

Apr 12: Harbin, China, -3C ❄️

Apr 13: Nanchang, China, 22C 🎡

Apr 14: Seatown, Dorset, 5C 🌊

Apr 14: Jersey City, New Jersey, 7C 🌆