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All the week’s wisdom in one place
28 May-3 June 2021

Dominic Cummings

A man with a grudge

“Sacked man complains that his boss was a wrong ’un.” Put like that, the Dominic Cummings saga seems pretty unremarkable, says Stephen Bush in the I newspaper. But while it’s easy to caricature Boris Johnson’s former top adviser as – in the words of one Tory MP – “a git with a grudge”, we should take his testimony to MPs on Wednesday seriously. Sure, we knew most of it already, in particular that the government should have locked down earlier. But the PM and his ministers have repeatedly shown that they’re keener to focus on vaccination success than to learn, or even examine, the lessons of last year. Given the depressing likelihood of more pandemics in the future, Cummings’s points “are very much worth answering”.


New evidence on the Wuhan lab

Last March lots of sensible people, including me, agreed that talk of the pandemic originating in a laboratory, rather than directly from animals, was “pseudo-scientific nonsense”, says Matt Ridley in The Spectator. It seemed “almost on a par with UFOs and the Loch Ness monster”. No longer. It has now emerged that US intelligence believes three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalised in November 2019, just before the world first heard about the coronavirus. President Biden has announced an inquiry.

Belarus hijacking

The danger on Europe’s doorstep

President Lukashenko has been waging war on ordinary Belarussians for almost a year, and now his “terror operation has gone global”, says Joerg Forbrig in Politico. The strongman of Minsk has stooped to “air piracy”, grounding a commercial Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania in Belarus’s capital last Sunday with the help of a Mig-29 fighter, a fake bomb threat and secret agents from the Belarussian KGB on board. His target was 26-year-old Roman Protasevich, a dissident blogger. “I am facing the death penalty,” Protasevich told one of his 170 fellow passengers before he was taken off the plane.

Heroes and villains

Red kites | The 7th Marquess of Bath | Zhu Keming

Red kites are terrorising the residents of Henley-on-Thames, says Arthi Nachiappan in The Times. “There have been reports of buns taken from hands and steak grabbed from barbecues” – one of the birds even snatched a biscuit out of the hand of an unsuspecting two-year-old. The red kite’s kleptomaniac tendencies are well known. In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, a character alludes to its habit of stealing washing: “When the kite builds, look to lesser linen.”


Quoted Giles Coren 28.05

“I am delighted to see that Kevin Spacey is back filming movies again. Albeit in Italy, where without questionable attitudes to sexual consent, the population would have dwindled away centuries ago.”

Giles Coren in The Times

Inside politics

The “three bottle men”

Politicians have always liked a drink, says Jack Blanchard in Politico’s Westminster Insider podcast. In the Georgian era Parliament was filled with “three bottle men” who spent more time making merry in clubland than debating policy. William Pitt the Younger, who served as prime minister for 20 years, died aged 46 – probably because of the three bottles of port a day he drank on the advice of his doctors. Churchill’s alcohol consumption was the stuff of legend: he usually got through a bottle and a half of Pol Roger champagne a day, as well as a few whisky and sodas, and occasionally a glass or two of white wine with breakfast.


Noted Belarus 28.05

Belarus will take a hit in the pocket from being made a no-fly zone. Airlines pay fees to fly over a country, and in 2019 Belarus earned €85m from “overflight” charges. Not all fees are the same, though. Canada factors in the aeroplane’s weight as well as the distance it has travelled, but the US only prices in distance. You can try to shirk a pricy airspace, but some vastly outsize their parent country. Greedy America owns the skies all the way to the Philippines.

Bob Dylan

“You can’t fake laughter”

Bob Dylan turned 80 this week, but even as a 20-year-old he was a grumpy old man, says Dorian Lynskey in UnHerd. Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, he left his tight-knit Jewish home in Minnesota for Manhattan in the 1960s and changed his name to Bob Dylan. He dismissed rumours that the rebrand was a nod to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in typically cutting style: “Dylan Thomas’s poetry is for people that aren’t really satisfied in their bed… I’ve done more for Dylan Thomas than he’s ever done for me.”

Daisy Goodwin

My mother was a boho bolter

Much like Fanny’s mother in The Pursuit of Love, my mother, Jocasta Innes, “bolted”, says Daisy Goodwin in the Mail. She ditched my father, five-year-old me, my three-year-old brother and our lovely house in south London for a younger man and a bedsit in Islington. “I just woke up one morning and she wasn’t there.” We were sent to my grandmother’s in the New Forest for a while: when my mother left at the end of one visit, I remember her having to prise my brother’s fingers off her leg, “one by one”.


Quoted Emma Thompson 28.05

“My underwear was like a ship’s rigging. I mean, there were people hauling on ropes. Not for Emma Stone, obviously, because she’s slender as a lily and didn’t need to wear a corset like a frigging whalebone aria.”

Emma Thompson tells The Sun about her costume in Cruella

Staying young

Star Trek’s ageless hero

William Shatner is 90, but looks 60 and pretends he’s 55, says Hadley Freeman in The Guardian. “What you know at 90 is: take it easy, nothing matters in the end,” he says. “What goes up must come down” –although, if “I’d known that at 20, I wouldn’t have done anything”. There is a website dedicated to Shatner’s toupee, but his youthful appearance goes much further than impressive hair. Has he had some serious work done? “No. Have you?” he shoots back.

The pied-à-terre

This light-filled two-bedroom flat is in a Victorian townhouse in north London, near Archway Tube station and a mile from Hampstead Heath. The open-plan kitchen, living and dining area has high ceilings and large sash windows with views of a leafy garden. Original features include shutters in the main bedroom, which faces tree-lined St John’s Grove. £590,000.

The hideaway

Romantically named Moonfleet is a five-bedroom Victorian house on a cliff above the harbour in Port Isaac, Cornwall. It has terraced gardens, sea views and direct access to a sand and shingle beach. Chef Nathan Outlaw has two Michelin-starred restaurants in the quaint village, a short walk away. £1.575m.

The country house

Grade II listed Coves House, in Co Durham, is on the fringes of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s set in 66 acres of meadows and woodland, with a cottage, a campsite, stables and a pheasant shoot. The six-bedroom farmhouse has been sensitively restored, keeping plenty of country character – there’s an inglenook fireplace with an Aga. £1.5m.

The townhouse

Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, grew up at this five-bedroom house in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, which is Grade II listed and has a blue plaque on its façade. It “offers contemporary living with a side of history”, says Country and Town House: there are original fireplaces, sash windows and shutters, and the recently refurbished downstairs living space leads out to a courtyard garden. £1.1m.

The cottage

Once the village post office, this cottage in Newton Tracey, Devon, pairs period features such as beamed ceilings, oak flooring and inglenook fireplaces with modern sliding glass doors that make the most of the view over open countryside. It has three bedrooms, a utility room, a kitchen with an Aga, a terrace and a garden with two ponds. Barnstaple is five miles away. £425,000.


Quoted Boris wedding 28.05

“Boris Johnson agrees to pay for his own wedding, on the condition taxpayers fund the next two.”

Have I Got News for You on Twitter

The great escape

Faroe Islands

This rugged Atlantic archipelago between Iceland, Norway and Scotland “is a new frontier of Scandi cool”, says Condé Nast Traveller. The 18 islands offer a sense of remoteness and outstanding hospitality – “a truly unreconstructed natural experience with no small amount of native style”. What’s more, they’re on the UK’s green list. If this sounds a tempting place to buy, you’re out of luck – houses are few and far between, and there are currently none for sale.


Quoted Dominic Cummings 28.05

“I think everyone from my wife to everybody in Westminster and Whitehall will agree that the less everyone hears from me in the future, the better.”

Dominic Cummings

Outdoor theatres

Minack Theatre, Cornwall

With the Atlantic as a backdrop, this outdoor amphitheatre is reminiscent of ancient Greece, but it was built by Rowena Cade, who bought the headland for £100 in the 1920s. This year’s programme includes The Winter’s Tale, 18-28 July.

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London

Established in 1932, this theatre is in one of the capital’s best-loved parks. It has won seven Olivier awards in the past 10 years and staged sellout shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Lord of the Flies. Romeo & Juliet runs from 17 June to 24 July.

BOAT, Brighton

The Brighton Open Air Theatre was the dream of the late playwright Adrian Bunting, who died of cancer aged 47. It opened in 2015 and plays a key role in the city’s popular arts festival. A packed summer programme includes Blithe Spirit on 2 June.

Willow Globe, Powys

Described as “Britain’s most enchanting outdoor drama experience” by The Sunday Times, this is a scaled-down version of Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Constructed entirely from willow trees, it has an otherworldly atmosphere. Buy tickets for King Lear Retold on 15 July.

Thorington Theatre, Suffolk

Nestled in woodland, this charming theatre is in a Second World War bomb crater. It was built from rustic timber during lockdown and the leafy surroundings have a fairytale feel – perfect for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on 18 June.


Noted sinkholes 28.05

Sinkholes are plaguing the streets of Rome, says Tom Kington in The Times. In the first two months of 2021, one appeared on average every three days – this week a 65ft-long, 20ft-deep hole swallowed a Mercedes and a Smart car. Experts are blaming the network of ancient Roman and medieval tunnels that run underneath the city. These have been enlarged by water, increasing the risk of collapse.

It’s trending… Free People

Pick up an Insta-worthy summer wardrobe at Free People, the fashion brand loved by Gen Z. Whether it’s this sheer watercolour set, £228, or gorgeous pink maxi dress, £108, you’ll be sure to find something you love.

It’s funky… Marni Homeware

Marni’s new homeware collection is “a kitsch, picnic-ready summer statement”, says Eric Brain on Hypebeast. From crochet carpets to flowerpots, quirky basket bags and striped totes, the “one of a kind” pieces will “add a pop of colour” to any occasion. From £20.

We’re playing… Bluetooth records

Even record players have joined the Bluetooth revolution. Send that organic vinyl sound through your speakers, AirPods or any other connectable device from Sony’s sleek turntable, £230. Or stand out from the crowd with the Urban Outfitters x Audio-Technica collab, which comes in lilac, £195.

Obsessed with… Zara make-up

High street make-up hasn’t been “this thrilling since… I was a teenager” says Leslie Thomas in The Times. Zara’s first cosmetics collection serves up 130 shades of lip, eye, cheek and nail colour (most refillable), and six “superb” brushes. The bright-red Winner lippy is “tremendous value” at £11.99.

It’s crochet… fruit

I’ve always been obsessed with crocheting fruit, says former Leeds art student Nadia Kippax. “So much so that one of my tutors exclaimed rather loudly, ‘NO MORE bananas Nadia’.” Luckily she didn’t listen, and has turned her fruity threadwork into a full-time job. Totally pointless, completely charming. From £7.

Bathtime with the MGM lion

This week Amazon bought the Hollywood film studio MGM for $8.45bn. Here is one of the studio’s famous roaring lions, Jackie, having a bath.

Quirks of history

Quirks of history New York Times 28.05

An editorial in The New York Times on 9 October, 1903, declared: “Man won’t fly for a million years – to build a flying machine would require the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians from one million to 10 million years.” The Wright brothers made humanity’s first powered flight 10 weeks later.

20 May: Najaf, Iraq, 43C 🎣

25 May: Dayeuhkolot, Indonesia, 28C 🛶

25 May: Granite Bay, California, 25C 🌞

26 May: Liverpool Bay, 9C 🌅

26 May: Beijing, 18C ⚡

24 May: Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, 12C ❄️

26 May: Sydney, 17C 🌝