Britain has become the first country to approve a “next generation” Covid jab which targets both the highly infectious omicron variant and classic Covid. The vaccine will be rolled out this autumn to all over-50s, health workers and those with underlying conditions. A million travellers could see their flights axed after Heathrow extended its passenger cap to include October half-term. The draconian limit of 100,000 daily outbound passengers, which was set to end on September 11, will now last until October 29 because of staff shortages. Climate change means the UK could soon be beating Burgundy at producing world-class red wines, says The Times. A 1.4C rise in summer temperatures over the next two decades means pinot noir grapes will be able to achieve “requisite ripeness” in southern England, which has historically been too chilly for the task.
It’s not her fault we’re short of water. Getty
Greedy water bosses aren’t proper capitalists
For Islington residents who suffered from a burst water main last week, Thames Water’s decision to announce a hosepipe ban must have seemed a “sick joke”, says Ross Clark in The Spectator. A few days earlier, the company had emailed its customers asking them to be a “hot spell hero” and do their best to save water. Yet Thames Water itself lost five million litres during the leak – and last year in all, 600 million litres a day. The figure lost for England as a whole is three billion litres a day, a fifth of the total supplied.
When Mrs Thatcher privatised the water companies in 1989, the aim was to introduce competition, reduce consumer prices and encourage investment. None of these objectives have been fulfilled. Spending on infrastructure has dropped and our bills have increased by 31%. Not a single substantial reservoir has been constructed in England since the Kielder Water dam in 1981. Yet £72bn has been paid out to shareholders. Inevitably, current shortages are blamed on climate change – yet Britain is in fact getting wetter. Summer rainfall for the period 2012-21 was up 15% on the period 1961-90. The truth is that water companies operate as “localised monopolies” while their executives, like Thames Water’s Sarah Bentley (basic salary: £750,000), are more like overpaid civil servants than capitalists. Meanwhile we have to endure “infantile messaging, rationing and the pernicious suggestion that we should grass on our neighbours”.
Some of today’s most expensive foods were once derided as fuel for the huddled masses, says LifeHacker magazine. When European colonists first arrived in North America, lobsters were so plentiful you could catch them without a net. They were mostly fed to “poorer folks and prisoners”; having lobster tails in your rubbish was a sign of poverty. Sushi began as a cheap way to preserve old fish and fill poor fishermen with protein so they could keep working. Even caviar, first farmed by Russian serfs in the 12th century, was considered nothing more than peasant food and served with porridge until the 16th century, when Ivan the Terrible got a taste for it.
I don’t begrudge Boris Johnson going on honeymoon to the “extremely pretty” country of Slovenia, says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. “But I do mind that he went to something called a wellness spa.” The hotel in question promises to “harmonise your rhythm with your inner balance”, and claims that its back yard contains “four energy points with a soothing and therapeutic effect”. Wellness hotels are full of “wet idiots in sliders and dressing gowns”, and it’s hard to get a drink or decent Wi-Fi. Boris “could have gone to Ibiza and bombed around on a jet-ski with a lager and a kebab, but he chose not to. And that shows us the man cannot be right in the head.”
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Majuro Atoll and Lagoon, Marshall Islands. Getty
With the Covid pandemic merely a foggy memory in much of the world, one country is just getting started. The tiny Marshall Islands – population 59,000 – is in the middle of its first ever outbreak of the virus, after relaxing quarantine restrictions in recent weeks. Before last week, the Pacific nation had seen just a handful of cases, all among arrivals from elsewhere. But now Marshallese health secretary Jack Niedenthal says 75% of Covid tests are coming back positive.
A vigilante trying to disperse looters in Johannesburg last year. James Oatway/Getty
South Africa is becoming a failed state
For a man held up at gunpoint the night before, South African opposition politician Mmusi Maimane “was on surprisingly good form” when I met him recently in Cape Town, says Gideon Rachman in the FT. Maimane had been in a suburban restaurant when armed bandits forced all the diners to lie on the floor and robbed them. But the political troublemaker may count himself lucky. As he says: “On an average day 67 South Africans are murdered and the conviction rate is below 15%.” Rampant crime is no surprise in a country where unemployment is at 34.5%, youth unemployment is over 60%, and rolling power cuts are “a part of everyday life”.
Asked if South Africa is a failed state, Maimane’s reply is devastating: “It’s an incompetent government leading a state that is about to fail.” He’s right. President Cyril Ramaphosa took over in 2018 to clean up the epic corruption of his predecessor Jacob Zuma, but after millions of US dollars were allegedly found “stuffed into sofa cushions” at Ramaphosa’s ranch, the mood has turned “grim”. Even those who don’t believe the president is personally bent frequently accuse him of laziness and failing to get the job done. Whatever his flaws, Ramaphosa is hamstrung by the “corrupt and dysfunctional” political party he leads. The African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, is now openly described as a “criminal organisation” by some South African elites. The ANC has done great things in the past. The best thing it could do for the country’s future would be to “lose the next election and leave power”.
Ever the fashion forerunner, Rihanna is “already wearing 2023’s most divisive shoe”, says Vogue: hugely oversized, thigh-high slouchy boots. Designer brand Y/Project recently debuted an array of the outlandish accessories in different colours and materials at Paris Fashion Week. Creative director Glenn Martens says his creations are inspired by “Gothic cathedrals” – they have “a Flemish vibe… like Bruges”.
In a YouGov poll asking the people of Britain how many holes there are in a straw, 54% said there was one and 42% said two. A mathematician like myself would probably go for one, says Kit Yates in The Independent – a straw might be long and thin, but it ultimately has as many holes as a doughnut or a Polo does. But many people understand a hole to be any “depression in a solid body”, or any “opening”, which admittedly a straw does have two of. “Try telling a golfer that the cavity into which they are aiming to sink their ball isn’t a hole.”
It’s a centuries-old “hunger stone” – a carved boulder that lies on a riverbed and is only revealed when the water dries up during extreme droughts. This one, currently in the open air where the Czech Elbe used to be, was engraved in 1616 and reads: wenn du mich seehst, dann weine – “If you see me, weep.”
“Thank heavens, the sun has gone in and I don’t have to go out and enjoy it.”
Logan Pearsall Smith
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