Chortle chortle, scribble scribble: the dying art of the court reporter

The question is: “Will it make?” A nice murder will make. A crime involving a celebrity will make. Make the papers, Guy Toyn meant. Toyn is the co-owner of the news agency Court News UK, which reports the stories emerging from London’s criminal courts. In the mix this week was the man who had head-butted Roy Keane: that would definitely make. But the gang murders that routinely fill the Old Bailey, where Court News is based, rarely make. No, a nice murder would be a woman killing a man, ideally a middle-class white woman killing a man. Like the recent case of the primary school teacher who buried her partner in their back garden. That would always make.

The Rise and Fall of the Trad Wife

The prize of Alena Kate Pettitt’s childhood Barbie collection, the item that she still searches for fruitlessly on eBay, was a dining table. Press a button, and—magic!—a turkey dinner swung around from underneath and landed on top. It is a totemic image of homemaking: a hearty home-cooked meal, served by an immaculate, apron-wearing hostess—an actual doll. “It was the best thing ever,” Pettitt said, of Barbie’s turkey, over coffee in her home town of Cheltenham, England. “I wish I still had it.”

Rocking the boat

Let’s play it as a game. Two-player, ideally lovers. You could play with a friend, but for real spice – to truly scope out the game’s gnarly potential – it’s best with a partner or spouse, someone you have pledged to love and cherish for the rest of your days. The set-up is simple. You’re in a boat in the middle of an ocean. You have no radio. Oh, and one of you can’t swim. That’s key. A whale collides with your boat and as it fills with water you salvage a few tins of food and containers of fresh water, a couple of books, some clothes, a small inflatable dinghy and an even smaller life raft. You climb into the raft and watch your boat sink below the waves. And then the game begins.

Last love: a romance in a care home

What was the song? Mary couldn’t quite remember. It was one of Mr Pepper’s classics, certainly. A ballad. Possibly You Are My Sunshine? What did it matter; the point was the voice. Not Mr Pepper’s – she knew what he sounded like well enough, being one of Easterlea Rest Home’s regular afternoon entertainers. No, this voice was new, and belonged to a man who had sat down in the chair next to her and started to sing along. She was so stunned – by the way his voice seemed to pour out of him, by its fierce clarity and defiance of age – that she turned to stare.

‘People are like, Wow!’: the man trying to make condoms sexy

It is important to Ben Wilson, the man in charge of the condom brand Durex, that he chews the condoms he sells. He likes to consider their flavour, to know the sensory experience of a customer engaged in oral sex, and to think about how it could be bettered. He makes other people sample them, too. In a car on the way to the Durex condom factory on the outskirts of Bangkok, as traffic vibrated in the heat along the highway, he told me with pride about the time he had laid out rows of bananas and condoms for a gathering of senior executives at Reckitt, Durex’s parent company. “I said: ‘If you want to work on condoms you need to put a condom on that banana and taste it.’”

‘One billionaire at a time’: inside the Swiss clinics where the super-rich go for rehab

If the sky is clear, it is possible to lean out of the windows of Paracelsus Recovery, a luxury rehabilitation clinic in Zurich, and gaze along the lake to the Alps in the distance. It is the kind of view, of blue water and white peaks, that promises immediate rejuvenation, a purity close to holiness. The clinic, meanwhile, offers more elaborate treatments at a cost of between 95,000 to 120,000 Swiss francs (£85,000-£107,000) a week for the typical six- to eight-week stay.

The last phone boxes: broken glass, cider cans and – amazingly – a dial tone

There used to be a phone box at the top of my street. It stood in the middle of a traffic island, near a bin, a lamp-post and a bollard. I never questioned the presence of the phone box, just as I never questioned the presence of the bin, the lamp-post or the bollard. Often, when we passed, my daughter and I would play the phone-box game. I had to stand to one side and pretend to call the phone in the phone box, which didn’t work. She would then pretend to answer, before making a series of further calls in a complicated unfolding of phone-related business that involved making plans, changing plans and then ringing everyone she had just spoken to again to tell them she was going to be late.

Super-prime mover: Britain’s most successful estate agent

Ring ring. Gary Hersham’s phone was going, as usual. The super-prime London estate agent blew through the Mayfair office of his company, Beauchamp Estates, scattering employees behind him. As he climbed into the passenger seat of the company car, a Volkswagen Golf rather than his personal BMW, I asked where we were going. “I don’t know!” he said. He found a postcode, and announced it to the driver. Ring ring. Hersham’s mobile has the high-pitched jangle of an old-fashioned telephone at fire-alarm volume. “I didn’t ask you for that,” he roared down the phone as we sat stationary outside his office. “What makes you assume that’s what I was doing? Could I speak to Emily please?” Emily, his fantastic secretary. Ring ring. Someone else was calling. “We’ve got to wait for Marcus!”

The disastrous voyage of Satoshi, the world’s first cryptocurrency cruise ship

On the evening of 7 December 2010, in a hushed San Francisco auditorium, former Google engineer Patri Friedman sketched out the future of humanity. The event was hosted by the Thiel Foundation, established four years earlier by the arch-libertarian PayPal founder Peter Thiel to “defend and promote freedom in all its dimensions”. From behind a large lectern, Friedman – grandson of Milton Friedman, one of the most influential free-market economists of the last century – laid out his plan.

Scarlett Johansson

Hanging behind Scarlett Johansson, who’s at home in New York, is a painting by the artist Lois Dodd, once described as the most famous painter of windows in America. It’s a huge canvas, dominated by a deep purple dusk and a large clapboard house, one celebrated window lit up yellow, looming above Scarlett’s head like an idea. “I was thinking maybe I could frame it so it looks like I’m in the painting,” she says. It’s one of those mid-Zoom thoughts you have as you see yourself, yet again, pinned in the corner of a screen.

Brazilian butt lift: behind the world's most dangerous cosmetic surgery

The quest was simple: Melissa wanted the perfect bottom. In her mind, it resembled a plump, ripe peach, like the emoji. She was already halfway there. In 2018, she’d had a Brazilian butt lift, known as a BBL, a surgical procedure in which fat is removed from various parts of the body and then injected back into the buttocks. Melissa’s bottom was already rounder and fuller than before, and she was delighted by the effect, with how it made her feel and how it made her look. But it could be better. It could always be better.

Fall of the Palace of Pinks

The Wing’s branding – a curling, golden “W” – still decorates the glass front door of its grand London premises on Great Portland Street. Though the private women’s members’ club is now permanently closed, its discreet sign remains fastened to a pillar at the building’s entrance. In an upstairs window you can make out the cushioned backs of mint-green chairs and pink sofas, two gold vases holding ferns, and an elegant white-orbed lighting fixture – remnants of the club’s celebrated interior, a multi-storey pastel fantasy, which has a posthumous existence on a thousand social media feeds. The London Wing, like its 11 sister clubs across America, was a child of Instagram, every patterned tile and organised-by-colour bookshelf both inspired by photography and inviting photography.

The battle over birth

When Lacey discovered she was pregnant with her first baby, she excitedly went to see the . The event felt ceremonial, the first of many meaningful encounters that she expected to have on her way to giving birth. The doctor, whom Lacey had never met before, didn’t congratulate her. She explained that Lacey, a 35-year-old life coach in London, would hop onto a conveyor belt that would take her from appointment to appointment. At each one she would be told exactly what to do and she’d end up with a baby.

'You have to take action': one hospital cleaner’s journey through the pandemic

On 9 February, a cold, damp Sunday, an Uber pulled up to University Hospital Lewisham in south-east London and dropped off a woman who had recently returned from China. The woman walked up to the reception desk and outlined her symptoms. She was given a mask, taken to a designated area outside the A&E building and tested for coronavirus. When, three days later, the test came back positive, it confirmed what medical authorities had already suspected: this was London’s first case.

‘Feasting on fantasy’: my month of extreme immersion in Disney+

A few weeks ago, on a day that was probably like today now that the days are all frighteningly different and yet strangely the same, Disney launched Disney+, its new streaming service, in the UK. The precise date, for those that are still tracking such things, was 24 March, which was also, by coincidence, the date the British lockdown officially started. I had been waiting, impatiently, for both.

Tampon wars: the battle to overthrow the Tampax empire

The Queen of Tampons, one of several nicknames, is a jubilant woman called Melissa Suk. Four years on the throne as the associate brand director of Tampax, Suk holds court at the head office of the multinational consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Cincinnati, Ohio. From there, she oversees an empire spanning 70 countries, filling bathroom cupboards in cities, towns and villages across the globe.

‘Intimate terrorism’: how an abusive relationship led a young woman to kill her partner

That day, 20 November 2014, the argument was about a hundred things, but mostly it was about cigarettes and milk. Farieissia Martin and Kyle Farrell were always arguing about something. They’d been like that ever since they first got together, aged 16. On again, then off again. Now 21, Kyle and Fri, as everyone called her, had two young daughters, but they still fought constantly. They loved each other too much, their friends said.

Margaret Atwood

In the middle of the landscape that unfolds in front of Hellens, the haunted Tudor manor house in the Herefordshire village of Much Marcle where Margaret Atwood is staying, there is an elephant waving its trunk in the air. At first glance it appears both lifelike and appropriate: why wouldn’t there be an elephant here, roaming in the long grass by the lake? In this other-worldly place there are also a pond, looming trees and a Victorian vegetable garden. Someone observes that it all feels a little Beatrix Potter, like Mr McGregor’s garden come to life. But this is not the kind of remark you can make lightly in the company of Margaret Atwood, who suggests that Mr McGregor’s garden actually had more rows, and was tidier. Soon enough she is expounding on the seduction narrative of Jemima Puddle-Duck, Potter’s influential Gothicism and the misunderstood heroism of Benjamin Bunny.
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