UK News – News Net Daily an integrated news site covering all the news from all over the world, with a new vision that covers all the news as it happens from our different sources. Sat, 05 Sep 2020 12:00:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sophie Mackintosh: ‘Suddenly I really wanted a baby – I resented that it felt outside my control’ | Books Sat, 05 Sep 2020 12:00:05 +0000 theguardian

“Something has changed, but we don’t know what,” says Sophie Mackintosh. She’s explaining the scenario of her second novel, Blue Ticket, but she could just as easily be describing the situation in which we find ourselves. It’s days before the Covid-19 lockdown, and as we talk in the Guardian office a sense of impending doom swirls around us.

By the time of our second encounter, on Zoom four months later, office life is a distant memory and her book is one of many to have been postponed. She’s talking from the spare room of her east London home where she has been spinning a whole new world out of the disintegration of the old one.

“At first I was a bit shocked and disappointed,” she admits, “but I made myself get a sense of perspective, and when I thought about it more, I felt very relieved, because to be launching a novel seemed somehow trivial, and it was good to have a chance to think. I’ve used the time to crack on with writing.”

Mackintosh is part of a new generation of female writers creating feminist fictions that relate uncannily to our dystopian times. Her Booker-longlisted debut novel The Water Cure, published in 2018, is set on an island where three sisters and their mother enact bizarre survival rituals based on a fear that any bodily contact with men will poison them (a superstition bolstered by the sick, emaciated women who wash up on their shore from a terrifying elsewhere). Recognition was quick to come, not least from Margaret Atwood, who hailed it as “a gripping, sinister fable”.

Blue Ticket is another dystopia but this time it’s every woman for herself in a tyrannical society that dictates whether they are allowed to become mothers through a lottery of white or blue tickets, conducted when they reach puberty. At first Calla, the protagonist, is delighted to have been allotted a blue ticket, as it enables her to enjoy the hedonistic life of a twentysomething singleton. “We would drink fancy vermouth and it didn’t matter if I drank enough to ruin the next day, because there were days and days after, endless days marked only by my choices,” she says. But then her biology starts to rebel, and before long she is pregnant and on the run. Stranger and more alarming than the land through which she flees are the changes taking place within her body.

Mackintosh’s original idea was to write a horror novel about cannibalistic pregnant women. “Then I decided I wanted to write about a desire for something unexpected, which felt more scary,” she says. “I have had a lot of pregnant friends and family members and, hearing them talk about it, a lot of it is very weird: your teeth fall out, your hair falls out. My mum used to say people don’t tell you about it or you wouldn’t have a baby. So I was thinking of it as horror – of the pregnant body as a site of metamorphosis.” Or, as Calla puts it in the novel: “I had two brains inside of me and two hearts, and the baby-brain and baby-heart wanted to take me over.”

Like Calla – “though this is not to say she is me” – Mackintosh sailed through her early 20s convinced that she would never be a mother. “And suddenly in my late 20s I really wanted a baby and I resented that it felt outside my control. I don’t think it happens like that for everyone but it did to me. I thought: ‘My body is a stranger, I don’t like this.’”

Now in her early 30s, Mackintosh was born in south Wales, the elder of two sisters, but when she was small the family moved to the north Welsh coastal county of Pembrokeshire, which would inspire the setting of The Water Cure. Her father is a GP and her mother a former nurse from a big valleys family, “with lots of female cousins”, headed by her grandmother.

Though their first language is English, she and her sister were educated in Welsh, giving them a secret language their family didn’t share, alongside a literary mythology, learned by heart, and a sense of the musicality of language. “I know this feeds into the cliche about Welsh language,” she says, “but it makes you think about how to put words together and how to make them work musically.”

She wrote her first story at the age of six on a typewriter belonging to her grandfather, whom she also credits with fostering her taste for the macabre by plying her with age-inappropriate Stephen King novels. As an “arty-goth” teenager, she played guitar and piano and would listen to Joy Division on the school bus. “Ian Curtis read Sartre, Ballard, Kafka, Dostoevsky, and so did I,” she recalled in a tribute essay on the band. “This was the sort of literature, music and connection I craved in my teens. I wanted there to be deeper meaning in everything.”

At 17 she realised that this wasn’t necessarily a recipe for good fiction, abandoning her first attempt at a novel as pretentious nonsense 5,000 words in. But the poetry she was also writing began to win prizes, and she took it with her when she left Wales for a BA in creative writing at Warwick University. Part of the appeal of university was moving away from “the vast nowhere” of her childhood home . “I’d been wanting to leave for a long time, imagining this wonderful life outside. At the time I just wanted to be with other people and then when I got there I realised it was just like anywhere else. It wasn’t the glamorous life I was expecting,” she says.

She graduated assuming that writing was something she’d have to do in her spare time. “I tried to get into publishing but it wasn’t very successful so I worked in tech PR for a bit.” She moved to Glasgow for a year, jobbing in coffee shops and as a tutor, getting to her desk by 5am to put in “the cold blue hours” on fiction, kneading what she describes as “the wet clay” of her first drafts.

In 2013 she sent a novel – about an isolated community, and partially set in complete darkness – to the agent who would become her champion and first reader. “She was my first client,” recalls Harriet Moore. “We didn’t end up selling that novel, but I think of it still. What ambition!” In 2016 she won two short story prizes, from the White Review and Virago/Stylist magazine, and published a third creepy tale of teenage trophy-hunters in Granta. Seven publishers competed in an auction for The Water Cure in the spring of 2017.

Scarlett Johansson in the film adaptation of Michel Faber’s Under the Skin. The novel inspired Mackintosh. Photograph: Entertainme/REX/Shutterstock

Her poetry background shows in fiction that lives, to an unusual extent, in its musicality, in the rhythm and spareness of its sentences, rather than in a solidly constructed world – though it is studded with familiar markers, often involving food. In The Water Cure, the sisters survive on a tooth-rotting diet of cornflakes and tinned fruit; in Blue Ticket, the pleasures of a well-stocked supermarket transform for fugitive Calla into a nostalgic imagery of avocado baths and peach-coloured walls, sage carpet and apple-white walls.

“There’s not really much world building,” she admits. “It’s more about the people that are part of it. I like having a world where the rules are completely different and I’m in charge.” It’s uncanny in the sense of “not exactly eerie or creepy but something just a little off and maybe spare as well. I was thinking a lot about [Alan Warner’s] Morvern Callar and Michel Faber’s Under the Skin. You’re in a strange landscape and things are different.” Maggie Nelson and Jenny Offill are also among her literary heroes – “writers who are trying to figure out new ways to create narrative. I think you can do a lot with fragments; telling a story through shards.”

Music continues to play an important role in her work as well as her life. She met her fiance at a music festival, and creates customised playlists for each piece of fiction, be it a novel or a short story, to which she listens obsessively. Calla’s mixtape for Blue Ticket included “a lot of 90s and 70s stuff. Brian Eno and the Cocteau Twins, things with quite a strong aesthetic feel of how I wanted it to look – that 70s road trip motel vibe, and a cross between the Highlands and Switzerland”.

Both novels have a political subtext that works through metaphor. While The Water Cure’s is toxic masculinity and an increasingly resonant fear of contamination by touch, part of Blue Ticket’s subtext is alcohol-based consumerism. The booze Calla once enjoyed is weaponised in the roadside dives where she stops to rest and refuel: “I suppose I was thinking of drinking as a catalyst for often impulsive action and also a useful signifier of what constitutes ‘bad’ behaviour,” she explains.

“I’ve been a quite heavy drinker since my teens. But I’ve actually really cut back on my drinking during lockdown, and it’s been interesting to note the clarity I feel without booze, sometimes an uncomfortable clarity, and to think more about its function as a sort of buffer or blanket, a self-soothing mechanism and distraction.”

Against such dangerous distractions, she posits sisterhood, whether by blood, in The Water Cure, or coincidence, in the fellow fugitives with whom Calla teams up in Blue Ticket, though even this is not quite as it seems. “Living in a patriarchy, women’s stories are important for me,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in alternative support structures, how to gather groups with everything going to pieces, and how women can look after each other but also betray each other.”

The novel she has been working on during lockdown promises a new departure: it’s her first venture into historical fiction and is set in 1950s France, with a soundtrack that includes Françoise Hardy and Charlotte Gainsbourg. “It’s based on a true event in rural postwar France, so I’ve gone the opposite way,” she says. But it will still have a big shot of the uncanny, she promises, and its period setting won’t prevent it from chiming with current concerns: “I can’t work without what’s happening in the world leaking in.”

Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh is published by Hamish Hamilton (£12.99). To order a copy go to Delivery charges may apply.

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Pooh’s corners: magical stays in Ashdown Forest | Sussex holidays Sat, 05 Sep 2020 10:45:04 +0000 theguardian

With sufficient imagination, any place can evoke a sense of enchantment. Not just as a pleasure to visit, but also in the word’s original meaning – casting a spell. In his 1,300-page novel Jerusalem, writer Alan Moore managed to transform the run-down streets of his Northampton childhood into a multi-dimensional universe imbued with magic.

Thankfully, such genius is not required when writing of the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex; its charm and beauty are apparent to all who visit. As is its serenity. It is almost mystifyingly quiet. Even in midsummer there are rarely traffic jams or long queues for a 99, despite the forest’s proximity to London and long association with former resident AA Milne and a certain bear of little brain. As Christopher Robin Milne would write in his memoir, this was “an enchanted spot before ever Pooh came along to add to its magic”.

Covering almost 2,430 hectares, Ashdown Forest, in the High Weald area of outstanding natural beauty, is actually more heath than woodland, a landscape now rarer than tropical rainforest. Undulating sandstone ridgetops of gorse, heather and fern dominate, peppered with woodlands and bordering the mile-long Weir Wood reservoir. This is an ancient place, having escaped cultivation since Norman times, when it was set aside as a royal hunting ground.

In the 1980s it was nearly lost to the nation when former owner William Sackville, the 10th Earl De La Warr, planned to sell it off. Thanks to a fundraising campaign it is now council-owned, protected and managed by conservators. A population of silka, fallow, muntjac and roe deer share the land with a wide variety of dragonflies, rodents and snakes, plus badgers, stoats and weasels. Favourites for the birders include redstarts, flycatchers, crossbills, Dartford warblers, woodlarks and tree pipits. Here, wildlife is given top priority. Off-road biking is banned; this is a land for walking.

Pooh Sticks Bridge in Ashdown Forest, and the EH Shepard’s illustration of it in AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.
Pooh Sticks Bridge in Ashdown Forest, and the EH Shepard’s illustration of it in AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. Photograph: composite by Tony Watson and CBW/both Alamy

For a small donation, there are 13 circular walking routes to download from (the visitor centre is currently closed). An OS map will serve just as well and allow greater freedom, creating personal routes along the forest’s clear pathways. Good starting points are Old Lodge nature reserve (paths from its main car park offer sweeping views of heathland and open woods), Tabell Ghyll, the old airstrip, the airman’s grave and Gills Lap. For me, this spring Ashdown Forest became a place of rediscovery and respite from the claustrophobia of lockdown. Once travel restrictions had eased, I roamed in weather fine and foul, enjoying its heathland coconut-scented by yellow-flowering gorse. Warblers skulked among the flora; dragonflies, huge and iridescent, helicoptered over the ferns. And all to a soundtrack of chittering finches, the chick-chick of stonechats and the air-pump wheeze of the great tit.

Commemoration stone for AA Milne and EH Shepard at Gills Lap.
Commemoration stone for AA Milne and EH Shepard at Gills Lap. Photograph: Jim Holden/Alamy

Over the summer I returned to sample some of the forest’s other delights, travelling on the steam-hauled Bluebell Railway from Sheffield Park, by its western edge, to Kingscote 10 miles to the north. Its reduced post-lockdown service involves pre-booked compartments, extra spacing, masks obligatory on platforms, but a full menu of cream teas, breakfasts and fish and chip suppers.

Two miles north of Sheffield Park is 100-acre Heaven Farm, a popular camping site and nature trail, with ridiculously cute albino wallabies, rescued decades ago by the farm’s owner, John Butler, now 90. Latchetts Farm, in its grounds, offers ice-cream “straight from cow to cone”.

Much of Ashdown Forest is actually heath, dominated by pine, heather and gorse.
Classic Ashdown Forest scenery: pine, heather and gorse, which is excellent habitat for birds such as Dartford warbler. Photograph: Slawek Staszczuk/Alamy

Tablehurst Community Farm on the outskirts of Forest Row, east of Kingscote, became a favourite place for stocking up on essentials. In its shop, everything from the biodynamic organic meat and vegetables to the raw Jersey milk comes direct from their not-for-profit farm. Food doesn’t get more local than this. An outdoor cafe (Wed-Sun, 10am-4pm), overlooking farmland and elevated wooden beehives, makes a beautiful spot for lunch, though £5 for a sausage roll is a bit steep. There are bikes to hire from a Countrybike outlet on the farm.

Recently reopened in the pretty village of Hartfield are the Gallipot and Anchor pubs, both with large beer gardens, and Pooh Corner – the village sweet shop that Christopher Robin once frequented and now a Pooh-themed tea room. Since taking over last year, owners Neil and Sam Reed have added a tiny “Pooh’seum” with memorabilia, artwork, photographs and literary curios. One staff member even has a Winnie-the-Pooh tattoo.

But while Milne and his creations are undoubtably the main draw for the forest’s overseas visitors (of which there are, of course, currently few), locations associated with the books remain low-key and unspoiled. Galleon’s Leap (Gills Lap) and the Enchanted Place have only modest signage and a plaque to Milne and the illustrator of the books, EH Shepard. Revisiting the Pooh Sticks Bridge near Chuck Hatch after 30 years, I took the 15-minute walk down a sandy path from the car park to find that while the unassuming wooden bridge was rebuilt 20 years ago, it still looks as it did in Shepard’s illustrations. The forest’s globally famous landmark has not suffered the fate of Land’s End. Its enchantment has not been killed off by gaudy signs and shopping arcades but lives on through ritual and imagination as – 100 years on – kids clutching cuddly Eeyores, Poohs and Piglets gather sticks, drop them in the water, race to the other side of the bridge and bicker over who actually won. Fans of nature writer Tristram Gooley will of course know that to win at Pooh Sticks you need to drop your twig into the river’s deepest part, the thalweg.

Bluebell Railway steam train
A locomotive on the Bluebell Railway. Photograph: Jason Hook

Tight controls on land use may have put paid to any hopes for pop-up camping in the forest, but there are plenty of campsites, B&Bs, cabins and shepherd’s huts. Pegs and Pitches’ family-friendly Wild Boar Campsite has nine pre-erected, well-equipped bell tents hidden away in an ancient five-acre wood. Nice touches include a central parachute awning and hot-water outdoor bucket showers, complete with peep-hole for watching steam trains pass by.

Shovelstrode Forest Garden, north of Forest Row, has six secluded wooden cabins and bell tents in a vast wooded garden. “We initially set this up as somewhere to run courses themed around self-sufficiency,” owners Charles and Lisa tell me, after I settle into Anderida Cabin for the evening,but somehow we also fell into hospitality.”

A treatment used in the 1918 flu pandemic was open-air therapy, and this could have been a good place to try it. The site offers perhaps its 21st-century equivalent, forest bathing sessions. There is also outdoor learning at the woodland workshop, which runs a variety of traditional craft courses, including bee-keeping and green woodworking.

My cabin has a double bed, sofabed, dining areas and woodburning stove; walls are decorated with old tapestries, photographs and carvings. It would be ideal for couples and small families, and is snug. This is how I’d imagine Henry David Thoreau’s cabin in Walden to have been, though I suspect he didn’t have a phone charging point by the bed. Or succumb to a pizza from Deliveroo.

Parachute awning at Wild Boar campsite.
Parachute awning at Wild Boar campsite. Photograph: Jason Hook

I spend the evening on the porch with photographer and friend Jason, listening to Alan Bennett’s gentle voice reading Milne’s playful tales. Dusk approaches. Owls call. Fire and candlelight hypnotise. Whisky animates the conversation. Magic is afoot.

GK Chesterton once remarked that a unicorn is a creature that looks like it should exist but doesn’t; while a hippo looks like it shouldn’t exist but does. In Ashdown Forest there are wallabies, llamas and miniature deer. Around Gills Lap and the Five Hundred Acre Wood, Milne’s fictional creatures walk (and bound) with us. But only at night in spring and summer does the forest’s most improbable and otherworldly creature stir. The size of a small falcon, the nightjar is a nocturnal bird with reptilian eyes that makes its presence known at dusk with its low, fluttering, lilting churr. According to folklore, anyone who sees one of these “puck birds” cross their path at night with a “devil clap” of its wings, would be well advised to turn on their heels. Such were the days when we viewed nature with suspicion and saw wild places as uncivilised and hostile. Those living outside towns and villages were known disparagingly as heathens – literally, people of the heath.

Shovelstrode Forest Garden
David Bramwell enjoys the porch at his hut at Shovelstrode Forest Garden. Photograph: Jason Hook

On warm evenings (or cooler nights with more layers), a bench near the Hollies car park, a few miles from Nutley, offers spectacular sunsets. Save for the odd house there’s little sign of human existence – just hills, forests and heathland as far as the eye can see. It’s hard to believe that London is so close. And that my home in Brighton is closer still.

It was here, one night in early summer, that my partner and I were drawn by the exotic churr of the nightjars. Venturing deep into the heathland we found ourselves surrounded by a trio of these inquisitive birds. Silhouetted like angels in the moonlight they clapped their wings in courtship and danced in the air around us. We were spooked and spellbound. If modernity, city life and progress equate with our “disenchantment of the world” as philosopher Max Weber had it, the flora and fauna of Ashdown Forest may long continue to enchant – and make heathens of us all.

Accommodation was provided by Forest Garden Shovelstrode, which has bell tents and cabins sleeping five from £295 for two nights.
Pitches at Heaven Farm cost £10 adult, £5 for 5-18s. Bell tents for two at Wild Boar Wood Campsite cost from £77.50 a night

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What happened to Iceland’s heroes who stunned England at Euro 2016? | Football Sat, 05 Sep 2020 09:30:05 +0000 theguardian

Three who flourished

Johann Berg Gudmundsson The winger came into Euro 2016 on the back of relegation from the Championship with Charlton, although he had jointly topped the division’s assist charts. More fine performances in France brought a move to the Premier League and Burnley, where he has been an important and highly effective operator. Last season was fraught with thigh problems but Gudmundsson, who had started the campaign in excellent form, is fit again and will be expected to add a degree of attacking unpredictability to Sean Dyche’s side once more. Like several of his teammates, he will not face England because of club commitments.

Hannes Halldorsson At first glance the goalkeeper’s spell at Qarabag, which brought only eight appearances after he joined them in the wake of Russia 2018, appears to have been a failure. But Halldorsson, who was 34 at the time, still played in the Champions League qualifiers and Europa League group stage for the Azeri club. These days he is back in the local league with Valur. Given that he spent the early years of his career slogging through Iceland’s lower divisions, before finding the time to direct the country’s Eurovision entry in 2012 among other projects, it goes down as a life supremely well lived.

Birkir Mar Saevarsson He never made it big in club football, but Saevarsson matched Halldorsson in extracting the very most from his talent. Iceland’s marauding right-back was 31, and a solid enough performer in the Scandinavian leagues, when Euro 2016 came around. It meant a high-profile move was never really likely, but the unexpected Indian summer of his career continued in their World Cup campaign and he was capped as recently as January in a win over El Salvador. Saevarsson, rangy and tremendously fit, still plays for Valur alongside Halldorsson and famously combined that with working in a salt packing factory prior to Russia 2018.

Three who faded

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson The winning goal Sigthorsson squeezed past Joe Hart was the pinnacle – and what a pinnacle – of a career that always promised slightly more. Had it not been for a serious knee injury that robbed him of 18 months after Euro 2016, he could well have realised the vast potential shown during spells with AZ and Ajax. But he barely played again for his then-employers, Nantes, and has struggled to find the net for AIK in Sweden since joining last year. A return to form at international level last year – scoring three times in Euro 2020 qualifying – did, however, suggest he has the appetite to torment England once more.

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson scores Iceland’s winner against England. Photograph: Lars Baron/Getty Images

Ragnar Sigurdsson Forged a telepathic central-defensive unit alongside his golfing buddy Kari Arnason, with whom he even holidayed in Thailand the year before. He swept in Iceland’s equaliser against England and briefly found himself the talk of Europe, with Liverpool among several big guns strongly linked. Eventually he joined Fulham from Krasnodar, settling for a year in the Championship, but the move did not work out and, via further spells in Russia with Rubin Kazan and Rostov, he now plays for Copenhagen. At 34, he remains important to the national team but will not play against England.

Gylfi Sigurdsson First, the good bits: Iceland’s one genuine star was crucial in their World Cup qualifying campaign and broke the deadlock in their deciding fixture against Kosovo. But it has been a mixed bag at club level, where a £40m move to Everton in 2017 has brought significant ups and downs. Sigurdsson’s second season at Goodison Park, in 2018-19, brought sustained good form and 13 top-flight goals. Last term, though, bordered on the disastrous and, with Carlo Ancelotti strengthening his creative midfield resources, his future looks unclear. A move to DC United has been mooted but surely Sigurdsson, still just 30, has a few more good seasons at the top level left in him.

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Team that beat England Halldorsson; Saevarsson, Arnason, R Sigurrdsson, Skulason; Gudmundsson, G Sigurdsson, Gunnarsson, B Bjarnason; Sigthorsson (T Bjarnason, 77), Bodvarsson (Traustason, 89).

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Why silk face masks are better for your skin | Sali Hughes | Fashion Sat, 05 Sep 2020 08:15:05 +0000 theguardian

A recent Zoom call with top Manhattan dermatologist Dr Dendy Engelman won me a family argument. The posh, black silk face covering I’d switched to wearing, much to the amusement of my loved ones who dismissed my claims of greater comfort as “just Mum being fancy”, is, she says, the best thing for our skin. Engelman (consultant dermatologist for Elizabeth Arden) coined the term “maskne” after seeing a surge in private patients – particularly those who wore PPE at work – with breakouts, friction sores, congested pores and irritation during the Covid-19 crisis.

Her first recommendation (before nightly use of a beta hydroxy acid: I swear by Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (from £10 for 30m), swept over after cleansing) is to switch to a silk face covering wherever possible. It causes the least friction of any fabric, which helps to prevent those minor skin wounds on the cheeks and nose that heal over, clogging pores and causing spots in the process (Engelman calls this “acne mechanica”).

Silk is also cool and breathable, which is of significant help around the chin area. My aforementioned dermatologist-approved mask is by Slip (£39), makers of my favourite hair ties. It’s pricey but beautifully made, multilayered (two or more layers of silk are required to be safe) and, helpfully, has a removable bendy wire across the nose bridge that all but eradicates skin indentations and stops it creeping up to my eyes. I love it, or as much as you can love a mask in a pandemic.

But you needn’t spend so much. Comfortable, skin-friendly face masks should be available to all. The British independent brand Golden Hour makes masks domestically, available in heaps of colours and at £9 (less if you buy several). Also extremely comfortable are Gingerlily’s mulberry silk face coverings (£25) in beautiful, muted tones of charcoal, blush pink and sand. These have secure elastic loops that can be whacked on quickly as you enter a shop – essential if, like me, you can’t be bothered with the faff of tying the straps you see on many fancier masks.

There are countless patterned silk versions on the market, too – florals, dots, Liberty prints, cartoons, stripes. But I take against them, perhaps unfairly, as they are hard to match with outfits, and remind me of those wacky masks paediatricians wear to cheerily distract a child who’s about to lose an appendix.

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Tony Abbott’s UK trade role sparks conflict of interest concerns | Tony Abbott Sat, 05 Sep 2020 07:00:05 +0000 theguardian

The controversial appointment of Australian former prime minister Tony Abbott as an official trade adviser for the UK has sparked questions as to how he will manage conflicts of interest.

The UK government officially confirmed Abbott’s appointment on Friday, defying a barrage of criticism over accusations of misogynistic and homophobic comments, and his views on the climate emergency.

Boris Johnson defended his appointment on Friday, saying: “I obviously don’t agree with those sentiments at all but then I don’t agree with everyone who serves the gov in an unpaid capacity on hundreds of boards across the country.

“What I would say about Tony Abbott is this is a guy who was elected by the great liberal democratic nation of Australia.”

But in Australia, parliamentarians have questioned whether Abbott’s inside knowledge of the Liberal party – which is part of the ruling Coalition government and which he led as prime minister from 2013 to 2015 – presented a conflict of interest in his new role.

Mark Dreyfus, the shadow attorney general of the opposition Labor party, said on Saturday: “It’s up to the Morrison government to explain how a former Liberal PM can now work for a foreign power advising on matters potentially in direct conflict with Australia’s commercial interest.

“And how conflicts arising from Mr Abbott’s intimate knowledge of Australia’s trading interests and strategies, gained during his years as minister and prime minister, will be managed.”

Other parliamentarians went further. Rex Patrick, an independent senator from South Australia, labelled Abbott’s appointment a “disgrace” and called for the former prime minister to be forced to register as a foreign agent under Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.

He said Abbott should be stripped of “most” of his travel and office allowance. “Australian taxpayers shouldn’t subsidise a foreign agent,” Patrick said on social media.

But Australia’s attorney general, Christian Porter, congratulated Abbott on his appointment and wished him “every success” in securing a new free trade deal between Australia and the UK.

“Mr Abbott will no doubt be aware of the routine requirements for former cabinet ministers under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme,” he said. “In the first instance, it is up to each individual to determine whether or not their circumstances meet the registration requirements.”

In the lead-up to his appointment to the unpaid position, Abbott attracted criticism from Tory MPs, charities and LGBT and environmental activists, after being among nine external advisers appointed to the Board of Trade. The board, revived by Theresa May, is intended to help shape the UK’s post-Brexit trade policy.

Abbott was a controversial prime minister of Australia from 2013 until he was ousted by Liberal party colleagues in 2015. He once described abortion as “the easy way out” and has suggested men are better adapted than women to exercise authority. A prior opponent of equal marriage, Abbott has also suggested climate change is “probably doing good”, and likened policies to combat it to “primitive people once killing goats to appease the volcano gods”.

Indeed Abbott, who gave a controversial speech railing against Covid “health dictatorships” in the UK this week, seems to have caused divisions even among his fellow Board of Trade appointees.

Anne Boden, founder of the online-only bank Starling, tweeted to say she was “pleased to be advising the Board of Trade” and said it was “important that we have challenging voices” speaking to ministers.

Pleased to be advising the Board of Trade – it is important that we have challenging voices at such an important body. I support diversity and so did this woman

But the financial technology expert added “I support diversity and so did this woman”, linking to a famous 2012 speech by another former Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, in which she accused Abbott of being a misogynist in the country’s parliament.

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I swim far out into the Ionian Sea – and then I panic | Life and style Sat, 05 Sep 2020 05:45:05 +0000 theguardian

At the start of our Greek holiday, Freddie, the owner of the house we’re renting, arrives to welcome us. He keeps a respectable social distance, standing just outside the door and rolling a cigarette. Behind him is a hill covered in pines. Out the window to my left, the Ionian Sea sparkles.

“You should keep the doors shut when you’re here,” he says.

“Really?” says our friend. It’s 36C outside.

“It’s better for you,” he says, lighting his fag. “Because there are animals that can get in.”

“Animals?” my wife says. “Animals like insects, or like mice?”

“Pine martens,” Freddie says.

“Pine martens,” says someone. “Aren’t they nice?”

“No,” says Freddie. “They’re mean.” I think, don’t worry – I will shut the doors.

“Can we walk to the sea from here?” my wife asks.

“Yes,” Freddie says, shrugging and tilting his head to one side, as if to gird his answer in philosophical qualification: yes, insofar as any of us can do anything.

“Is it far?” my wife asks.

“It’s not far, but it’s steep,” he says. “It’s not for old people.”

“I’m not sure who you’re referring to, Freddie,” she says. Freddie smiles.

“Someone,” he says, “who does not exist.”

The path to the sea is not for old people. It plunges precipitously through dense forest, over loose rock, for about half a mile. All the way down I think, why did I wear flip-flops? When I am not looking at my feet, I scan the branches above for pine martens.

Eventually, we reach a tiny pebble beach in an inlet, with views across the strait to the cliffs of the island opposite. I dive in and swim out until I am hundreds of metres from everything. During the long months of lockdown many people seem to have craved social interaction, public spaces, multitudes. But this is what I have craved: true, unforced isolation.

I see a yellow marker bobbing in the distance and decide to swim to it. After a while, it becomes clear that it’s further than I thought, but the sea is flat and warm. I feel incredibly buoyant and although the water is deep beneath me, I can see the bottom clearly. Also, I can still hear my wife gossiping with two of our friends as they all float gently, halfway back to shore.

I put my head down and swim. As I clear the rocky point the sea gets a little rougher. The yellow marker now appears only intermittently, on the crests of the waves. I can no longer hear my wife, just the water lapping at my ears.

Finally, when I come within 20 feet of the marker, I panic: I decide my determination to touch it is the thing that is going to kill me. I turn and swim hard for shore, as if being chased. At first, I seem to be making no progress at all, but eventually reach the calmer waters of the inlet, where I realise I had nothing to fear but my fear. As I turn to look back at the yellow marker, I hear the reassuring sound of my wife criticising someone’s furniture.

The next day, as I sit by the pool, the main character in the book I’m reading does a similar thing: he goes for an evening dip in the ocean and absentmindedly swims too far out. By the time he sees where he is, he realises he probably lacks the strength for the return journey. The metaphorical potential of the predicament doesn’t even hit me then, because I’m preoccupied.

“If a pine marten gets into your house, is it then a house marten?” I say.

“A house martin is a bird,” my wife says.

“That makes no sense,” I say.

“You make no sense,” she says.

I do not see any pine martens during my holiday, except in my dreams, where they are much meaner-looking than the charming mustelid pictured on the Wikipedia page. After a while I start leaving the doors open at night, so that any pine martens already in the house will have an exit strategy.

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Melbourne anti-lockdown protests: dozens arrested in violent clashes with police | Melbourne Sat, 05 Sep 2020 04:40:03 +0000 theguardian

Dozens of people have been arrested at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance and Albert Park after hundreds of protesters defied the city’s stage-four lockdowns to hold an anti-lockdown rally on Saturday.

Organised by a broad coalition of online groups linked by a mish-mash of conspiracy theories, Saturday’s protest was planned in defiance of lockdown restrictions, mandates on mask-wearing in Victoria, 5G, vaccinations and “child trafficking and pedophilia”.

Victoria police took a hardline approach to the protests in the lead-up to Saturday, charging five people with incitement for their alleged involvement in organising the protest.

Among them was Fanos Panayides, a prominent member of Australia’s conspiracy movement and one of the organisers of a similar protest held in Melbourne in May.

Another, James Bartolo, who runs conspiracy website The Conscious Truth Network, posted footage of his arrest online on Saturday.

“Woke up this morning, jumped on the dunny, heard some knocks on the door,” Bartolo wrote on social media. “It was all the cops, they broke down the door, arrested me, they took computers, laptops [and my] phone.

“It is a bit of a pain in the ass. They stole my shit. Whatever. I’m fine.”

The arrests prompted wide-spread confusion among followers in the lead-up to the protest. After he was charged, Bartolo told supporters to not attend the rally because he believed it was “a trap”.

Anti-lockdown protesters at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

“It is the worst possible thing to do. It is a set-up from the get go. It is all just terrible.”

That confusion appears to have prompted many to stay away from the protest. On encrypted messaging services on Saturday morning, supporters were divided about whether the protest should be cancelled, and attendance in Melbourne was well below what organisers had hoped for.

Nonetheless, footage from the Shrine of Remembrance on Saturday morning showed at least a few hundred protesters, many not wearing masks, chanting “freedom” and hurling abuse at police and media.

A large contingent of riot police and mounted officers clashed with protesters in intermittent melees. Officers were punched by one man before he was fitted with a mask and placed in handcuffs. While Victoria police had not released arrest numbers early on Saturday afternoon, footage showed dozens of people being detained.

After mounted officers drove protesters from the Shrine of Remembrance, footage online showed streams of protesters marching to Albert Park.

Once there, a large police contingent, including officers from the public order response team, surrounded small groups of protesters, arresting them one by one.

In one small group, protesters, some holding QAnon signs, called for officers to “stand with us” and threatened to sue police because they were “protected by the Australian constitution”.

Earlier, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, labelled the protestors “selfish”.

“It is not smart, it is not safe, it is not lawful, in fact it is absolutely selfish to be out there protesting,” he said.

“The only fight we should be engaged in is against this virus.”

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Search for crew of sunken cargo ship suspended as second typhoon nears Japan | World news Sat, 05 Sep 2020 03:25:04 +0000 theguardian

Authorities have suspended their search for 40 missing crew members from a cargo ship that capsized off south-west Japan as Typhoon Haishen bears down on the region.

The typhoon, the second in a week, is barrelling towards the southern cluster of Japanese Okinawa islands, prompting warnings about torrential rainfall and fierce wind gusts. It is expected to cross the region late on Sunday or early Monday.

On Friday night, Japan’s coastguard announced a third crewman from the Gulf Livestock 1 had been found. The vessel had been carrying 6,000 cattle when it capsized in the East China Sea on Wednesday on its way from New Zealand to China.

The 30-year-old Filipino sailor was spotted waving for help from a life raft about a mile off Kodakarajima, a small island in Japan’s southern Kagoshima prefecture. Rescuers also found an overturned orange lifeboat a little further off Kodakarajima, but no one was in it.

A crew member died on Friday after being pulled unconscious from the water, and another crew member was rescued on Wednesday night.

The Filipino chief officer who was rescued on Wednesday, Eduardo Sareno, told authorities the ship had capsized and sunk after one engine had shut down and it was hit by a massive wave.

Rescuers spotted dozens of cow carcasses floating in the area.

Weather officials have warned about Typhoon Haishen for several days, urging people to brace for what could be a record storm and be ready to take shelter and stock up on food and water.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said Haishen, carrying sustained winds of up to 198 km/h (123mph) early onSaturday, was on course to hit Okinawa by Sunday, and later the main southern island of Kyushu. But the pouring rain, high tides and winds will hit long before the typhoon, the agency said.

Earlier this week, Typhoon Maysak battered southern Japan, injuring dozens of people and cutting power to thousands of homes.

Gulf Livestock 1’s crew of 43 was made up of 39 people from the Philippines, two from New Zealand and two from Australia.

One of the Australians on board the capsized vessel was named on Friday as stock handler Will Mainprize. The other Australian is Lukas Orda, a 25-year-old man from Queensland who was onboard as a vet.

Rescue crews will resume the search once the typhoon passes. Three vessels, four planes and two divers had been taking part in the search.

In May last year, Australian authorities delayed the vessel’s departure from Broome to Indonesia by a week due to navigation and stability problems. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s website said the ship’s safety management system did not provide for adequate operational safety of navigation and management because it did not use the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS). An ECDIS is a navigational system that makes it easier for ships to obtain directions and to navigate to pinpoint locations.

The report added that the system onboard did not have up-to-date charts, adding that the crew were not trained in how to use the system. The deficiencies were reported as having been rectified, with an additional audit carried out on the safety management system. No other serious deficiencies were reported.

A spokesperson for Maritime New Zealand said standard safety surveys were undertaken on the Gulf Livestock 1 both on arrival at and departure from Napier port, including inspections of livestock carriers and pens. “No irregularities or issues were noted,” the spokesperson said.

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Cook Islands former PM dies of coronavirus in New Zealand | World news Sat, 05 Sep 2020 02:10:05 +0000 theguardian

A former prime minister of the Cook Islands, Joseph Williams, has died of coronavirus in Auckland, New Zealand’s health ministry said on Saturday, taking the number of Covid-related deaths in the country to 24.

Williams, who was 82, was a well-known GP as well as a politician and author, living in New Zealand. He was briefly prime minister of the Cook Islands in 1999 after serving as the South Pacific nation’s minister of health and education.

New Zealand’s director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said in a statement: “Dr Williams was seen as a leading figure in the Cook Islands medical community and he will be sadly missed.”

Williams was admitted to Auckland city hospital on 13 August amid concerns he might have come in close contact to someone linked to the initial Auckland cluster. Williams’s Mt Wellington practice is not far from the Americold coolstore that was at the heart of the most recent outbreak.

Deputy prime minister Winston Peters, for whose party Williams once stood as a candidate said he “made a serious mark on the communities he served. He will be greatly missed in both New Zealand and the Cook Islands.

“Dr Williams was a dedicated and passionate man. He was an enduring example example of a Cook Islander who came to New Zealand for education, and then made a real difference in his chosen career.”

Cooks Islands prime minister Henry Puna called Williams a “pioneer on many fronts and a man way beyond his time” and said a national memorial service would be organised in due course.

Dr Kiki Maoate, his nephew and president of the Pasifika Medical Association said: “His love, generosity and kindness has touched so many families, friends and colleagues. He has left us all with the gifts of his journey, and for that we are forever grateful.”

New Zealand finance minister Grant Robertson tweeted: “Dr Joe was such an influential leader in the Cook Island community, and in the health sector in general. Deeply respected, my thoughts and aroha are with his family, friends and community.”

New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, has been under restrictions to fight the spread of the coronavirus since an outbreak last month. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday extended the 2.5 alert level until at least mid-September after the country reported the Covid-19 death of a man in his 50s who worked at Americold.

Bloomfield said: “Today’s sad news again reinforces the importance of our shared vigilance against Covid-19, the very serious consequences the virus can carry with it, and the measures we all need to take to stop the spread, break any chain of transmission and prevent deaths.”

Reuters contributed to this article

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Coronavirus live news: Iraq hospitals in crisis as anti-lockdown rallies loom in Victoria | World news Sat, 05 Sep 2020 00:55:03 +0000 theguardian

Essentially, it is good to see these numbers continue to fall. It is good to see that the strategy continues to be successful. Obviously, at 76 new cases, that is still a really significant challenge for us. And to open up with those numbers would, of course, see the total number of coronavirus infections explode. It would see many, many hundreds, indeed thousands, of Victorians infected with this virus. So, as frustrating, as challenging as it is, we need to stay the course on this.

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