Portrait of the Week: Infected blood apologies, falling inflation and XL bully attacks 

Home Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said: ‘I want to make a wholehearted and unequivocal apology’ for a ‘decades-long moral failure at the heart of our national life’, as described in the report by Sir Brian Langstaff from the Infected Blood Inquiry, which found that successive governments and the NHS had let patients catch HIV and hepatitis. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, apologised too. So far more than 3,000 have died, of the 30,000 infected with HIV or hepatitis C from blood products or transfusions between 1970 and the early 1990s. Interim compensation of £210,000 will be paid to some within 90 days. BT postponed until January 2027 a

Would a German takeover of BT be so bad?

To the Mansion House, on an unbearably humid evening, for the Lord Mayor’s annual ‘Financial and Professional Services’ dinner. It’s a big night for the City, with the formal unveiling of reforms designed to channel pension money into unlisted equities, creating by 2030 a £50 billion pool of capital for high-growth UK companies that might otherwise list in New York or sell themselves elsewhere. Simplified London listing rules, favourable to founder-entrepreneurs, will be another part of a wider reform package, much of which has been foreshadowed in this column over recent months. But what a way to put out a major policy announcement. ‘No wonder the tech kids don’t want

Let’s flush away the idea of a return to state-owned water

Water, water everywhere in the media this week, as the Thames Water utility – crippled by debt and shamed by Niagaras of raw sewage – reached the brink of collapse. Anticipating government intervention if Thames’s owners cannot inject sufficient new equity, pundits decried the 1989 privatisation of English and Welsh water – which passed from conventional shareholders to private equity and foreign sovereign wealth that combined to extract £72 billion of dividends while loading the industry with £60 billion of debt and allegedly denying it new reservoirs and leak-free pipes. Put like that, the fate of water – a resource so natural that some say it should be immune from

If buttons, balloons or premature burial terrify you, rest assured you’re not alone

Every summer, during our holiday in Orkney, there is a moment of panic. We’re standing on a dizzying cliff – looking across a sleeve of sea at the Old Man of Hoy, maybe – and I’m consumed with a longing to fling myself over. It’s not suicidal. I just yearn to feel the wild rush of air against my cheeks: I want to fly. I’ve never met anyone who shares this compulsion, but The Book of Phobias and Manias assures me it’s quite common. Indeed, it has a name: acrophobia. Kate Summerscale understands it perfectly: ‘The whirl of vertigo,’ she says, can ‘seem like the giddiness of yearning.’ A new

What’s Helsinki’s nightlife like?

Finnish lines Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she had taken a test for illegal drugs after being filmed at a party at which some people were shouting ‘flour’ – Finnish slang for cocaine. What’s Helsinki’s nightlife like? — The Hostelworld website identifies a Helsinki venue, Kaiku, as one of its 20 top clubs in the world. — Insider.com names Helsinki as the second best city in the world for socialising. — However, Finder.com rated Helsinki as the 16th most expensive city in the world in which to buy a pint, although it did come out cheaper than Oslo and Stockholm. Screen out Cineworld was reported to be on the

Should you grass on a neighbour who breaks the hosepipe ban?

We know many water companies are themselves guilty of profligate waste through unrepaired leaks. So to snitch on a neighbour, who is making a comparatively tiny personal contribution to the drought, seems petty. But we are only human and it is hard to watch your flowers and vegetables wither and die while your neighbour is still drenching his own produce with gay abandon. If you have a smart water meter you might be more careful about over-use as Big Brother is watching you. Candy, a wife and mother of three in my nearby town, showed me her own bill for water use. It announced that her total water use was

Ross Clark

Water woes: who’s to blame for the shortages?

For residents of the London borough of Islington whose homes were flooded this week by a burst water main, Thames Water’s decision to announce a hosepipe ban the following day must have come across as a sick joke. Just a few days before the flood, the company sent out an email asking its customers to be a ‘hot spell hero’. ‘Every drop you save really is another drop more in your local river or reservoir.’ But Thames Water seemed unable to follow its own advice: five million litres of water were lost during the leak. The episode neatly encapsulated much of what is wrong with Britain’s water industry: crude, 1940s-style

Do we need a Roman-style Water Czar?

It is clear that the country will soon need a Water Czar. Augustus’s right-hand man Agrippa would be the one to reshape the whole system, and Frontinus to ensure it all worked. Of Rome’s aqueducts, ‘cut-and cover’ masonry channels, following the contours of the ground, made up 80 to 90 per cent of their total mileage, with tunnels and arches only as necessary. Rome’s first three aqueducts, built between 312 bc and 144 bc, were ten miles, 40 miles and 56 miles long, the last with arches along the final flat seven miles into the city. But Rome was expanding fast by now and it was clear that, if the

Tehran is repeating the Shah’s mistakes

The Iranian province of Khuzestan is oil-rich but water-poor. At the best of times, the southwestern region is a problem for Tehran. On the border with Iraq, it’s home to an Arab minority that has long been targeted. The province has separatist inclinations, which led to a failed uprising in 1979 and sees the occasional attack continue to this day. Unsurprisingly, it is not favoured by central government. It’s impoverished and lacks many basic services; quality of life is poor. Khuzestan is now in its sixth straight day of protests after water shortages in its major cities. Video footage filmed from protests reportedly shows tanks on fire after protestors set

Water, water everywhere: Touring the Land of the Dead, by Maki Kashimada, reviewed

Maki Kashimada won the 2012 Akutagawa Prize for Touring the Land of the Dead, the strange, unsettling novella that makes up half of this volume. It is translated here for the first time from the Japanese into English by Haydn Trowell, alongside Kashimada’s ‘Ninety-nine Kisses’, a short story based on Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s classic novel about four unmarried women, The Makioka Sisters. In Japan, Kashimada has become known for her avant-garde, nonconformist style. These two offerings are exemplary pieces. In Touring the Land of the Dead, a woman called Natsuko returns to a hotel she went to as a child with her mother and brother; now she is with her disabled