INDEPENDENT 2024-03-11 10:04:23


Author Jennifer Belle on her shocking new ‘Lolita in reverse’ novel

Jennifer Belle was once one of America’s most lauded new authors. She was barely 28 when, in 1996, her debut novel, Going Down, about a woman who puts herself through college by working as a call girl, was published to global success. New York’s glitziest young writers Jay McInerney and Tama Janowitz lined up to praise her, while Madonna snapped up the film rights, enlisting Belle to pen the screenplay herself. This daughter of the noted poet Jill Hoffman had got off to a dream start.

“Madonna was creative and brilliant,” says Belle. “She’d make suggestions for the screenplay, and I would disagree completely, but then I’d suddenly sit up a few days later and think, ‘Oh, of course! She’s 100 per cent right.’ It’s like she had tentacles all over her body, and just did things correctly, which is what an artist has to do.”

Their collective efforts, however, ultimately came to nothing. The film never got made.

Pope sparks fury after saying Ukraine should have courage to ‘raise white flag’

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky has criticised Pope Francis’s call to negotiate with Russia.

The Pope over the weekend said Kyiv should have the “courage of the white flag” – a statement some have compared to a few Catholic churches collaborating with Nazi Germany during World War II.

Mr Zelensky said Ukrainians “with weapons in their hands and under the blue and yellow flag” were resisting Russia’s further invasion into Europe. “Christians, Muslims, Jews — everyone… They support us with prayer, conversation, and deeds.

“This is what the church is — with people. And not two and a half thousand kilometres away, somewhere to mediate virtually between someone who wants to live and someone who wants to destroy you,” the president said.

Meanwhile, according to CNN report, the US asked China and India for help in dissuading Russia from carrying out a nuclear strike in 2022.

One of the things we did was not only message them directly but strongly urge, press, encourage other countries, to whom they might be more attentive, to do the same thing,” the official said, per the report. They added the diplomatic pressure “may have had some effect” on Russia’s thinking.

Crufts crowd boo as activists try to storm dog show

Animal rights activists were dragged out by Crufts security as they tried to disrupt the annual dog competition.

The dogs and their owners were evacuated from the floor as an animal rights protester burst past security onto the Birmingham NEC arena floor at the 2024 event on Sunday.

He was grabbed and dragged away from the competitors by security as he attempted to unfurl a ‘Boycott Breeders’ banner.

She eventually lost her grip on the front railing and was escorted away from the arena to applause and shouts of “Get Out” from the dog-loving audience.

Were you in attendance at Crufts? Email barney.davis.ind@independent.co.uk

Animal rights group Peta said a supporter holding a sign reading Boycott Breeders attempted to storm the arena floor before the winner was announced, while activists also unfurled a banner in the stands among the audience with the same message.

A spokesman for The Kennel Club said: “There was a protest incident involving Peta at Crufts and they were swiftly removed to ensure the safety and welfare of the dogs and owners, who are our main priority.

“Far from perpetuating the homeless dog crisis as Peta claims, Crufts is a unique platform which educates millions of visitors, and viewers on Channel 4, about how to get the right dog for your lifestyle, so that all dogs, whether rescue dogs or puppies, have a home for life.

“We celebrated hundreds of rescue dogs at Crufts this year, and have a dedicated rescue dog area, as well our Discover Dogs zone, which help would-be owners to find the right dog or puppy for them and make responsible choices about this life-long decision.

“We are at the forefront of improving dog health and invest in research, develop health tests and educate breeders, owners and judges about the importance of ensuring health is their top priority.”

An Australian shepherd was crowned best in show at the ever-popular event. Three-year-old Viking, from Solihull, Birmingham, beat 24,000 dogs from around the world over the last four days to claim the show’s top honour on Sunday.

Viking, co-owned by Melanie Raymond, John Shaw and Kerry Kirtley, was the winner of the pastoral group earlier in the show.

Ms Raymond, a third-generation dog breeder who lives just three miles from the showground, said: “We all dream of winning best in show at Crufts.”

Asked if he lived up to expectation, she said: “He did actually, I should never doubt him because he always gives me everything and you come in and he’s like ‘yep, come on let’s do this’.

“So he loves every minute of it.”

According to dog welfare and training body The Kennel Club, the breed was developed in America as a sheepdog to work on the ranches and is “very successful in the show ring” because of their “attractive colours and athletic movements”.

A nine-year-old Jack Russell terrier named Zen, from Japan, who earlier won the terrier group, was named reserve dog.

Mercer accused of ‘major incompetence’ for ‘ministerial code breach’

A member of Rishi Sunak’s cabinet has been accused of “major incompetence” for failing to correct the parliamentary record four years after having admitted to misleading parliament.

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer has acknowledged that he misled the House of Commons in January 2020 during a debate about allegations of war crimes by UK special forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, despite saying he would correct the parliamentary record in August 2020, Mr Mercer has until now failed to do so.

Labour MP Kevan Jones has written to cabinet secretary Simon Case accusing Mr Mercer of having breached the ministerial code.

“I ask that you investigate this continued breach of the ministerial code, why the record has not yet been corrected, and outline what action will take place as a result,” he said, in a letter seen by The Independent.

And the ex-chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair Graham, told The Independent Mr Mercer was guilty of “letting the House of Commons down”.

“It sounds like major incompetence… the speaker should be criticising him as much as anything,” Sir Alistair said.

He added: “The House of Commons is based on trusting the word of ministers, that what ministers say is true.

“And if they have promised to do something, it undermines the integrity of the political system if they do not keep to their word.”

During the January 2020 debate, sparked by a Panorama probe into accusations that the government and armed forces covered up the killing of civilians by British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, then-defence minister Mr Mercer told MPs: “There have been allegations made by individuals, a very small number of whom worked within the investigative teams.”

But in evidence given in person and submitted in writing to the independent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan last month, Mr Mercer admitted he had inadvertently misled MPs by reading out statements he later found to be incorrect.

And in an August 2020 letter released as part of the evidence submitted to the inquiry, Mr Mercer told his then-boss, defence secretary Ben Wallace: “That I have now been allowed to read out statements to the House of Commons that individuals in strategic appointments in the department knew to be incorrect is completely unacceptable.

“These were clearly not complaints by a ‘small number of individuals within the investigations team’ but widespread. I have continually downplayed these allegations in public too to support [special forces unit] UKSF1 and the department.

“That was clearly a mistake.”

Mr Mercer told Mr Wallace he wanted to make a statement to the House of Commons in the first week of September 2020 correcting the record.

Mr Mercer did not correct the record in the first week of September 2020 and has still yet to do so in almost three and a half years since.

The ministerial code states that it is of “paramount importance” for ministers to give “accurate and truthful” information to parliament. And it states that ministers must “correct any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”.

In a statement posted on X in February, Mr Mercer said: “I am an elected politician who serves the public. I am not an appointed official and my position relies on my reputation and my ability to sustain public confidence in my character.”

In his letter to Mr Case, Mr Jones, a member of parliament’s defence committee, said he has the “utmost respect” for those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, including Mr Mercer.

He said: “As a former member of our Armed Forces, Mr Mercer is aware of the standards maintained by our Armed Forces and the importance of making sure they are upheld.

“It is with this in mind that I would ask the department why Mr Mercer, with due respect to Parliament, as prescribed under the ministerial code, did not correct the record at the first opportunity in September 2020, and has yet to do so in the three and half years since.

“By his own admission, it appears Mr Mercer has knowingly – if inadvertently – misled Parliament and therefore is in breach of the ministerial code.

“I ask that you investigate this continued breach of the ministerial code, why the record has not yet been corrected, and outline what action will take place as a result.”

In February, Mr Mercer said he was angry at Mr Wallace after discovering UK special forces officers knew about Afghanistan death squad allegations before he described them as untrue in the House of Commons.

Giving evidence to the inquiry, he described his time working under Mr Wallace as “very difficult”, adding: “I did not enjoy it and it placed me in a number of very, very uncomfortable positions.”

The inquiry will examine whether a special forces unit, known to the probe as UKSF1, had a policy of executing males of “fighting age” who posed no threat in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013.

Afghan families have accused UK special forces of conducting a “campaign of murder” against civilians, while senior officers and personnel at the Ministry of Defence “sought to prevent adequate investigation”.

Mr Mercer has been contacted for comment.

Sudden infant death warning as most parents put their babies at risk

A leading charity has warned that parents are putting their babies at an increased risk of suffocation or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

A survey of 1,000 parents of babies under the age of one by The Lullaby Trust found 70% allowed their infant to sleep in a bouncer, 67% in a swing and 61% on a beanbag.

Some 8% of parents who responded left their baby in these items to sleep overnight.

Letting babies sleep in an inclined or sitting position make it easier for their heads to flop forward, leading to their delicate airways becoming restricted.

Jenny Ward, chief executive of The Lullaby Trust, said: “Babies are safest sleeping on their back on a clear, flat, firm sleep surface, like a cot or Moses basket.

“This not only helps to reduce the risk of SIDS but also helps to keep a baby’s airway open and clear.”

The trust recommends placing a baby down to sleep on their backs, and ensuring their face is clear, with no loose bedding or padded sides.

Ms Ward said products such as swings and bouncers are useful as long as the baby is awake and supervised.

“We know that babies can and do fall asleep in places not designed for them to sleep in.

“Many parents find products like baby bouncers and swings useful for when their baby is awake and supervised, but they are not suitable for babies to sleep in.”

According to the Lullaby Trust, SIDS claims the lives of around three babies per week every year.

The majority (89%) of deaths happen in the baby’s first six months of life.

Ms Ward added: “All parents must be made aware of how to protect their baby’s airway, especially when they’re asleep.

“If a baby falls asleep in an item that keeps them propped in a sitting position, like a swing or bouncer, it’s best to move them onto a clear, firm, flat surface to help keep their airway open.

“Even if a baby is awake, it’s still important to make sure their head is not tipped forwards and their nose and mouth are not covered to keep their airway clear and protect their breathing.”

A culinary tour of the Algarve: from wine and seafood to desserts

The Algarve, on Portugal’s southern coast, is the country’s most popular holiday destination for good reason: it boasts over 100 miles of beautiful beaches, charming villages, and endless culture and activities. But one of the best reasons to visit is the region’s incredible food. As befits its proximity to the sea, fish and seafood are an absolute highlight, but the region’s diverse cuisine boasts dishes to suit every taste and palate.

To help you find your perfect foodventure, travel experts Jet2holidays offer breaks in more than 50 amazing destinations, including the Algarve. All holidays include accommodation, return flights, transfers and 22kg baggage, all wrapped up in an ABTA and ATOL-protected package for a low £60pp deposit*. There are thousands of Free Child Places** available, and infants under two go free✝. Meaning it couldn’t be easier to book your next break with the Which? Travel Brand of the Year 2023 and Tripadvisor’s Best UK Airline.

Here we explore some of the region’s must-try dishes, foodie locales and immersive experiences, so you can start planning your own culinary-infused getaway.

Whether you’re in a bigger, buzzier town such as Lagos, Albufeira or Faro, or enjoying the serenity of a smaller seaside resort like Olhão or Praia da Luz, you’ll find many of the same delicious local specialities on restaurant menus.

Must-eats include conquilhas à algarvia, a mix of plump clams fresh from the Atlantic, cooked with garlic coriander, olive oil, lemon juice and slices of succulent Portuguese sausage. There’s nothing better than tucking into a plateful, using bread to mop up the juices, and savouring a crisp glass of white wine at an al fresco eatery overlooking the ocean. You can’t miss the Algarve’s mouth-watering shrimp bisque either: a rich, creamy soup made with just-caught prawns and thickened with day-old bread. Served with a squeeze of lemon, it’s a beach holiday in a bowl.

Sardines are another Algarve must-sample, often simply grilled and served with potatoes, but in the beach town of Portimão, they’re cooked in a blend of herbs and spices, placed on a thick slice of bread, and served with a fresh tomato, cucumber, red pepper, onion and oregano salad. Locals tuck into the fish first, then enjoy the oil and herb-soaked crust afterwards. You might also spot diners eating their supper straight from a metal pot; this is a cataplana, in which a hearty stew of onions, peppers and tomatoes mixed with fish and shellfish is simmered and served.

Portuguese piri-piri chicken is one of the Algarve’s most popular dishes. Known as frango assado, the chicken is grilled or barbecued with a spicy, piri-piri chilli sauce marinade for a favourite the whole family will love. Wild boar, known as javali, is another crowd pleaser: just like pork, it can be served grilled, oven-baked or in rich stews.

If you’re not in the mood for a full meal, you’ll enjoy the tradition of petiscos, essentially light bites or snacks. Order a few of these small plates to share – perfect washed down with a chilled beer – options include the likes of cod fritters, fried prawns, sliced chorizo, or a selection of cheese and charcuterie.

And as a sweet treat to finish any meal, try the dom rodrigo, a delicious, sticky, pyramid-shaped dessert dating from the 18th century, which combines sugar, egg yolks, ground almonds, cinnamon and fios de ovos (a traditional Portuguese sweet, made by boiling eggs in sugar syrup).

Fancy recreating some of these dishes yourself? Book into a local cookery class, where you can learn how to make the food you’ve enjoyed here when you’re back home. Further immersive experiences can involve meeting and chatting to local producers, or getting a tour of a local market with a chef before cooking with ingredients you’ve bought.

There are also several excellent food markets throughout the towns and villages of the Algarve, and it’s worth spending some time wandering around them and marveling at the glossy, farm-fresh produce on offer.

The most popular market in Algarve is Olhão market. Set in twin bright red-brick buildings facing the Ria Formosa lagoon, Olhão Mercado Municipal comprises two market halls. One sells fresh fish directly from the boats. The other fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, flowers, dried fruits and Portuguese sweets. On Saturday mornings, visitors can experience a much larger farmers’ market, where local farmers and producers exhibit and sell their products directly on the streets around the market building.

Another must-visit is the monthly market in the small town of Moncarapacho, just beyond Olhão, which sells fruit, vegetables and fish, and boasts a range of food stalls so you can eat as you wander. In Lagos you’ll find a typical farmers’ market, where you can pick up fresh eggs, olives, homemade jams, sweets and home-baked bread, while the lively Loulé Municipal Market is located in a historic building that dates back more than 100 years and offers plenty of tasty produce, including fresh fish and organic food.

Finally, for those seeking a tipple, as well as the tales and terroir behind it, the Algarve boasts a wealth of vineyards where you can sample different varieties and learn about their production. The wine region here consists of four DOCs (a ‘designation of controlled origin’, signifying high quality and authenticity): Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa and Tavira, which benefit from a warm, sunny climate, perfect for growing vines. You’ll find crisp whites such as Arinto, Malvasia Fina and Crato Branco, ideal for summer sipping, but also robust, velvety reds, such as Negra Mole, Castelão and Trincadeira. Saúde! (Portuguese for ‘Cheers!’)

To make it even easier for you to enjoy the ultimate break in the Algarve, Jet2holidays provides the perfect package holiday, looking after you at every step of the way with award-winning customer service and In-Resort Customer Helpers to ensure your stay goes smoothly.

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Fly to the Algarve from 11 UK airports: Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and London Stansted. To find out more and start planning your trip, visit Jet2holidays

*On bookings made ten weeks or more before departure. Full payment required by balance due date.

** One free child place per two paying adults. Subject to availability. T&Cs apply, please see www.jet2holidays.com/promotions#fcp for further details.

Applicable for all infants under the age of two years on the date of return. Infants are not entitled to a flight seat (they must be seated with a parent or guardian) or a 22kg baggage allowance.

Biden’s plan to aid Gaza is a sign of US weakness in this conflict

President Biden’s dramatic plan for the US military to build a port to supply aid to Gaza, a colossal logistical task, is a reminder both of America’s status as a superpower and the limits of that power.

Few other nations in the world, if any, would be able to contemplate such an ambitious project: a floating harbour to carry millions of tonnes of humanitarian aid directly to those in such desperate need. Of course, it will still take two months or so to construct, and is hardly an optimal solution but it is proof to those who accuse the White House of a callous disregard for the continuing human tragedy that President Biden is as moved by the plight of the Palestinian people as any protester with a placard outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Like the airdrops of aid along the coast of Gaza, this mission stands in the best traditions of American global leadership – reminiscent, for example, of the Berlin Airlift of 1949. A Spanish ship full of aid is harboured in Larnaca and ready to go, but it is unclear as to where it will unload its cargo. As ever, it depends on the Israelis.

A defining moment as ministers update what counts as extremism

Communities minister Michael Gove is set to publish a new government definition of extremism.

The announcement comes at a sensitive time, with tensions high in the Middle East, pro-Palestinian marches on the streets and MPs under intense pressure to call for a ceasefire in the fighting in Gaza.

More than a decade ago, in 2011, the government’s Prevent strategy defined extremism as the “active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.