INDEPENDENT 2024-04-03 10:04:39

Kyiv lowers military draft age as Cameron calls for more Nato spending

Volodymyr Zelensky has lowered the minimum age for Ukraine’s military draft from 27 to 25 in a move that analysts said would provide a significant boost to recruitment.

“Lowering the mobilisation age is one of many measures that Ukraine has been considering in an ongoing effort to create a sustainable wartime force-generation apparatus,” the Washington-based The Institute for the Study of War said.

Ukraine will now need an injection of new weaponry and equipment to kit out its newly mobilised personnel, the ISW added, pointing to the backdrop of delayed Western aid that could render the Zelensky administration’s move ineffective.

It comes as British Foreign Minister David Cameron is expected to call for Nato allies to bolster defence spending and production in support of Ukraine.

“Allies need to step up and spend more on defence in the face of continued Russian aggression and a more dangerous world,” Lord Cameron is expected to say in a speech marking the 75-year anniversary of Nato’s founding.

The British minister will also ask the allies to endorse British-led initiatives to procure Nato standard missiles and munitions for the Ukrainian armed forces.

Charles will open Balmoral to public for the first time – but tickets aren’t cheap

The King’s Scottish residence will open for the first time this summer for members of the public to explore the royal rooms at Balmoral.

Experienced guides will take small groups around several rooms used by Charles and Queen Camilla, as part of his desire to make the royal residences more accessible to the public.

One source noted that Balmoral has not been built to accommodate large-scale tour guides, unlike other tourist attractions such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

The month-long summer programme is expected to be a trial period, with estate staff taking note of the impact increased footfall has on the historic building, which was bought by Queen Victoria in 1852.

The public will now be able to access the green drawing room where the late Queen Elizabeth II met Liz Truss, the family dining room, the library and the pages’ lobby.

During former tours, the guided areas were limited to just the ballroom, gardens and the wider grounds.

In a statement on their website, the Balmoral estate said:  “For the first time since the castle was completed in 1855, we have been granted permission to take you on a private tour with our experienced guides.

“They will take you on a historical journey through several of the beautiful rooms within Balmoral Castle.

“You will learn about the origins of the Castle and how it has been loved by generations of the Royal family.

“Travel through time from the purchase of the Balmoral by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, through to present day, where you can see how rooms within the Castle are used today by their Majesty’s the King and Queen and other members of the Royal family.

“You will see why Balmoral is such a special place – the much loved and celebrated Highland home of the Royal family.”

Tours will take place between 1 July and 4 August, with forty tickets a day available at a price of £100 or £150 if afternoon tea is included.

Located in Aberdeenshire, the castle was long considered the late Queen’s favourite residence and was the location of her death on 8 September 2022.

Since succeeding the throne, the King has made it clear he intends to improve accessibility to the royal residences, with St James’s Palace opening to the public for a limited period of time in 2022 and 2023.

Buckingham Palace has also been made more accessible, and held a number of festive-themed tours over last year’s winter months.

Who would want to lead the Tories after electoral wipeout?

Mark Littlewood, who fronts “PopCon” – the right-wing Popular Conservatives which launched themselves, with some fanfare, in February – reportedly thinks that the former home secretary Priti Patel should be the “Truss-style libertarian” candidate in the race to be the next Tory leader.

They just cannot help themselves, can they?

Patel would like to be leader, so she doesn’t want to discourage think-tankers and Conservative MPs from talking up her chances. Several MPs who would like to be leader have adopted the same posture – of cultivating fellow MPs and spending a lot of time talking to local Tory associations without ever explicitly mentioning that there might be a leadership election soon.

Jonathan Ross says we should only shower once a week – is he right?

A friend of mine recently revealed that she usually showers three times a day: once in the morning, once after work, once before bed. I felt amazed and ashamed in equal measure. Three times a day? I’m lucky if it’s three times a week.

I used to be more scrupulous, but then I used to go into an office full-time. Now I have three days a week working from home, it’s all too tempting to go full goblin mode – which refers to “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations”, as defined by Oxford University Press. Showering feels less of a necessity and more like a… “nice to do”. It’s a bit like cooking an elaborate three-course meal when it’s just you eating it. Sure, it’s tasty, but is it really worth all the effort?

The topic of to shower or not to shower was revived once more by Jonathan Ross after the chat show host and comedian admitted that he generally showers once a week or less. His wife, the scriptwriter Jane Goldman, also goes days at a time without showering.

“I resent the fact that I have to shower,” he said, speaking on to Josh Widdicombe on the Parenting Hell podcast. “I sometimes go at least a week without showering – at least. So does Jane sometimes. We’re like a couple of hamsters in their own straw in that bed.”

Ross said he’d only wash two days on the trot if he had done something to work up a sweat: “Why bother doing it two days in a row, what’s wrong with you? I didn’t do any exercise.”

His record stint sans-shower stands at two weeks while they were holidaying in Florida, “because it’s sunny and I’m jumping in and out the swimming pool”. Ross said he only bothered to wash once he discovered his armpits were smelling pretty potent – the stench was so strong that soap wouldn’t shift it, and Ross claims he ended up having to shave his armpit.

While this example is on the extreme end, I felt secretly vindicated by the revelation that Ross doesn’t “give enough of a s*** about anything to bother spending any extra time on grooming whatsoever”. Amid the proliferation of wellness culture, clean living and more lotions and potions than any of us could ever need, there’s something refreshing about someone in the spotlight holding their hands up and saying that, hey, they’re happy to be just a little bit gross.

And Ross isn’t alone. According to data from YouGov, 3 per cent of Brits only shower once a week. He’s also not the only celeb to put his head over the parapet on this issue. Previous A-listers to go on record saying they take a lackadaisical approach to lathering include Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who caused a furore when they said they didn’t feel the need to shower or wash with soap every day.

The couple came clean (pun intended) on an episode of Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast, in which they said neither of them shower every day.

Kutcher said he washes his “armpits and my crotch daily and nothing else ever”, and usually “throw[s] some water on my face after a workout to get all the salts out”, while Kunis said she washes her face twice a day.

“I didn’t have hot water growing up as a child so I didn’t shower very much anyway,” Kunis said, adding that she rarely bathed her children when they were newborns. These days, they have a system for washing their kids: “If you can see the dirt on them, clean them. Otherwise, there’s no point.”

Jake Gyllenhaal also outed himself as a less-frequent bather, saying: “There’s a whole world of not bathing that’s helpful for skin maintenance, and we naturally clean ourselves.”

So are Ross et al onto something – should we all be showering less?

“We are living in a society of over cleansers,” Dr Joshua Zeichner, associate professor of dermatology and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, previously told The Independent. “Bathing every day is not necessary, and in fact, in some cases can be damaging to the skin.”

“While there are not specific rules on bathing, I generally tell my patients that visible soiling should be washed from the skin,” he added. “Areas like the face, underarms, and groin should be washed daily because they tend to accumulate more oil and sweat than other parts of the body, which can lead to overgrowth of microorganisms on the skin.”

Dr Zeichner recommended bathing “after heavy sweating, working out, and if you are noticing any foul body odour”.

Other experts agree, with Professor Stephen Shumack, president of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, advising that you should only shower when you need to.

“It’s only in the last 50 to 60 years [since the advent of bathrooms with showers] that the idea of a daily shower has become commonplace,” he told the Sunday Morning Herald. “The pressure to do that is actually social pressure rather than actual need. It’s become popular because of the social need to smell good. But it’s only the glands in your armpit and groin that produce body odour. They’re not all over the body.”

Shumack also warned that a daily hot shower could do more harm than good, saying: “Overwashing causes ‘defatting’ of the skin – getting rid of the natural body oils we produce to protect the skin cells. This can cause actual damage, making them more permeable to bacteria or viruses, precipitating itchy skin, dryness, flakiness and worsening conditions like eczema.”

And what about the much-touted theory that if you stop washing your hair with shampoo it cleans itself? The jury seems to be out on that one.

“Imagine if you didn’t wash your face or underarms for a week – the same logic applies to your hair and scalp,” Anabel Kingsley, a trichologist from the Philip Kingsley clinic in London, told the BBC. “They are likely to become coated in dirt, smelly, greasy and flaky. Build-up of yeasts and bacteria will also occur, especially as they thrive in oily environments.”

Stylist Inanch Emir went one further, telling The Independent: “It is basically a load of rubbish, it’s an old wives’ tale to avoid washing your hair every day. It isn’t damaging, it is what we do after that damages hair. Washing regularly and air drying will look after the scalp and help hair to grow better.

“If your hair is getting polluted regularly, the pores on your scalp will be clogged up. Not washing your hair, for, say, 17 days, will allow layers of dirt to sit on your skin and scalp. This makes it thinner and more brittle, meaning it gets damaged more easily.”

While there are no hard and fast rules, it seems that showering less often – provided you keep fundamentals clean (groin, face, underarms) – won’t do any harm and could even be beneficial. So why not press pause on the judgement, embrace your inner hamster and go full goblin mode? Becoming a member of the great unwashed never felt so on-trend.

Flight prices soar by 50 per cent ahead of train strikes this weekend

Airlines are cashing in on the next round of walk-outs on the railways, which begin on Friday.

Many air fares between Scotland and London are 50 per cent or more higher on days when train drivers are striking. But flying from Edinburgh to London may still be cheaper than by train.

Members of the Aslef union are staging “rolling” strikes on 5, 6 and 8 April.

Among key long-distance operators, train drivers will walk out at Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry on Friday 5 April, with LNER and Great Western Railway (GWR) passengers hit on Saturday 6 April.

Neither Avanti nor CrossCountry will run any trains on Friday, while on Saturday only very limited services will operate on LNER and GWR.

From Glasgow to London Gatwick on Friday, the first easyJet flight of the day is selling at £106 – compared with £69 on Thursday and £97 on Saturday. The normal Avanti West Coast off-peak fare is £125, though cheaper Advance tickets are usually available.

On Saturday, when LNER is running only a skeleton service between Edinburgh and London, the difference is even greater. The first easyJet flight from the Scottish capital to Gatwick is selling for £69 on Friday but £148 on Saturday.

The average fare for the Edinburgh-Gatwick route on easyJet is:

A spokesperson for Britain’s biggest budget airline said: “easyJet’s pricing is demand driven with fares starting low and increasing as fewer seats are available to book. We do not artificially increase fares.”

Yet flying may still be cheaper than taking the train. LNER is pricing most available trains on Saturday at the £200 Anytime fare.

On British Airways, the highest fare from Edinburgh to London Heathrow on Friday is £336, while on Saturday the midday departure is selling at £1,147 – or close to £20 for every minute spent in the air.

Journeys normally covered by CrossCountry are also selling well for the airlines. Between Edinburgh and Bristol, easyJet has an average fare of £94 on Friday and £113 on Sunday, but £153 on Saturday, the strike day.

GWR has cancelled all long-distance trains from the West of England and South Wales to London on Saturday. But from Newquay in Cornwall to Gatwick, tickets for Saturday are still available on Eastern Airways for £140 one-way – compared with £200 on Friday.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: “As [rail minister] Huw Merriman told the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, it would have been much cheaper – for everyone – to have settled this dispute a long time ago.”

All fares researched direct from airline and rail websites on the morning of Wednesday 3 April.

JK Rowling’s intervention on trans rights is unnecessarily provocative

It is not that often that an author invites the police to come and arrest them, and certainly not one as famous as JK Rowling. Yet Ms Rowling has felt so moved by the new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act that she is inviting a form of media martyrdom.

In common with many others, albeit not with her profile and social media reach, Ms Rowling feels strongly that, in the words of her latest viral posting on X (formerly Twitter): “Scotland’s Hate Crime Act comes into effect today. Women gain no additional protections, of course, but well-known trans activist Beth Douglas, darling of prominent Scottish politicians, falls within a protected category. Phew!”

Ms Rowling then goes on to identify various high-profile cases of trans people who’ve committed crimes, mingling them with others who are simply prominent. Ms Rowling states that those she identifies are “men, every last one of them”, and that: “Scottish lawmakers seem to have placed higher value on the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness, however misogynistically or opportunistically, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls.”

Can the extended childcare scheme boost Tory fortunes?

This week marks the start of the rollout of the government’s much-vaunted expansion of childcare, costing some £4bn a year. According to the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, “by the end of our rollout, this will save working parents on average £6,900 a year, helping 60,000 more people back into work”.

The prime minister has been busily touring classrooms and telling news crews that it’s a “positive and exciting moment”. At the moment, for working parents of three- and four-year-olds, 30 hours of childcare funded by the government is already available, and the expansion of the cover is being rolled out in these phases: