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Sitdown Sunday: Inside the airline industry's meltdown

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.
Oct 4th 2020, 9:00 AM 22,499 1

IT’S A DAY of rest, and you may be in the mood for a quiet corner and a comfy chair.

We’ve hand-picked the week’s best reads for you to savour.

1.  Was I a spy?

Sheila Fitzpatrick wrote in 2010 about living in Cold War Moscow. The piece was reshared this week by the LRB.

(London Review of Books, approx 25 mins reading time)

They gathered us in a dark-panelled windowless basement in the Foreign Office for a briefing. The year was 1966, and the group was made up of 20 or so British students selected to go to the Soviet Union for ten months under the auspices of the British Council. Plus one Australian, myself, who had managed to get on the British exchange because Australia didn’t have one. Our nameless briefer, who we assumed to be from MI6, told us that everybody we met in the Soviet Union would be a spy. It would be impossible to make friends with Russians because, in the first place, they were all spies, and, in the second, they would make the same assumption about us.

2. An oral history of Sign O’ The Times

A look at the Prince album, which got an expanded release this year.

(BBC, approx 18 mins reading time)

Prince: “I hear things in my sleep. I walk around and go to the bathroom and try to brush my teeth and all of the sudden the toothbrush starts vibrating. That’s a groove, you know? You gotta go with that, and that means drop the toothbrush and get down to the studio or get to a bass guitar, quick! My best things have come out like that.”  Susannah Melvoin: “He’d call you up at three o’clock in the morning and he’d say, ‘I’m cutting, what are you doing?’ And then he’d hang up, and you knew you had to be at the studio. It was time to work. There were no conversations. You were on his time schedule.”

3. Doctors say I have COVID – but they tests don’t

Julia Joffe has been sick for over a month. Doctors in the US tell her it’s Covid-19. But every test she does comes back clear.

(GQ, approx 20 mins reading time)

By morning, I had chills, a runny nose, and a scratchy throat. Something told me my mother was right. I called my primary-care physician’s office in Washington, D.C., and went downtown to their testing site. A quick swab of the nose yielded a negative result two days later. I was elated. I wasn’t feeling awful, just a little under the weather, and now the test confirmed what I wanted to hear: I didn’t have COVID-19. But my mother and sister, a doctor who took care of COVID patients at the peak of the pandemic, were adamant: I was to stay home and quarantine for two weeks.

4. Inside the airline industry’s meltdown

Coronavirus has hit the airline industry hard – very hard. Here’s how things are going for those working in the business.

(The Guardian, approx 26 mins reading time)

Boet Kreiken, the executive vice-president for customer experience at the Dutch carrier KLM, recalled a meeting early in the pandemic, in KLM’s offices near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. His colleagues had brought in the latest figures for new bookings and the dismal projections for the summer ahead. “I’ve seen some crises in my time – the Iraq war, 9/11, Sars, the Icelandic volcano eruption,” Kreiken said. “I know in the gut what that feels like. But this was something else. I was staring at the chart and got so involved in thinking about the consequences that the others had to tell me twice: ‘Boet, start the meeting!’”

5. The pretender  

A Minnesota grandmother had a normal life – and a love for playing the slots. Then she committed murder…

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(The Atavist, approx 40 mins reading time)

A week later, the national news sent shockwaves through the Padre Rita Grill and across South Padre Island. That’s when locals discovered Donna’s true identity. “We had no idea when she was here that she was a murderer and trying to hide,” Laferty said. “You just never know people you see on the street or who walk into your bar, who they really are.”

6. The romance scammer

‘Shaun Rothberg’ met women on dating sites in Canada, and spun them many lies. 

(Toronto Life, approx 25 mins reading time)

In August 2013, less than a month after their match, they met at a café. She walked in to find him more dapper than his photos suggested: his silver-flecked hair and square glasses gave him an air of seriousness. At five feet, eight inches, he was short, but had a strong, athletic physique. He was a gregarious and engaging storyteller, practically brimming with extraordinary, rollicking stories of his business career, of making millions off a deal and of champagne-soaked dinners with the billionaire Richard Branson.


A piece from 1989 about Dr Sylvia A Earle, who was a marine botanist and biologist – in short, underwater explorer. 

(The New Yorker, approx 81 mins reading time)

Moreover, fellow-oceanographers recognize her as one of the most experienced, most versatile, and most intrepid divers in the history of underwater exploration. An ichthyologist who has worked with her for many years, Dr. John McCosker, the head of San Francisco’s Steinhart Aquarium, once told me, “I think Sylvia may have mellowed a bit in recent years, and thank goodness, because her magnetism and dynamism are almost impossible to keep up with. I mean that Sylvia, in her most enthusiastic state of life, is just too hot to handle.”

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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Aoife Barry


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