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Dublin: 16 °C Saturday 8 August, 2020

Sitdown Sunday: The mysterious life of the birds who never come down

Settle back in a comfy chair and sit back with some of the week’s best longreads.

Image: Shutterstock/Sokolov Alexey

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. Mysterious birds

Did you know that swifts spend all their time in the sky?

(The New York Times, approx 13 mins reading time)

They still seem to me the closest things to aliens on Earth. I’ve seen them up close now, held a live grounded adult in my hands before letting it fall back into the sky. You know those deep-sea fish dragged by nets from fathoms of blackness, how obvious it is that they aren’t supposed to exist where we are? The adult swift was like that in reverse. Its frame was tough and spare, and its feathers were bleached by the sun.

2. Could you outrun a Tyrannosaurus Rex? 


(Wired, approx 12 mins reading time)

 A full-grown Tyrannosaurus rex was absurdly huge and absurdly powerful. It had rows of teeth it could push through Triceratops bone, could toss human-sized chunks of meat 16 feet into the air with its jaws, was as tall as a giraffe, and, at nine tons, was as heavy as an elephant. And yet if you see one, you should be only mildly concerned. Tyrannosaurus rex had proportionally more muscles devoted to its movement than nearly any animal that’s ever lived, Eric Snively, a biologist at Oklahoma State who studies the biomechanics of dinosaurs tells me. And yet you could likely escape it, because a Tyrannosaur couldn’t run. 

3. Have we been showering all wrong?

We have, according to this doctor.

(The Guardian, approx 10 mins reading time)

Hamblin’s new regime got him thinking about modern notions of cleanliness, what is natural and how these two issues are, frankly, all over the shop. Stigmatism of body odour began as an advertising strategy that helped quadruple the sales of Lifebuoy soap in the 20s. A century later, we still live in fear of anyone detecting the slightest hint of BO on us. We are more perfumed, moisturised and exfoliated than ever. Yet despite advances in skincare and modern medicine, conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, as well as other autoimmune diseases, have been rising steadily. 

4. Cold War bunker to home of a Dark Web empire

An eccentric Dutchman began living in a giant underground facility – which was built by the German military. Soon, he started running a server farm used by cybercriminals.

(The New Yorker, approx 49 mins reading time)

In the mid-nineteen-seventies, the West German Army, the Bundeswehr, built a vast underground bunker near the town of Traben-Trarbach. It was five stories deep, had nearly sixty thousand square feet of floor space, and was designed to withstand a nuclear attack. Eighty days’ worth of survival provisions were stored inside, including an emergency power supply and more than a million litres of drinking water. You entered the facility through an air lock; the interior temperature was set to seventy degrees. The walls were concrete, thirty-one inches thick, and some were lined with copper. 

5. The dying teenager who wanted world peace

Californian teenager Jeff Henigson was given two years to live, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was asked what wishes he had – and one of them was world peace.

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(BBC, approx 15 mins reading time)

“I was really feeling angry that we were investing so much in nuclear weapons. I thought maybe it would be a good idea to invest in cancer research instead,” he says. So he told Matt and Teri: “I would like to travel to the Soviet Union and meet with Mikhail Gorbachev, so we can discuss a plan to bring an end to nuclear weapons and the Cold War.” There was a pause. Matt and Teri then asked Jeff if he had a third wish, probably hoping it would be something easier to satisfy. But he didn’t want anything else. “I said, ‘I totally understand if you can’t make this happen, but it’s my only wish.’” 

6. Searching for my slave roots

Malik Al Nasir is a black Liverpudlian, and has been on a journey to find his roots.

(BBC, approx 20 mins reading time)

But what was my history? All I knew was that I was probably descended from a slave.  I knew about the Vikings, the Romans, World Wars One and Two, the Empire. But the black figures were savages or else they were Uncle Ben on the rice packets or the gollywog on the marmalade jar. 


 Bullet in the Brain is a classic short story by Tobias Wolff. Savour every word of it.

(The New Yorker, approx 10 mins reading time)

The line was endless. Anders couldn’t get to the bank until just before it closed and now he was stuck behind two women whose loud, stupid conversation put him in a murderous temper. He was never in the best of tempers anyway, Anders—a book critic known for the weary, elegant savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed. With the line still doubled around the rope, one of the tellers stuck a Position Closed sign in her window and walked to the back of the bank, where she leaned against a desk and began to pass the time with a man shuffling papers.

More: The best reads from every previous Sitdown Sunday>

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