‘Oh my god, I am beautiful’: the people who pay to have their portrait painted | Australian lifestyle

They’re the artwork the public rarely sees: the custom personal portraits hanging in homes, maybe above a mantelpiece, in a study or a bedroom; images of ourselves, family and other loved ones, sometimes even our pets.

With selfies available to anyone with a smartphone and professional photography affordable and accessible, the desire for a painted portrait speaks to the pull of tradition and its unique process – the artist’s interpretation of the subject that often reveals more than just a likeness.

“There’s something that happens in that closeness, that one-on-one contact,” says Joanna Gilmour, a curator at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. “You can’t define it or quantify it.”

The popularity of portraiture prizes, including the Archibald and the Darling, as well as the success of the ABC TV series Anh’s Brush with Fame, confirms that the artform is here to stay. “We’re hardwired to respond to people whether we like it or not, and portraits have such an effective way of [tapping into] that,” Gilmour says. “It is an incredibly accessible genre.”

While we love to look at portraits, commissioning one is another thing entirely. Portrait commission fees can range from $5,000 to $20,000 and beyond, depending on the scope of the work, materials used, process and time commitment, as well as the artist’s profile.

Few portraitists in Australia experience enough demand to make it a full-time occupation. Even Ralph Heimans, whose Portraiture. Power. Influence exhibition now at the National Portrait Gallery includes paintings of Queen Mary of Denmark, King Charles III and Dame Judi Dench, had to leave Australia to make a go of it.

Although it might be niche, Gilmour has no doubt the personal portrait will endure. “People commission a portrait because they want an image of the people they love and admire. They’ve been making portraits for those reasons for as long as portraits have been made.”

Here three Australians share the painted portraits that hang in their homes – and the stories behind them.

‘I became fascinated about how it might look’

Wendy Brown’s reaction to her husband’s desire to commission a portrait of her wasn’t initially positive. She was horrified. “It’s my worst nightmare,” the surgeon says.

The idea came to her husband, the Melbourne art collector and property developer Andrew Cook, out of a desire to express his love for his wife and admiration for her achievements. Brown eventually came around to the idea. “I guess I became a bit fascinated about how it might look,” she says.

Cook knew Yvette Coppersmith’s portrait work, and says he was struck by how so much comes through her works. “You feel like you’re getting a glimpse of someone’s interior life.” He contacted Coppersmith’s gallery and, after the Archibald prize-winning artist met the couple, she accepted the commission.

Yvette Coppersmith worked on the portrait of Wendy Brown over the course of a year. Photograph: Nadir Kinani/The Guardian

Over the following months, Coppersmith compiled a dossier of reference points from historical paintings for inspiration and spent hours with Brown experimenting with different poses, clothing, colours and facial expressions.

The process took about a year while Coppersmith worked around other commissions and exhibitions. “That time allows you to problem solve. It may not take 12 months to paint, but it takes 12 months for things to settle,” says Coppersmith.

The portrait shows a side of Brown that is very different from her medical persona. An “intimacy”, Coppersmith says, that is much more challenging to achieve in an institutional commission. “This is the self they get to have at home; it’s a visual anchor to remind you of how you like to feel.”

For Brown, it’s more than just a beautiful painting. “Yvette has taken me with her on a journey as she’s created this piece of art,” she says. “It’s been a really precious gift.”

‘The best present I’ve ever received’

‘It’s priceless’: (L-R) Siblings Arlo, Nala and Koda in front of the painting by Noni Cragg. Photograph: Mikhayla Carey

When Mikhayla Carey decided to commission a portrait of their three children for her husband, Jarwin, she knew there could only be one artist for the job. Having already painted several portraits of the extended Carey clan, the work by Bundjalung and Biripai woman and artist Noni Cragg was a family favourite.

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The portrait was planned as a Christmas surprise, so neither Jarwin nor their children knew anything about it. Carey sent Cragg multiple photos and notes about Koda, Arlo and Nala to help the artist capture the children’s personalities and connection to Gumbaynggirr Country on the New South Wales north coast where the family lives.

First Nations portraits have always played an important role in Cragg’s practice. “I want to celebrate people who historically have not been celebrated in fine art institutions – people of colour, women and gender-diverse people,” she says.

In every portrait she typically includes plants, animals and birds that are significant to her subjects and their country. For the Carey commission, that meant painting a ngarlaa, the turtle Nala was named after, and a jaawan (lyrebird) for Jarwin. She also included an Aboriginal flag and local birds and plants.

Painted in Sydney, where Cragg is based, Carey only saw the final work when the family opened the package together. “When Jarwin saw it he said, ‘This is the best present I’ve ever received.’”

The portrait hangs in the family’s dining room, and the children love showing it to visitors. Carey says Jarwin vows it’s the first object he would rescue if they ever had a house fire.

“If anything happened to it, I would be so heartbroken because I know that it will never be able to be replaced,” she says. “It’s priceless.”

‘It was very healing’

Alvis Tolcher, a former dancer, requested artist Yvonne East paint a nude portrait of her that showed her mastectomy scars

After surviving breast cancer, Avis Tolcher continued to live with the devastating psychological impact of events in her past. So when the then 60-year-old former dancer asked artist Yvonne East to paint her, she was looking for more than just a flattering likeness.

Tolcher had seen an exhibition of East’s work at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in South Australia and was inspired to commission a portrait of her own. “The paintings were beautiful, even if the subject matter wasn’t. I thought, maybe I could cure myself if I could see myself like that?”

Tolcher requested a nude portrait that showed her mastectomy scars, so after agreeing to the commission, East took some time to consider how she would approach the work. “For about two months, I didn’t do anything. It was a simmering, simmering, simmering. Then I woke up one morning and could see it in my mind’s eye. I rang her up and said, ‘Let’s do the sitting.’” Three days later, the portrait was finished.

Tolcher invited East and some close friends to an “unveiling” at home. When the curtain was removed, “Avis stood completely still and put her hand up to cover her mouth,” recalls East. “Everyone was quiet, and she said in a fragile but clear voice, ‘Oh my god … I am beautiful.’”

“It was very healing,” says Tolcher. “And everybody there understood just what it meant to me.”

For years, the portrait hung in her living room where visitors could see it, but after meeting her second husband, David, it now hangs above the four-poster bed he made for her. Tolcher says the painting will always be “absolutely precious” to her.

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Oleksandr Usyk digs deep in thriller to down Tyson Fury and unite titles | Boxing

Oleksandr Usyk is the first undisputed world heavyweight champion this century after he defeated Tyson Fury, in a compelling fight, on a split decision in the early hours of Sunday morning. Usyk added Fury’s WBC title to the IBF, WBA and WBO belts he already owned when he was deservedly given the verdict 115-112 by the first judge and 114-113 by the third official. The middle scorecard was called 114-113 in favour of Fury – but he had been almost knocked out in the ninth round when he staggered across the ring drunkenly. He was given a standing count of eight and saved by the bell.

An absorbing and highly technical, if brutal, contest had shifted in momentum when Usyk had a dominant round in the eighth. A right hook and left cross nailed Fury. And then, suddenly surging with new conviction, Usyk landed a shuddering left which rocked Fury. Blood began to pour from Fury’s nose and he was marked up around the left eye.

Usyk poured on the pressure in the ninth and landed an incredible barrage of 14 unanswered blows. Fury reeled under the assault, swaying and stumbling helplessly, his eyes glazed. The referee could have stopped the fight but, with Fury being held up by the sagging ropes, he gave the stricken fighter time to try to stand upright before he began counting to eight. It seemed an exceedingly long count.

Fury, as always, showed great resilience in the next two rounds and he was competitive – but both the 10th and 11th were won by Usyk, who landed the harder blows. Before the last round Fury stretched his arm out to touch gloves with Usyk as he nodded in admiration.

A sharp combination from Usyk scored early but two straight right hands from Fury proved that he was still trying to win the fight. But Usyk unleashed a thrilling string of punches in a fitting conclusion to a gripping and often magnificent contest.

At the outset of the drama, waiting in their opposing corners both fighters looked to the heavens and crossed themselves just before the opening bell. It was as if they knew they were about to enter dark terrain and be pushed to the limit.

The height difference was obvious, with Fury being six inches taller, but Usyk was immediately effective as he jabbed to the body, again and again. Fury shook his head and wagged his tongue in apparent jest. But then Usyk nailed him with a jolting overhand left near the end of the round. Fury looked out at the crowd and pulled a face as he again played the joker.

Usyk began round two impressively with a slick combination. Fury found his rhythm and a right uppercut caught Usyk. The crowd roared as Fury then sank two hefty right hands to the body before settling back behind the jab. But Usyk remained the aggressor, setting a fast pace.

Tyson Fury is caught by Oleksandr Usyk. Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images/Reuters

Usyk moved in and out, showing his slick skills, clipping Fury with glancing blows. But the hardest punch of the third round came from Fury as he hurt Usyk to the body. The Ukrainian backed Fury briefly into a neutral corner and cuffed him with a couple of sharp shots in the fourth. Fury responded and, with his herky-jerky movement, he boxed beautifully. There was a brief clash of heads but Fury kept working the body with powerful and draining blows in the fifth. These were hard punches that threatened to dismantle Usyk.

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In the sixth a series of crunching right uppercuts shook Usyk to his core. Fury was in the groove, tagging the Ukrainian again and again, and at the bell he waggled his tongue at the crowd to suggest that he was now in control. He was wrong. Fury used the right uppercut to the body with punishing, repetitive force in the seventh but Usyk, resolute as ever, ended the round clipping the bigger man with crisp combinations. His brilliance was about to flourish – but great credit should also be paid to Fury, who lost for the first time in his 36th fight.

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An Olympic champion in 2012, and the former undisputed cruiserweight world champion, Usyk had the severe disadvantage of being more than two stone lighter than the giant King of the Gypsies who stands 6ft 9in tall and weighed 18st 10lb. But the 37-year-old Usyk is a master technician with an iron will and clarity of purpose. Having fought 350 times as an amateur, he has never lost in 22 bouts as a professional and now has reached the summit of his remarkable career.

Lennox Lewis was the last undisputed world heavyweight champion when he defeated Evander Holyfield to win all the belts in Las Vegas in 1999. Almost 25 years later both those great old champions were at ringside in Riyadh to watch their successors. Fury was brave and admirable but the imperious Usyk can now join the pantheon of heavyweight kings.

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Tony O’Reilly, one of Ireland’s leading business figures, dies aged 88 | Anthony O’Reilly

Tony O’Reilly, one of Ireland’s leading business figures, has died at the age of 88.

O’Reilly, who had a career in the media as well as being an international rugby player for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, died in St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin on Saturday.

Ireland’s deputy premier, Micheál Martin, said O’Reilly had an “extraordinary impact on Irish business, sport, media and society”.

In a statement, his family said: “In the coming days there will be many worthy tributes made to Tony O’Reilly’s unique and extraordinary achievements in the fields of business and sport, as well as to his extraordinary philanthropic vision, which was best evidenced by the establishment of the Ireland Funds at a dark time in this island’s history. But, for us, he was a dearly loved dad and a grandad.

“He lived one of the great lives and we were fortunate to spend time with him in recent weeks as that great life drew to a close.”

Born in Dublin in 1936, O’Reilly made his international debut for Ireland in rugby in 1955 and soon became the youngest player to be selected for the Lions.

In his business career he pioneered the dairy brand Kerrygold, turning it into one of Ireland’s most well-known global consumer brands.

He later became the chair of the food giant Heinz and in 1973 took control of Independent Newspapers, publisher of the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent and Evening Herald.

He was also known for his philanthropy, setting up the Ireland Funds, which gave money from US donors into reconciliation projects around the Irish border.

O’Reilly, who had joint Irish and British nationality, was knighted in the 2001 New Year Honours by the late Queen Elizabeth II “for long and distinguished service to Northern Ireland”.

Martin said on X: “Saddened to learn of the passing of Tony O’Reilly, a pioneering spirit who had an extraordinary impact on Irish business, sport, media and society.

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“Through the Ireland Funds, Tony changed the global narrative on peace and reconciliation on this island. My deepest sympathies to his children, family and friends.”

As news of his death emerged, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) posted on X: “A legend of the game has passed. Our deepest sympathies to his family and friends.”

O’Reilly was the father of six children.

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The moment I knew: I said ‘marry me or never see me again’ – and he went straight down on one knee | Relationships

It was 2015, and my then-boyfriend and I were living in Canada on working holiday visas from Australia. In the dead of a Toronto winter, I got a job at a restaurant that hosted open mic nights every Sunday, and as a singer-songwriter myself, I was excited to perform.

The open-mic host, David, a bespectacled guy with a neat haircut, bore a striking resemblance to Buddy Holly or Ferris Bueller. He played a few songs to warm up the crowd, and I was instantly impressed – and jealous of his talent.

David and I quickly bonded over a love for 60s pop and Ben Folds Five. We were both in relationships, but always found reasons to talk to each other at work. Soon, we began to collaborate musically.

I would hear stories from others about David’s “wild past”, but the David I met was on a long sober streak, very mild-mannered and a fitness fanatic. One night at the restaurant, he was talking about resting heart rates and exercise, and I started making fun of him for being a nerd. He asked if he could check my pulse and took my hand in his and held my wrist. He held my gaze a little too long and we both pulled away.

I wrote David a note, addressing my feelings and admitting it was more than a friendship, and that because of this I didn’t think we should have any more contact (I even asked our boss to stop rostering us for the same shifts). David read the note, memorised it and wrote a song inspired by the note, which he sent to me in a voice memo. He then put the note through the restaurant’s paper shredder to destroy the evidence.

A couple of months later, in late 2017, I released a solo album of indie piano pop. My touring band fell through at the last minute, so I asked David, who had just ended his relationship, if he would accompany me on guitar and backing vocals for a couple of Canadian shows. We hadn’t been talking but we were each secretly giddy about having an excuse to steal away together.

We spent the first night in Ottawa at a friend’s place, and made a big deal about bringing an extra mattress into the spare room for one of us to sleep on, then wound up sleeping in the same bed – only I slept in a sleeping bag so we definitely weren’t touching. David put his arm around me as we slept and I couldn’t stop smiling.

Couples who sing together … Chelsea Reed and David Macmichael perform together in Toronto, Canada, in 2019.

After the tour, I told David I needed some time alone so I could figure out my relationship. To complicate matters, my work visa for Canada was about to expire.

David and I had no contact for about a month until he reached out and invited me on a songwriting trip to Los Angeles. It was February 2018 and I had finally ended my relationship.

In LA, we hiked to the top of Runyon Canyon where I gave him an ultimatum that addressed the reality of my situation: due to my expiring Canadian visa, he would either need to marry me or never see me again. Without hesitation, he got down on one knee and proposed. “YES!” I responded, and then in my excitement I flashed my boobs to the city below. The spontaneity and wild abandon it took for David to make a decision like that was immensely attractive to me. That night, we were the only two people in LA – no one else in the world existed or mattered.

Back in Canada, we married at Toronto City Hall. In David, I saw a future that wasn’t claustrophobic or boring or routine. We formed a band – a duo called the Tryouts – toured, partied and cycled everywhere. Our first single, Washer, about our proposal, was a song we wrote together in the back yard of our LA Airbnb the day after our engagement.

In late 2020, pandemic pressures prompted us to relocate to Australia, to my hometown of Newcastle.

Our band and our relationship are intertwined. David is very open about his feelings, and has an enviable ability to put them succinctly into songs, even the most embarrassing details, which I find so endearing. We may be flawed, but that’s what makes us so perfect together.

Follow the Tryouts on Instagram for their latest music and tour dates

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They’re fast. Pedestrians are furious: ‘fat’ ebikes divide Australian beach suburbs | Electric vehicles

If you frequent coastal towns or suburbs around Australia, you might be familiar with the sight of large, speedy ebikes zooming along the footpath. Fat bikes, as they’re commonly known, have been described as the monster trucks of the cycling world. With wide, thick tyres and seats big enough for two, the electric bicycles are designed to handle sand and off-road terrain.

But they have also garnered a cult status among young people, who are using them to get around with friends, take their surfboard to the beach and commute to school.

The bikes are popular among teenagers aged 14 to 19, with the bestselling model retailing for $2,770. Their uptake has benefits – taking cars off the road, giving young people freedom and time outdoors – but there are concerns over safety for both riders and pedestrians.

Harold Scruby, the chief executive of the Pedestrian Council, points to a lack of regulation and the illegal modification of fat bikes beyond the parameters of a bicycle, which essentially makes it like “riding a motorbike on a footpath”.

He believes the “technology is going to outstrip the infrastructure and the legislation and the ability to enforce by light years”.

“And now it’s happening and suddenly because police and governments haven’t been enforcing it, and they haven’t been ready with the right regulation and enforcement regime, it’s literally out of control,” Scruby said.

The mayor of Sydney’s Northern Beaches council, Sue Heins, said the speeding in particular was an “accident waiting to happen” and that it is “a matter of time” before a pedestrian is hit by a fat bike and killed.

In fact, there have been incidents already. A three year old was left with a broken leg after being hit by a teenager on a fat bike in Sydney’s south in April.

The Northern Beaches council has this week launched an education blitz on the use of ebikes on public roads and pathways. In New South Wales, anyone under 16 can legally ride bikes on the footpath but the council has received more than 80 complaints about speeding, near misses and injury – which the mayor suspects is “only the tip of the iceberg”.

Manly Bikes owner Francisco Furman on a fat bike. He says he has refused to sell the ebikes to the parents of children as young as eight. Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

“[The speed is] obviously frightening people as they were walking along,” Heins said, as well as the “element of surprise” because the ebikes are “so silent and quiet”.

“It’s just a great way to get out and about and, of course, we’re happy that there are less cars on the road [but children’s] lack of understanding of basic road rules, or that element of surprise and unpredictability around people, was one of the issues we decided we really needed to address.”

The mayor of Sutherland shire in Sydney’s south, Carmelo Pesce, described a similar situation in Cronulla, with teenagers riding fat bikes through the mall and along The Esplanade, and the council receiving “numerous, numerous complaints” regarding speed.

“I’ve witnessed it myself. I’ve seen kids travelling up one-way streets the wrong way with no helmets, doubling two people, and they’re travelling at a speed of 40km/h,” he said.

NSW police said they have been working since last May to educate young people on the risks and have issued 244 cautions. A spokesperson said that “in some cases, police took riders home and spoke with their parents”.

The owner of Manly Bikes, Francisco Furman, said he has had to turn young people away on numerous occasions who have asked for illegal modifications. He has also refused to sell fat bikes to the parents of children as young as eight years old.

“I saw the kid jumping on the bike and she couldn’t even touch the floor,” he said.

Furman believes education is key to tackling the issue of electric bikes on footpaths. He suggested schools could play a role in checking that bikes have not been modified and ensuring helmet use, or that police could give safety talks to students.

He also said parents should be educated about the potential risks to ensure their children are complying with the law.

The rules and regulations on the use of ebikes differ between states and territories, but there is a common thread: ebikes must be pedal-powered primarily and cannot have more than 200W of power or up to 250W if the ebike is a pedelec – meaning the motor will cut out once the speed hits 25km/h and it needs to be pedalled rather than using a throttle. In NSW, however, a pedelec can have up to 500W of power.

There are concerns the fast ebikes are being ridden on footpaths by children without any kind of licence. Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

Anything modified above these parameters would be considered a motorbike, with riders needing a licence. But because the main cohort using these bikes is children, it opens up “all kinds of issues” when it comes to regulation, Heins said.

“It means that even if someone is hit by a bike, can they claim personal injury insurance?” she said. “There’s a whole black hole here where yet again, innovation has moved at such a speech that legislation and regulation hasn’t kept up with it.”

Some states have unique laws. In Western Australia you must be at least 16 to ride an ebike with the motor engaged, and in Victoria, only children 13 and under can ride their bike on the footpath.

The issue seems to be less common outside NSW. Northern Territory police have never issued an infringement for ebikes or escooters and the Tasmanian Department of State Growth said there were only two instances of an ebike being involved in a crash with a pedestrian in the past 10 years.

Scruby from the Pedestrian Council wants a major review, including tougher penalties and a national regulatory approach.

“Anyone riding a NSW-approved pedelec – 500W – crossing the state line, like Albury to Wodonga, will automatically be riding an unregistered, uninsured motorbike. And the repercussions of that, if they hit someone, would be like riding a motorbike on a footpath and hitting someone and causing grievous bodily harm,” he said. “It’s a jailable offence.”

The chief executive of Bicycle NSW, Peter McLean, said there was no single solution and that it is “less to do with what you’re riding and more about how you’re riding”.

“It’s about the regulation at a federal government level – little bit at the state. It’s about the educational awareness, it’s about the infrastructure, it’s about the common sense as well,” he said. “I hate to not have the silver bullet, but there really is a dozen different answers to this complicated problem.”

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‘Clean water is a basic right’: protesters against sewage in seas and rivers gather across the UK | Pollution

“Cut the crap” and “Fishes not faeces” read some of the many colourful slogans at Gyllyngvase Beach in Falmouth where hundreds of protesters gathered on Saturday to demand action over the scourge of sewage pollution in British waterways.

Wearing fancy dress and waving inflated plastic poops, they paddled into the bay on surfboards, kayaks and standup paddle boards – as did protesters at more than 30 other events across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – with the Cornish charity Surfers Against Sewage leading the way.

“We know exactly what’s going in the sea,” Demi Taylor, one of several key speakers, told the Falmouth crowd. “No matter what the water companies try to tell us, if it looks like poo, it smells like poo and it tastes like poo, it probably is poo!

“We’re here today to say the ocean doesn’t owe us anything; in fact we owe the ocean absolutely everything. At least we have the choice about whether we go into the sea [when it’s polluted] – the marine life out there doesn’t. So we’re here advocating on behalf of the environment.”

Statistics show there were more than 464,056 sewage spills in England’s rivers and coastlines in 2023 – a 54% increase on the previous year – totalling more than 3.6m hours. South West Water, the local utility, accounted for 58,249 of those spills, totalling 530,737 hours.

Lauren Holford attended the protest with her partner Mike and their two-year-old son Roo. “We’re here because we love going swimming in the ocean. But there have been so many sewage alerts locally – it felt like there was one every day at one point,” she said. “We’re also thinking about future generations. What’s it going to be like for them?”

Lauren, Mike and Roo Holford. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Observer

Giles Bristow, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, told the crowd: “This is our beach, our ocean, and we are reclaiming this place from the polluters. A year ago today we had an apology from the water companies, but did they change? No. Pollution events jumped last year, apparently because it was raining. It’s a shame they didn’t know it rains here.”

Under exceptional circumstances, water companies are permitted to allow sewage into waterways, but Bristow said this was intended for “really heavy rain, to stop it backing up into people’s houses”.

“The definition of ‘exceptional’ feels like it’s become more and more loose, and it’s almost become an operational exercise to keep costs down,” he said. “But we cannot keep putting people’s health at risk and allowing companies to profit from polluting the environment.”

Sewage has become an especially topical issue. In Brixham, Devon, there have been 46 confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis, a waterborne parasite that causes diarrhoea, forcing locals to boil their tap water before drinking it. And in Cumbria’s Lake Windermere, it was just revealed that 10m litres of raw sewage were accidentally pumped into the beauty spot in late February.

“Look at the news, it’s horrendous,” said Taylor, a surf film festival director. “Everyone should have access to clean water and clean air, they are just basic human rights.”

Film festival director Demi Bristow and co-founder of SAS Chris Hines. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Observer

Bristow said there were many factors causing the problems, but although Surfers Against Sewage was a charity that rendered it “beyond party politics”, it was time for a change of regulation as well as greater imagination in planning. “We’re not sure as an organisation whether nationalisation of waterways is the right way forward because it hasn’t exactly worked in the devolved countries, but we certainly want to have a nature-led approach to solutions. We need to think about rewilding, rewooding, slow run-off and soft urban areas.

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“At present, we’ve got a growing population, climate change and increased urban development. We’ve also got Victorian water systems, and we’ve been building badly on top of those systems for the past 100 years. We haven’t been investing properly to keep people safe.”

And yet, according to analysis, the water companies paid £2.5bn in shareholder dividends in the past two years and added £8.2bn to their net debt from 2021-23. Taylor said: “I don’t know any other industry in which you can fail so catastrophically and do your job so badly and yet receive a great reward in terms of cash.”

Natalie Pramuk, a marine management student Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Observer

As the protest wound down, Natalie Pramuk, a marine management student at Exeter University, exited the water. Despite the grim cause for the paddle-out, she was in optimistic mood. “This is the first time I’ve done a paddle-out,” she said. “It was exciting. The energy was really good and it was a powerful movement of people coming together – all different people who care about the sea for many different reasons. It’s really empowering. I hope this raises awareness.”

Chris Hines, co-founder of Surfers Against Sewage, arrived in Falmouth after the paddle-out and said: “We campaigned hard through the 90s and there was a massive investment – £5.5bn worth of sewage treatment works were built – but unfortunately everybody has taken their eye off the ball and the water companies have pulled their pants down and started shitting in the sea again.

“I’m immensely proud to see how many people came today and to see the spirit of people who use the sea. If you love something, you’ll do anything you can to protect it. People are clearly angry and they’re going to make change happen again.”

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Trump trial judge rebuked for donations to Democrat-aligned groups in 2020 | Donald Trump trials

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s hush-money campaign finance trial in New York has been cautioned by a state ethics panel over two small donations made to Democrat-aligned groups in 2020.

The caution is likely to be seized on by Trump and his lawyers as evidence of his claims that the New York trial, now entering its fourth week, has been unfairly adjudicated by Judge Juan Merchan along partisan political lines.

But the New York state commission on judicial conduct has not revealed who lodged the complaint against Merchan that stems from a $35 donation to the Democratic group ActBlue that included $15 earmarked for Biden for President and $10 each to Progressive Turnout Project and Stop Republicans.

“Justice Merchan said the complaint, from more than a year ago, was dismissed in July with a caution,” spokesperson Al Baker of the state office of court administration said in response to an inquiry from Reuters.

The commission considers that contributions violate the rules on prohibited political activity. In its 2024 annual report, the body said several dozen judges had apparently made prohibited contributions in the last few years, mostly to candidates for federal office.

Judges are prohibited from contributing to any campaigns, including for federal office.

“Like so much of the misconduct the commission encounters, making a prohibited political contribution is a self-inflicted mistake,” the commission wrote in the report.

The commission has also received a complaint against the Manhattan judge Arthur Engoron, who oversaw the former president’s civil business fraud trial that resulted in a $454m fine earlier this year. That complaint, brought by Trump lawyers, has yet to be adjudicated.

Under commission guidelines, proceedings are confidential unless there is a public censure or the judge makes them public.

Trump has been highly critical of the justices in both cases. In the earlier trial he was censured for describing Judge Engoron’s law clerk of being Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer’s girlfriend. In the current case, he has drawn attention to Judge Merchan’s daughter, who works as a Democratic political consultant.

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In response to a motion for Merchan to step aside, which the judge denied, a separate advisory committee on judicial ethics said the contributions did not create an impression of bias or favoritism.

Reports of the contributions come a day after the New York Times revealed that the wife of conservative supreme court justice Samuel Alito had flown an inverted American flag outside the couple’s home in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Alito has said that his wife took that action because a Democratic neighbor had used a highly pejorative insult to describe her to her face.

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Master of litters: cat named Max given honorary degree by US university | Vermont

Men named Max have won the Nobel prize (Planck), the Oscar for best actor (Schell), and multiple Formula One world championships (Verstappen).

A cat in the US named Max now joins those lofty ranks, having earned a doctorate in “litter-ature” when Vermont State University bestowed an honorary degree on the campus-dwelling tabby in recognition of his friendliness, a gesture which quickly achieved virality in corners of the internet dedicated to spotlighting light-hearted news.

The cat – full name Max Dow – has proved himself to be a skilled napper and hunter of mice, and “has been an affectionate member of the [campus] family for years”, the school in Casleton, Vermont, said in a pun-laden Facebook post recently announcing the unusual degree conferral.

“With a resounding purr of approval from the faculty, the board of trustees of … Vermont State … has bestowed upon Max Dow the prestigious title of doctor of litter-ature, complete with all the catnip perks, scratching-post privileges and litter-box responsibilities that come with it.

“Congratulations Dr Max Dow!”

The diploma for Max. Photograph: Rob Franklin/AP

Max Dow is not participating in Vermont State’s graduation ceremony on Saturday, although the school plans to deliver his degree to his owner soon thereafter.

The local news website Vermont Public seized on the honorary degree announcement to delve into Max Dow’s life story.

He once was a feral kitten in the Vermont town of Fair Haven but for the last five years has lived with his human, Ashley Dow, in Castleton.

Max Dow has been trekking out to Vermont State’s Castleton campus for pretty much the entire time he has lived with Ashley. There, students scoop him up and give him rides in their backpacks, snap pictures of him for their photography classes and otherwise draw emotional support from him, Vermont Public reported.

The Associated Press added that Max Dow accompanies prospective Vermont State students on tours that embark from a building across his family’s house.

Not every creature has been as pleased with Max Dow’s presence. Feral cats in the neighborhood have attacked him. But once that became known, members of the campus community sought to protect him. And they have honored requests from Ashley Dow, contained in signs she put up around the school, to bring Max home if he is ever seen out and about after 5pm.

Students with Max the cat. Photograph: Rob Franklin/AP

“Students did actually bring him home,” Ashley Dow said to Vermont Public. “Or … they have my number, and I’ll get text messages from random students [saying] like, ‘He’s OK, he’s up by the greenhouse,’ and all of that.”

Dow recounted how one extended absence from campus for Max led students to erect a shrine commemorating him.

“It had candles and everything – and the picture of Max that they had printed out and put in a frame,” Dow recalled to Vermont Public.

“So yeah, it’s been pretty interesting to be Max’s mom.”

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Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ ubiquitous in Great Lakes basin, study finds | PFAS

Toxic PFAS “forever chemicals” are ubiquitous in the Great Lakes basin’s air, rain, atmosphere and water, new peer-reviewed research shows.

The first-of-its-kind, comprehensive picture of PFAS levels for the basin, which holds nearly 95% of the nation’s freshwater, also reveals that precipitation is probably a major contributor to the lakes’ contamination.

“We didn’t think the air and rain were significant sources of PFAS in the Great Lakes’ environment, but it’s not something that has been studied that much,” said Marta Venier, a co-author with Indiana University.

PFAS are a class of 15,000 chemicals used across dozens of industries to make products resistant to water, stains and heat. The chemicals are linked to cancer, kidney disease, birth defects, decreased immunity, liver problems and a range of other serious diseases.

They are dubbed “forever chemicals” because they do not naturally break down and are highly mobile once in the environment, so they continuously move through the ground, water and air. PFAS have been detected in all corners of the globe, from penguin eggs in Antarctica to polar bears in the Arctic.

The new paper is part of a growing body of evidence showing how the chemicals move through the atmosphere and water.

Measurements found PFAS levels in the air varied throughout the basin – they were much higher in urban locations such as Chicago than in rural spots in northern Michigan. That tracks with how other chemical pollutants, like PCBs, are detected, Venier said.

But levels in rain were consistent throughout the basin – virtually the same in industrialized areas such as Chicago and Cleveland as in Sleeping Bear Dunes, a remote region in northern Michigan. The finding was a bit “puzzling” Venier said, adding that it probably speaks to the chemicals’ ubiquity.

A fisherman in Bayfield, Wisconsin. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

PFAS “background levels” are now so high and the environmental contamination so widespread that the atmospheric counts, including in rain, are relatively consistent. The PFAS in rain could be carried from local sources, or have traveled long distances from other regions. Regardless, it is a major source of pollution that contributes to the lakes’ levels, Venier added.

Water contamination levels were highest in Lake Ontario, which holds the most major urban areas, such as Toronto and Buffalo, and is last in line in the lake system’s west to east flow. Lake Superior, which is the largest and deepest body with few urban areas on its shores, showed the lowest levels.

PFAS tend to accumulate in Lake Superior and Huron because there’s little water exchange, while Lake Ontario relatively quickly moves the chemicals into the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Atlantic Ocean.

The study did not address what the levels mean for human health and exposure, but fish consumption advisories are in place across the region, and many cities have contaminated drinking water.

The levels found in water and atmosphere will probably increase as scientists are able to identify more PFAS, most of which cannot be detected by currently reliable technology.

“We need to take a broad approach to control sources that release PFAS into the atmosphere and into bodies of water … since they eventually all end up in the lakes,” Venier said.

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Fans queue round the block as tiny Mexican taco stand wins Michelin star | Mexico

El Califa de León, an unassuming taco joint in Mexico City, measures just 3 metres by 3 metres and has space for only about six people to stand at a squeeze. Locals usually wait for 5 minutes between ordering and picking up their food.

All that changed on Wednesday, however, when it became the first Mexican taco stand ever to win a Michelin star, putting it in the exalted company of fine dining restaurants around the world, and drawing crowds like it has never seen.

On Thursday, the queue stretched to the end of the block as a motley array of tourists and trendsetters joined bemused local people, some of whom had not heard the news.

The taco comes with infinite variations on a theme. It starts with a corn tortilla folded around a typically meaty filling. Then perhaps onion, coriander and guacamole, before a punch of lime and hot sauce is added.

It is usually fast food – but not today.

A local woman named Laura said she had been a customer since she was a child and had never had to wait for more than five minutes, even at lunchtime.

She was surprised but delighted to see her neighbourhood hole in the wall get recognition.

“I took a couple of Chilean friends somewhere else the other day and it was too fancy – they gave us a knife and fork to eat a taco,” she said. “This is the real Mexican taco.”

Customers cram into the small space. Photograph: Héctor Vivas/Getty Images

El Califa de León’s trademark taco is the Gaonera, created in honour of the bullfighter Rodolfo Gaona and churned out without pause since the place opened in 1968.

The essence of this taco is beef fillet so tender it need not be sliced into pieces. It is simply seasoned with salt and cooked with a squeeze of lime on a sizzling grill, before being wrapped in a fresh tortilla and served with green or red salsa.

Michelin, in its report explaining the awarding of a star, said: “This taqueria may be bare bones with just enough room for a handful of diners to stand at the counter but its creation, the Gaonera taco, is exceptional. Thinly sliced beef fillet is expertly cooked to order, seasoned with only salt and a squeeze of lime. At the same time, a second cook prepares the excellent corn tortillas alongside. The resulting combination is elemental and pure.”

Rodrigo, who was also in the queue on Thursday, has his own taco restaurant, and talked with the faintly aloof air of someone checking out the competition. “I’ve never been before, but I wanted to see what the fuss was about,” he said.

“It’s a bit controversial, choosing just this one taco stand,” he added. “Everyone has their favourite taco – it depends where they’re from.”

Classic tacos include al pastor, carnitas, barbacoa, guisados and tacos de canasta – and the search for the best of each has been the subject of countless books and TV shows.

Of the 18 Mexican restaurants given one or two Michelin stars this week, El Califa de León stands out for its earthiness. Arturo Rivera Martínez, one its chefs, has been serving customers for more than 20 years. “The secret is the simplicity of our taco,” Rivera Martínez told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “It has only a tortilla, red or green sauce, and that’s it. That, and the quality of the meat.”

The queue outside El Califa de León on Thursday. Photograph: Héctor Vivas/Getty Images

The stand occupies a site in San Rafael, a slightly scruffy, middle-class neighbourhood, and the street outside is lined with stalls selling phone cases, cheap jewellery and manicures.

One of the street vendors, David, said he had eaten at El Califa de León a few times. “It’s good. [But] The best tacos in the city? I don’t know.”

“But I’ve never seen so many gringos eating here,” he added.

Inside, El Califa de León is a furnace in a city currently gripped by a heatwave. The four staff – a chef, a meat cutter, a taco roller and a cashier – barely talk, working like a well-oiled machine.

Customers take their plastic plates and stand around eating where they can, sharing bowls of sauce and rubbing their greasy fingers with napkins.

Every few minutes the crowd makes way for a man with two more plastic bags of meat, which he slings behind the counter.

“I’ve no idea how many we’ve made today,” said the cashier, who barely stopped between orders. “A shitload.”

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