BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for November 13, 2011 - November 19, 2011

10 things we didn't know last week

15:47 UK time, Friday, 18 November 2011

Snippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. There is such a thing as "toast soup".
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2. Use of the word disgusted in English peaked in 1800.
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3. Until 1912, there was no set design for the Stars and Stripes.
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4. Salman Rushdie's first name is Ahmed.
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5. Many Afghans associate the number 39 with pimps.
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6. There is a steep hill in the UK called Steep Hill.
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7. There is no such thing as bullet-proof glass.
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8. The brains of people who regularly play computer games differ from those of infrequent gamers.
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9. The Duke of Wellington was so impressed by his French opponents' invention of the ambulance that he ordered his men not to fire on them.
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10. People can spot whether a complete stranger has a certain "social gene" in just 20 seconds.
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Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week.

Popular Elsewhere

14:31 UK time, Friday, 18 November 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Guardian readers are clicking on Stuart Jeffries piece concluding that boring popular culture has crushed the spirit of the nation. Just in case your spirit hasn't been crushed yet, he helpfully talks at length about the yawn inducers. And in keeping with the theme, here are his culprits, laid out in a boring list form: Downton Abbey, Adele, home-baking, crafts a la Kirstie Allsopp, novelty knitwear, dull interviews, dressing gowns, National Trust season tickets, butler-length eyebrow extensions, Adele, Mumford and Sons, "cathedral-blighting folk simperer" Laura Marling, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Leona Lewis, polo necks, sensible jumpers, pencil skirts, loafers, brogues, X Factor, Champions' League group stages, Pippa Middleton's "insufferably posh bum", Julian Barnes winning the Booker Prize, spending from now until Christmas watching footballer Robbie Savage bare his torso and, as a sign that more boredom is to come, the Olympics.

As Jeffries points out, dull interviews are on the rise. Given this, it may be unsurprising that Caitlin Moran's Times column, which sorts the nuggets from the drearyness, is regularly at the top of the paper's most read list. This week we hear that former Celebrity Big Brother winner Chantelle Houghton revealed in OK! Magazine what she and her cagefighter fiancee Alex Reid talk about. She told the magazine "he was laughing at me earlier because I thought the Sun and the Moon were the same thing. Turns out they're not!"

Tom Sykes provides a caveat to his popular Daily Beast article on the speculation that Kate Middleton may be pregnant: "Trying to divine whether or not the wife of the heir to the throne is expecting a child has been a well-established British tradition for hundreds of years." But that doesn't let that stop him. He proceeds to note all the clues that could signal a baby is on its way. This turns out to be pretty useful if you want to gossip about closer friends as well: is she avoiding both peanut paste and champagne? Are the in-laws invited round at the last minute for the weekend? Is a law allowing girls equal succession to the throne as boys, being rushed through? Although maybe the last one is only useful for royal watchers.

And finally, Telegraph readers are expressing a sigh of empathetic embarrassment (or are we being too kind?) for the pilot who got locked in his plane's toilet. The cringe continues as the article reveals the plane was in flight during the incident and the pilot's loud knocking on the door triggered a terrorist alert.

Your Letters

13:35 UK time, Friday, 18 November 2011

Re: your story on the world's lightest material, your correspondent writes, "The substance is made out of tiny hollow metallic tubes". Is it possible to have tubes that aren't hollow?
John Thompson, Kirkby Lonsdale

Nadja, Virginia (Thursday letters), here in east London we don't all know what a reuben sandwich is, actually. I'm having a diet toast open sandwich for my lunch today. 30% fewer calories if you leave off the top slice of bread, Scandinavian-style.
Vicky, east London

Richard (Thursday letters), Did you know that the biggest pencil in the world is held at The Pencil Museum in the Lake District? The museum itself is only rivalled for wild excitement by The Dog-Collar Museum at Leeds castle.
Susan, Newcastle

Looking at the Eurozone debt web, if the UK owes Ireland about £100bn and Ireland owes the UK about £100bn, why don't those two amounts just cancel out and reduce the balance of debt for each country?
Ed Loach, Clacton, UK

Plastic banknotes may also have a disadvantage in ATM use; the article doesn't specify how thick they are in comparison to a paper note; but if they are slippery for hand counting will it be the same for a machine?
K Morrison, Lowestoft

Dear MM, I was led to believe that if you mentioned retrieving some sort of outer garment at the end of your letter it would be published - it's not true. I'm hedging my bets, I'll get my gardening coat.
Kevin, Leeds

Paper Monitor

09:04 UK time, Friday, 18 November 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Paper Monitor is putting on its Jimmy Choos and wading into the world of high fashion today.

It is officially Fashion Friday in many of the papers with two couture crime stories doing the rounds.

The first concerns the theft of much of Marc Jacob's spring/summer 2012 collection from the label's Mayfair store on Wednesday.

The Independent declares that the fashion world "has been shaken" by the news and police are looking for a "tall, thin, very well-dressed woman".

Some might say the culprits are very discerning criminal types but it was probably not the best idea to steal one-of-a-kind samples by one of the world's leading designers. "They tend to stick out on eBay," remarks the Indy.

The Times has a double-page special on pages four and five, with most of the space devoted to the other big fashion story.

It is all about the latest "fusion" line (note how Paper Monitor knows all the lingo).

Hundreds of shoppers spent Wednesday night queueing outside H&M's Regent Street store in London to get their mitts on the new Versace collection.

It sounds like an upmarket version of that game show Supermarket Sweep. Shoppers were only allowed 10 minutes browsing time and they could only buy a maximum of one of each bright and bling design.

Paper Monitor thinks it may have just been worth it, if only for a glimpse of Donatella V herself.

There is a third fashion story (kind of) which makes front page news in the Sun - the death of the very vogue cougar and toyboy marriage.

Yes, Demi Moore, the poster girl for cougars everywhere, is soon to be "Demi Detached".

Moore, 49, is to divorce fellow actor Ashton Kutcher, 33, after allegations that he cheated on her with a much younger model.

The paper's deputy women's editor shows little sympathy or surprise: "The original cougar was left high and dry."

Your Letters

17:21 UK time, Thursday, 17 November 2011

Those aren't ghost mountains, they're tents.
Jimmy, Milton Keynes

Mystery solved! They were actually just a whole lot of giant pencils buried upright in the snow.
Richard, London

Dear Lesley (Wednesday Letters), Yes. PS Early transatlantic flights stopped at places like Newfoundland and the Azores.
Andrew, Oxford, UK

Lesley, the early services had to refuel at somewhere like Newfoundland. I suppose if Ryanair had been running it they could have marketed it as "Non-stop to New York (Newfoundland)" and then put on a bus service to take you into the city.
Ruaraidh, Wirral, UK

I thought there must be some well known middle ingredient in a toast sandwich. You know, like everyone here calls cheese in bread fried up a "grilled cheese" or people know what a reuben sandwich is... but no, the thing between bread is actually toast, toasted bread. I'm a grad student so I know about keeping it cheap, but that right there is Dickensian poorhouse cheap, and it has basically no nutrients, either. They couldn't have picked a vegetable soup or something?
Nadja, Virginia, USA

The toast sandwich was lovely. I made further savings by not toasting the middle slice (a needless waste of electricity, if you ask me).
Mike, Newcastle upon Tyne

Nomative Determinism time again: One of the pioneers of non-stop flights was Juan Trippe? fantastic! No? okay, i'll get my flight jacket...
Ted Rogers, Cheshire, UK

Paper Monitor

17:04 UK time, Thursday, 17 November 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

There is pervasive feeling of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I in journalism. The journalist that revels in a fellow professional's misfortune is as unwise as they are mean-spirited.

So this special late edition of Paper Monitor will not dwell on the rather severe misfortune that might be about to befall one particular journalist and his publication.

Instead we will try and think happy thoughts.

Happy thought place number one: Daily Mail picture stories. Here's a woman who really loves Twilight. REALLY loves Twilight.

Happy place number two: Text Maniacs in the Daily Star. Some days we don't know how we could carry on without messages like today's from lagerboy: "I love Christmas, especially when I snap the tree in half and cob it in the front garden and go back to the pub." Or indeed that from Richard: "I bet kate price is well upset that chantelle houghton is pregnant by alex reid. I knew he could do it."

Happy place number three: The Daily Telegraph business section. If the global economic sky is going to fall on our heads, we at least want the news to be spread of eight pages of nutritious pull-out.

Happy now.

Popular Elsewhere

14:44 UK time, Thursday, 17 November 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

There's an obesity epidemic challenging our health. That we already know, but Slate's most read article suggests the epidemic among lab rats is the one we should be concerned about. By their nature - not getting out of the lab that much - they have sedentary lifestyles and can eat whenever they want. This means that as a rule lab mice and rats are overweight. This, the article suggests, means that they may not be all that useful in testing out medicines. But it also says the dominance of the rodent in biomedical research is unlikely to wane, as they are cheap, efficient, and highly standardised.

Mention Medicare in the US and you'll soon hear the mention of broccoli. Why? A popular New York Times article explains this vegetable has unwittingly become caught up in the long drawn out debate about whether US citizens should be required to pay for healthcare insurance. The argument from opponents of Medicare goes that Congress might also one day require people to buy broccoli in order to make them healthier. Why this has become the broccoli test and not the cabbage test is less than clear.

Analysing body language of world leaders when they meet is nothing new. But a popular Guardian article has gone one step further by describing relations between the US president and Australian prime minister as "cosy". The paper says Australian media have decided to use another description for the way Barack Obama and Julia Gillard act towards each other: "a little handsy". Cue many pictures of them looking at each other while laughing. Even a picture of them both stroking their own hair is analysed as mirroring behaviour.

Telegraph readers prefer to catch up on the love life of Pippa Middleton. As it seems compulsory when talking about Miss Middleton, Allison Pearson quickly gets to the butt of the issue: her behind. But, Pearson insists, it is relevant. The "bum envy" which has supposedly grasped the nation ever since Pippa was a bridesmaid could say a lot about why she has split up with her former boyfriend Alex Loudon, she says. "This is not a tale of new money versus old," she claims. "Rather it is the new aristocracy of celebrity coming up against the old aristocracy of noblesse oblige and discretion," and everybody talking about your behind doesn't help.

Caption competition

13:05 UK time, Thursday, 17 November 2011


Winning entries in the Caption Competition.

The competition is now closed. Full rules can be seen here [PDF].

Larry the cat in the Downing St Cabinet Room

This week it was Larry, Downing St's official rodent catcher, who has apparently been sleeping on the job (as cats are wont to do). Despite reports of a mouse at recent prime ministerial dinner, he will not be resigning - Number 10 has given Larry its full backing.

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Ade:
Chairman Meow.

5. Catherine O:
I have the full backing of the prime minister? I'll get my coat then.

4. trigg_27 - Keep 606 alive for Rambo:
I can has expenses?

3. bainbo:
Moggy, moggy, moggy! Out, out, out!

2. MuteJoe:
Sir Robin Day was a firm believer in reincarnation.

1. Kudosless:
Despatch box. Litter tray. Whatever.

Your Letters

17:29 UK time, Wednesday, 16 November 2011

I don't know about the austerity diet, sounds more like the scurvy diet to me!
Fi, Gloucestershire, UK

Re: this a bread sandwich is self-evidently cheaper, because it requires no electricity. The £200 is as good as mine!
Rob Watkins, Brighton, UK

I am colour blind and paranoid. What message is hidden in the coloured spots an all the Children in Need adverts? It looks suspiciously like an Ishihara test.
Ralph, Cumbria

Has Paper Monitor's Wednesday day-release at college started again? The late arrival of Paper Monitor and Letters would indicate that, as noticed in the past, Wednesdays seem to pose a problem. Or perhaps it is the Tuesday evening wine tasting classes that cause this. 'Fess up, Paper Monitor.
PollySaxon, Lichfield

About this boring conference: if you go you are, by definition, interested in boredom, aren't you? Ergo, you're not bored. What the conference organisers need to do is organise an interesting conference and invite people looking for boredom surely...? OK, I know the drill, I'll get my (duffle) coat.
Mark, Reading, UK

One of the options in your Quiz about Jets questions was "after the first non-stop trans-atlantic air service" - as opposed to what? One that stopped half-way?
Lesley, Orkney, Scotland

Paper Monitor

15:21 UK time, Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Dear National Newspapers,

This is not a Dear John letter. We've always loved you and always will.

Broadsheets, or heavies we might say, we love you for your seriousness. When we have a job interview we don't want to read a book about the eurozone crisis, what we really want is a giant graphic in the form of a radar screen (the Times) or analysis of what the latest inflation figures mean (Daily Telegraph).

Mid-market papers, we love you too. Some are snide about you, but not us. Daily Mail, no-one does a dispute between neighbours like you do. And nice work for getting Lynne Franks to do something on the "sadism" of celebrity reality shows - that's your forte too.

And you, Daily Express. We may have occasionally drawn attention to your "World's Greatest Newspaper" masthead, but we still love you. If only for your Ann Widdecombe column.

Redtops, oh redtops. Our feelings toward you are dangerous and powerful. The Daily Mirror will always have respect for your attempt to mix the serious and truly silly. Daily Star, your Text Maniacs is an unparalleled insight into the intellectual state of Britain.

But the Sun is still the ultimate redtop. Yes, some people think of you only as a repository of boobs and celebrity stories. But you have other strengths. Only you give the correct amount of space to stories about trees that resemble children's TV characters or for a dead alien stored in a fridge for two years.

It's you. It was always you.

Yours lovingly,

Paper Monitor

Popular Elsewhere

14:43 UK time, Wednesday, 16 November 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

A popular article in the Guardian reports what could at first glance be understood as a massive ice cube being constructed to cool down a whole city. The trial in Ulan Bator is slightly more complicated but no less incredible. The plan is to drill down below ice to make water come to the surface and freeze. The aim is to cool the city during summer and if it works could be used in other cities where the winters are very cold and summers very warm. The biggest surprise may be that this experiment will cost just £460,000.

Time readers are keen to know why research suggests people with higher IQs are more likely to take illegal drugs. The University of Cardiff’s James White even admits in the piece the research is “not what we thought we would find”. But he still has some theories for why this might be. For one, he says, people with high IQs are more likely to be open to new experiences. But he also hints that Grange Hill may be to blame. That’s because the sample group grew up in the 1980s, when anti-drug campaigns, like Grange Hill’s Just Say No song “weren’t exactly known for their subtlety”. This, it’s suggested, “may not have targeted the smarter group well”.

Car manufacturers may spend millions on projecting a certain image but in the end they may have little control over who becomes the stereotypical owner. A New York Times article says this is not better illustrated that in China. Among foreign cars, if you drive a Mercedes, you are assumed to be retired. Meanwhile the Audi A6 has become the choice of Chinese bureaucrats. The tinted windows, the article suggests, exude an “aura of state privilege” and a “whiff of corruption”.

Prompted by early snow in Washington, readers of the Washington post are clicking on a story questioning that old adage about no two snow flakes being the same. It turns out it isn’t a law of nature. But given the possible combinations of water molecules, the probability is incredibly unlikely. The piece finishes with a challenge:

“If you’re skeptical, you’re more than welcome to undertake your own study. But you might want to block off a pretty big chunk of time.”

Your Letters

17:43 UK time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Disgusted? You'd think this might make them feel a bit peckish...
Sue, London

Gordon Stewardson (Monday letters) is so right. What a proud moment to see this fine Gurkha example at the Festival of Remembrance at the weekend. When he ran out of bullets he beat the remaining enemy off with a tripod!
Fi, Gloucestershire, UK

I wonder how many people are going to sign themselves as "disgusted" today?
Disgusted, Oxford

The Downing St cat is obviously taking his cue from the Border Agency in that he May or May not catch them.
Andrew Guest, London

What's a 64-year-old man doing on Facebook?
Simon Love, London

Did anyone else glance at the BBC front page's Watch/Listen mini-pic of Jordan's king and then have to do a double-take to check it wasn't a photo of Martin Clunes? (I realise by the time you read this that the picture will be all but impossble to find!)
Caroline, Guildford

Popular Elsewhere

14:55 UK time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

The Times' most read article is an intrepid investigation of a masked ball for married people looking for affairs. Although the setting is a Soho champagne bar it is described both as like a Blackpool hen party and a school disco. It's set up by a website for married people looking to have affairs which, the article points out, provides the kind of data sociologists would dream of. Data like where there is demand for extra-marital affairs across the country. London has a low membership, unlike Manchester and Devon. Reading is described as a hotbed.

Secrecy is also in the mix for New York Time's most read article. It says Google has a "clandestine lab" so secret that many employees don't even know it exists. Well, not anymore. Given the nature of the article, there is little concrete being said about what is produced in this mysterious lab - just a hint of a liking for robotics, similar to the driverless car created two years ago. Other products suggested are objects that are connected to the web - things like lightbulbs or water planters that can be operated from far away.

Researchers use what you put on Facebook in surprising ways, according to a popular Time article. The investigations using Facebook ranges from public health researchers targeting people who put up excessive boozy pictures to police researching neo-Nazis.
In, what the article describes as a twist, it says recent research has shown that those who combine their online Nazi activism with off-line activism are "more reasonable, more democratic and less violent than those who just remain behind the computer screen". But, the warning goes, just because people write something on Facebook doesn't mean they are telling the truth.

Stories on why and how we make decisions make a regular appearance on magazines' most read lists. And the New Scientist popular article admits it's a subject which should have been all sewn up as long ago as the 17th Century. The problem is, we're not rational but, as the article puts it, just "rather clever apes with a brain shaped by natural selection to see us through this messy world". That's not the only reason why so-called decision theory doesn't add up. Throw in our emotions and sway towards conformity and it all starts to get a bit messier.

Paper Monitor

11:29 UK time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Freddie Starr and the hamster. It is the stuff of headline legend.

The Sun's "Freddie Starr At My Hamster" was front page news in 1986 and it was as good as gets for headline writers.

Until now that is. The hamster has been usurped by a camel, or to be more precise, the toe of a camel.

The comedian is in the Australian jungle for the ITV show I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, and its producers handed the tabloids a gift of a story by making him take part in a "bushtucker trial".

He sat down to a multi-course meal, which included the aforementioned toe, a rotten egg, a pig anus and turkey testicles.

The Sun decided to go with the toe rather than the other anatomical bits, and the headline in today's paper reads: "Freddie Starr Ate My Camel".

Paper Monitor can just imagine the headline writers rubbing their hands together and laughing gleefully.

And as if that wasn't enough, there was an added dose of drama, with Starr taken to hospital after devouring the disgusting food.

The Sun has gone to town with the story. Their cartoonist has drawn a picture of Starr with a camel-shaped belly and there's pictures of the testicles and toes.

But best of all, there's a little hamster lurking at the bottom of the story with the speech bubble: "At last, maybe that'll teach him."

Obviously no other paper could steal the obvious headline. The Daily Express went with "Jungle horror lands Freddie Starr in hospital", while the Daily Mirror sailed closer to the wind with "Freddie Starr ate my tucker and gets rushed to hospital".

The Mirror could not resist the temptation to have its own speech-bubble hamster but this time it's an Australian one: "Serves you right, mate."

Your Letters

15:52 UK time, Monday, 14 November 2011

Gurkha patrol: Why the former soldiers are Britain's security army? Why? Because noone on earth is hard or mad enough to take them on!
Gordon Stewardson @BBC News Magazine

Great story. Thank you and thankful on 11/11/11
Henri, Sidcup

If no newspaper uses the phrase "Super Mario" within the coming weeks I am going to be most disappointed.
Liz, Poole

Squid? What squid?
Rusty, Montreal, Canada

Re: Would you believe a man with a beard or a suit? As far as I'm concerned it depends on whether it is a beard, a few days long stubble (that scratches), or a long-time since the last shave. Hubby had a beard and it went very well with his suits.
Roz Briggs @BBC News Magazine

Re: 10 things "we" didn't know this time last week. Number 2. Who exactly is "we"? It's hardly uncommon knowledge that Scotland has differing poppies - to people in Scotland anyway.
Thomas Tengsted, Dundee, Scotland

Phil (Friday Letters), neither does Mike Ashley, that's the problem.
Ian Scott, London (but from Newcastle)

Rob (Friday's Letters) presumably that's someone elses uterus? (Unless you are Roberta)
Di, The Castleton, North Yorkshire

I love your quotes.

Popular Elsewhere

15:16 UK time, Monday, 14 November 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Remember the email from the "mother-in-law from hell" listing what was wrong with the manners of her daughter-in-law to be? Newspapers reported the email went viral. It complained of everything from lying in bed too long to getting married in a castle. Well, a popular Daily Mail article reports the couple did eventually get married this weekend albeit without the mother-in law present. But then the article is not so polite itself about the appearance of the bride:

"To make doubly sure her traditional white strapless dress was not visible, she carried a bizarre white parasol with a veil which covered her entire head and torso and left her resembling a bee-keeper."

Never mind the Occupy Wall Street campaigners. The New York Times' most read article says a more unusual set of corporate campaigners have got the ear of Goldman Sachs and the like: nuns. The Sisters of St Francis are getting into the boardroom because of how they are investing for their retirement fund. The nuns buy the minimum number of shares that allow them to submit resolutions at companies' annual shareholder meetings. They then make sure they are heard, which is easy, as Sister Nora puts it "You're not going to get any sympathy for cutting off a nun at your annual meeting".

Susan Watts explains in the New Scientist's most read article why she decided to try the cognition enhancing drug Modafinil. She wanted to see why people are using the drug - which is uncontrolled and so can be bought on the internet. And it did improve her memory and planning skills. But while these kind of drugs seem to be here to stay, she says they create all sorts of dilemmas about fairness.

The Wall Street Journal's most read story claims to have found the food which could solve world hunger: breadfruit. The article explains one tree can produce 450 pounds of fruit per season. The fruit is rich in fibre, potassium, phosphorous and calcium. EBay's founder, Pierre Omidyar has even been convinced by the promise of the food that he funded a meeting of breadfruit experts to work out how to get more people to eat it. That's because there is one problem with it - as one horticulturalist put it, the food tastes "Like undercooked potatoes".

Paper Monitor

10:40 UK time, Monday, 14 November 2011

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

What's happened to just turning up at an event, waving at the fans, posing for a few photographs and walking in. On your own two feet. No one helping you. It seems this a bit passe these days.

The latest famous person to decide the regular way of entering a building just isn't good enough is Debbie Harry. Performing at a gala at the Museum of Contemporary art In LA this weekend, she arrived dressed up as a corpse. The Daily Mirror has a picture of her lying on a mortuary table, covered with a plastic sheet.

A bit Heidi Klum you might be thinking. Only the other week the model dressed up as a body with its skin ripped off for her annual Halloween party, arriving on a hospital trolley and being pushed by two men dressed as blood-splattered doctors.

But Ms Harry ups her game by being pushed into the venue by four semi-naked men. She also finished her performance by cutting a huge life-sized cake of her naked self - wrenching out the sponge heart of course - and dishing out slices for the guests to eat. Like a sort of deranged Jane Asher or Martha Stewart. While attention grabbing, it's a cake that might not work so well at kids' party.

Talking of making an entrance, Lady Gaga's peformed on the X Factor this weekend and arrived at the studio wearing a white silk dress, string of pearls and white gloves. All uncharacteristcially demure so far. But forget the handbag, she was holding a china cup and saucer. No tea in it - or anything else. Probably because you can't fit keys, a purse and a lipstick into a tea cup. She's just holding it. Like you do.

But according to the Sun, after contestant Kitty Brucknell was booted off the show the singer rushed on stage to comfort her. She then took her back to her dressing room for a cup of tea and some career advice.

See, there is some reasoning behind her quirky outfit choices. The china cup and saucer weren't just a bizarre accessory, there was some practical use to them. Maybe she hosted a barbecue in her dressing room for all the losers after wearing her meat dress to the MTV Video Music Awards last year.

The show was in LA after all, so she would have had the weather for it.

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