The first know-all

It has been the year of Lady Gaga, papal visits and a psychic octopus. Have you been keeping up with

Politics

1 Which Labour MP was stripped of his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat by an election court for making false statements about his Lib Dem opponent?
a Bob Ainsworth
b Elliot Morley
c Phil Woolas
d Liam Byrne

2 The Foreign Office issued a public apology after an official memo suggested Britain should mark the Pope's visit by launching a Benedict-branded range of which items?
a Condoms
b Chocolates
c Beer mugs
d Crucifixes

3 Saying she wanted to get rid of "skeletons" from her past before standing as a Labour councillor in Pimlico, Sally Bercow admitted she was which of the following in her twenties?
a "a bit of a goer"
b "slightly bisexual"
c "a fan of the marijuana"
d "a binge drinker"

4 Which Labour MP was secretly filmed likening himself to a “cab for hire" when lobbying former cabinet colleagues on behalf of business?
a Geoff Hoon
b Stephen Byers
c Jack McConnell
d Charles Clarke

5 Complete Labour MP Austin Mitchell's quote about the coalition government: "It's like marrying the Parachute Regiment with a Brownie pack -"
a "a disaster waiting to happen"
b "so mad it might just work"
c "bound to be messy"
d "wait, what's a Brownie pack?"

6 Ed Miliband beat his brother, David, by how many percentage points to become Labour leader?
a 0.8
b 1.3
c 2.6
d 3.1

7 David Laws resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury after spending how many days in the post?
a 11
b 17
c 24
d 29

8 Called "a bigoted woman" by Gordon Brown, Gillian Duffy was a lifelong supporter of which party?
a Liberal Democrats
b Conservatives
c Labour
d BNP

9 How did Ed Miliband describe his nickname "Red Ed" in a BBC interview in September?
a "tiresome rubbish"
b "banal and boring"
c "at least it rhymes"
d "makes me sound too angry"

10 George Osborne was reminded of an article he wrote for the Times in 2006 extolling which nation as "a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking"?
a Iceland
b China
c Ireland
d Greece

International affairs

1 What did Naomi Campbell call "a big inconvenience for me"?
a Turning 40 in May
b Organising "Fashion for Relief Haiti"
c Testifying at the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal
d Dealing with allegations about slapping her chauffeur

2 Which foreign ruler was revealed as owning more of London than the Queen?
a Sultan of Brunei
b Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai
c King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
d Emir of Qatar

3 Who ousted Bill Gates as the world's richest man in the 2010 Forbes Rich List?
a Lakshmi Mittal
b Lawrence Ellison
c Carlos Slim Helú
d Warren Buffett

4 Which senatorial hopeful for Delaware broadcast a campaign advert that told voters she wasn't a witch?
a Carly Fiorina
b Christine O'Donnell
c Sharron Angle
d Lisa Murkowski

5 In his memoir Decision Points, what did George W Bush claim was his worst moment in his eight years as US president?
a Seeing the first photos of US servicemen's coffins return from Iraq
b Realising how premature his "mission accomplished" speech was
c Hearing of the 9/11 attacks while in a school classroom
d Kanye West saying: "George Bush doesn't care about black people"

6 In October, the Chilean miners were rescued after how many days trapped underground?
a 44
b 53
c 69
d 82

7 The American comedian Jon Stewart held a "Rally to Restore" what?
a Sanity
b Peace
c Liberal Anger
d Dignity

8 During a February Q&A with activists, what did the notes on Sarah Palin's hand say?
a "energy, budget cuts, lift American spirits"
b "drill, baby, drill and drill again"
c "Blame Obama, Blame Obama, Blame Obama"
d "Tea Party good, Washington bad"

9 Who built a bacterial genome that constituted the creation of synthetic life for the first time?
a Craig Venter
b Sidney Altman
c Joseph G Gall
d George Schaller

10 In July, which country's lower house passed a bill, by 335 votes to one, banning Muslim women from wearing the full veil in public?
a Netherlands
b France
c Italy
d Sweden

Home affairs

1 Which celebrity chef sacked his father-in-law, Chris Hutcheson, from his job as chief executive of his restaurant empire?
a Jamie Oliver
b Marco Pierre White
c Gordon Ramsay
d Heston Blumenthal

2 Who or what are believed to be involved in 74,000 UK road accidents every year?
a Wild deer
b Cyclists
c Potholes
d Drivers using mobiles

3 In April, the science writer Simon Singh won the right to rely on the defence of fair comment in a libel case brought by which body?
a British Osteopathic Association
b British Homeopathic Association
c British Naturopathic Association
d British Chiropractic Association

4 Which university has accredited a foundation degree with fast-food giant McDonald's?
a London South Bank
b Liverpool John Moores
c Manchester Metropolitan
d Nottingham Trent

5 What was the name of the cat that Mary Bale was filmed dropping in a wheelie bin?
a Lola
b Mina
c Charly
d Holly

Online

1 What did the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg say was the only thing that the makers of The Social Network got right about his portrayal in the film?
a His student wardrobe
b His good looks
c His business acumen
d His friendship skills

2 Claiming he did it in jest, Paul Chambers was convicted of sending menacing electronic communication after tweeting: "You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!" Which airport?

a Robin Hood, Doncaster
b Birmingham
c Stansted
d Luton

3 The Minneapolis IT workers Pete and Alisha Arnold set up a website inviting the public to vote on what?
a Whether they should have an open relationship
b Whether they should convert to Islam
c Whether they should emigrate to Canada
d Whether Alisha should have an abortion

4 Which country did voters in a poll suggest teenage pop star Justin Bieber should tour next?
a Iraq
b North Korea
c Afghanistan
d Somalia

5 Threatening to leave Twitter yet again, who tweeted: "So some f**king paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted and now I'm the Antichrist. I give up", adding later, "Bye bye"?
a Ashton Kutcher
b Jonathan Ross
c Stephen Fry
d Jimmy Carr

Arts

1 What was the British Museum's 100th and final exhibit in the BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 Objects?
a A credit card
b A stone-chopping tool from Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge
c The Rosetta Stone
d A solar-powered lamp and charger

2 Which band took "strong insult" at the US Air Force Reserve using a re-recording of their song "Fell in Love with a Girl" in a Super Bowl ad
because it encouraged recruitment for a war "we do not support"?
a Kings of Leon
b My Chemical Romance
c The White Stripes
d The Strokes

3 In February, a bronze sculpture by which artist became the most expensive piece of art to sell at auction after it was bought for more than £65m?
a Alberto Giacometti
b David Smith
c Henry Moore
d Constantin Brancusi

4 Two previously unknown violin sonatas by which Italian composer were uncovered after 270 years?
a Antonio Vivaldi
b Giuseppe Tartini
c Niccolò Paganini
d Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

5 Lady Gaga wore a dress made out of which material to the MTV Video Music Awards in September?
a Bubblewrap
b Glass
c Gold leaf
d Raw meat

Television

1 The X Factor contestant Gamu Nhengu claimed that she feared being killed by firing squad if she was deported back to which country?
a Sudan
b Zimbabwe
c Angola
d Rwanda

2 Alan Sugar engaged in a Twitter war with which woman, calling her the worst Celebrity Apprentice contestant and saying "she really needs to think about a diet"?
a Clare Balding
b Ruby Wax
c Jo Brand
d Kirstie Allsopp

3 In May, Channel 4 drew 350 complaints after showing the UK's first television advert for what?
a An Islamic charity
b Scientology
c Advice on abortion services
d Penis enlargement

4 Which TV news presenter mistook the Ash Wednesday cross on the forehead of the Catholic US vice-president, Joe Biden, for a bruise?
a Kay Burley
b Julie Etchingham
c Natasha Kaplinsky
d Anna Botting

5 Which selection of nine letters resulted in a rude word, and a round of Countdown being cut from the show?
a SFCKUFCAE
b DTCEIASHF
c CKDIHEDAS
d HLESOASER

Media

1 In April, which newspaper published the front-page headline "Clegg in Nazi slur on Britain"?
a Daily Mail
b Sun
c Daily Express
d Daily Star

2 Zac Goldsmith called which man a "charlatan" after an angry television clash concerning his election spending?
a Jon Snow
b Jeremy Paxman
c Andrew Neil
d Nick Robinson

3 What amount of money did Sarah Ferguson tell an undercover reporter from the News of the World could "open doors" and gain access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew?
a £50,000
b £100,000
c £250,000
d £500,000

4 President Obama sacked his top commander in Afghanistan - General Stanley McChrystal - after a candid interview criticising the US administration was published in which magazine?
a Rolling Stone
b Vanity Fair
c New Yorker
d Harper's Magazine

5 Talking about celebrities launching lawsuits against the News of the World, the lawyer Mark Lewis said: "Getting a letter from Scotland Yard that your phone has been hacked is rather like . . ."?
a "the taxman notifying you of a huge rebate"
b "finding out a relative has left you thousands in their will"
c "receiving winning Lotto numbers in the post"
d "getting a Willy Wonka golden ticket"

Books

1 What ransom was demanded for Jonathan Franzen's glasses after they were stolen at the Serpentine Gallery launch of his novel Freedom?
a £1
b £100
c £10,000
d £100,000

2 Which writer founded the Democratic Front for People's Federation party to fight corruption in his native Nigeria?
a Chinua Achebe
b Wole Soyinka
c Ben Okri
d Ken Wiwa

3 Which novelist compared becoming a grandfather to "getting a telegram from the mortuary"?
a Ian McEwan
b Martin Amis
c Philip Pullman
d William Boyd

4 Which of these novelists was the first to pass away this year?
a Beryl Bainbridge
b José Saramago
c Dick Francis
d J D Salinger

5 Who accidentally coined the neologism "refudiate" - the New Oxford American Dictionary's "Word of the Year"?
a Sarah Palin
b Barack Obama
c Rush Limbaugh
d John Boehner

Sport

1 What was the score in the fifth set of the first-round Wimbledon singles match played by the American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut?
a 48-46
b 55-53
c 62-60
d 70-68

2 David Cameron described which sports TV commentator's work as "just epic"?
a Sid Waddell
b John Motson
c Murray Walker
d Richie Benaud

3 Which World Cup result-predicting "psychic" octopus passed away on 26 October?
a John
b Paul
c George
d Peter

4 Which Australian bowler took a hat trick on the first day of the 2010 Ashes series?
a Shane Watson
b Peter Siddle
c Mitchell Johnson
d Ben Hilfenhaus

5 The skeleton bob champion Amy Williams won Britain its first Winter Olympic individual gold since which year?
a 1972
b 1980
c 1992
d 2002

Quotes

1 Silvio Berlusconi said: “It is better to be passionate about beautiful girls than" what?
a "be gay"
b "be a thief"
c "anything else
in the world"
d "climate change"

2 What did Elaine Paige say of her fellow singer Susan Boyle's phenomenal success?
a "A lovely breath of
fresh air"
b "She's my new heroine"
c "A virus that swept
the world"
d "Unbelievable in every sense of the word"

3 What did the US vice-president, Joe Biden, say was "a big fucking deal"?
a Being the US
vice-president
b Passing of health-care reform
c The loss of the House
of Representatives
d Reaction to his "say something nice" gaffe

4 Who said: "I'm delighted with my new role as the Lipton Ice Tea ambassador . . . its values match those that are important in my life"?
a Nicole Kidman
b Daniel Craig
c Keira Knightley
d Hugh Jackman

5 The former BP chief executive, Tony Hayward, said the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was "likely to be" what?
a "rather messy"
b "negligible"
c "very, very modest"
d "worse than you can possibly imagine"

This article first appeared in the 20 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas Special

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Puffins in peril

Britain’s best-loved seabird is vulnerable to global extinction.

The boatmen helped us scramble ashore and soon there were 50 people wandering on an uninhab­ited slab of sea-battered dolerite called Staple Island. It is one of the National Trust-owned Farne Islands in Northumberland and among England’s most spectacular wildlife locations. There are 100,000 pairs of breeding seabirds here and they were everywhere: at our feet, overhead, across every rock face. The stench of guano was overwhelming.

While the birds seemed to be boundless, the human beings converged on the grassy knoll where the local star attraction resides. It’s the creature that adorns the boat company’s publicity and is emblazoned on the National Trust’s website for the island, the bird that possesses what the poet Norman MacCaig called the “mad, clever clown’s beak”: the pint-sized, parrot-faced puffin.

The British love for this creature is so intense that it is, in essence, the robin redbreast of the sea. Nearly all of its breeding colonies around our coast are tourist attractions. Just across the water, along the shore from Staple Island, is the town of Amble, which holds an annual festival devoted to the puffin. From Lundy in Devon and Skomer in Pembrokeshire to the Isle of May off the Fife coast, or Fair Isle in the Shetlands, trips to puffin colonies are frequent, sometimes daily, events.

“Every tourist shop on these islands sells puffin merchandise – knitwear patterns, tumblers, carvings, coasters, cuddly toys, clothes and, of course, puffin hats,” Helen Moncrieff, the area manager in Shetland for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), told me.

While the love affair is unquestionable, what seems in doubt is our ability to help the bird now that it is in trouble. Fair Isle once supported a puffin colony of 20,000 birds. In less than three decades, that number has halved. Similar declines have been reported at Britain’s most important puffin site on St Kilda, Scotland, where millions are said to have bred. Now there are fewer than 130,000 pairs, half the total recorded as recently as the 1970s.

The national picture is alarming but the news from elsewhere is even worse. Continental Europe holds more than 90 per cent – five million pairs – of the global total of Atlantic puffins but they are shared primarily between three countries: Denmark (the Faroe Islands), Iceland and Norway. Across this subarctic region, losses have been estimated at 33 per cent since 1979, when monitoring began. But the most striking figure comes from a colony on Røst, Norway, where there has been a fall over this period from nearly 1.5 million pairs to 285,000.

The Westman Islands off the south coast of Iceland hold a substantial proportion of the country’s puffins. Since 2005, breeding success there has been almost nil, and a similar failure has recurred on the Faroe Islands for more than a decade. In both places, where hunting puffins was once a staple of cultural life, catchers today have initiated a self-imposed moratorium.

Puffins are long-lived species and a life­span of between 20 and 30 years is not unusual, yet Euan Dunn, principal marine adviser to the RSPB, explains the implications of persistent breeding failure. “Puffins on Shetland or the Westmans may go on attempting to breed for years, even decades, but eventually all those old adult birds will die off and, if they haven’t reproduced, then the numbers will start to plunge.”

BirdLife International, a conservation network that classifies the status of birds worldwide, has reached the same conclusion. It judges that the Atlantic puffin is likely to decline by between 50 and 79 per cent by 2065. The nation’s most beloved seabird has been declared a species that is vulnerable to global extinction.

To unpick the story of puffin losses, marine ecologists have examined the bird’s oceanic ecosystem and looked particularly at changes in the status of a cold-water zooplankton called Calanus finmarchicus. This seemingly insignificant, shrimp-like organism plays a crucial role in North Atlantic biodiversity and has experienced a huge decline as sea temperatures have risen steadily since the 1980s. While the decline of the finmarchicus coincided with swelling numbers of a close relative, this other zooplankton species is less abundant and nutritious.

As the finmarchicus has suffered, so, too, has one of its main predators, the lesser sand eel. And it is this formerly superabundant fish that is the staple food of puffins in many areas of the Atlantic. At the root of the disruption to marine life are the hydra-headed effects of climate change.

Though no one disputes that an important shift is under way in the sea areas of northern Britain and beyond, not everyone agrees that the present puffin situation is a crisis. A leading British expert, Mike Harris, thinks it is premature to designate the bird an endangered species. There are still millions of puffins and, he says, “We need numbers to plummet before we even start to assume that things are terminal.”

Similarly, Bergur Olsen, one of the foremost biologists studying puffins in the Faroe Islands, believes that the talk of extinction is over the top. “The food situation may change and puffins may well adapt to new prey, and then their numbers will stabilise and perhaps increase,” he says.

***

On Staple Island, the extinction designation does appear bizarre. The Farne Island puffin population has increased by 8 per cent since 2008 and there are now 40,000 pairs. This success mirrors a wider stability among puffin colonies of the North and Irish Seas. The distinction in feeding ecology which may explain the birds’ varying fortunes is that, in the southern parts of the range, puffins can prey on sprats when sand eels are scarce. Sprats appear to have suffered none of the disruption that assails the other fish.

But Dunn says it is important to look at the whole picture. “It’s fantastic that puffins are doing well in places like the Farnes, but remember: Britain holds less than 10 per cent of the world total. Also, the declines that have beset puffins in Shetland and St Kilda are even worse for other seabirds.”

The numbers of a silver-winged gull called the kittiwake have fallen by 90 per cent in Shetland and St Kilda since 2000 and by 80 per cent in the Orkneys in just ten years. Shetland’s guillemot numbers have also halved, and the shag, a relative of the cormorant, has experienced falls of over 80 per cent on many islands since the 1970s – 98 per cent, on Foula. Most troubling is the fate of the Arctic skua, which feeds mainly on fish it steals from other seabirds and is reliant on their successes. Its declines are so severe that Dunn fears its eventual loss as a breeding species in Britain.

While there is disagreement about what to call the puffin predicament, there is unanimity on one issue: much of the data that informs the discussion in Britain is out of date. All of these seabirds, which are of global importance, have been monitored decade by decade since the 1970s. Yet the most recent big audit of our cliffs and offshore islands was concluded in 2000. The full census data is now 16 years old. The organisation that underwrites this work is the Joint Nature Conservation Committee; it is sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has suffered deep budget cuts since the 2008 financial crisis. There is no certainty that another comprehensive census will be mounted any time soon.

“Much is made on wildlife television of how special these islands are for wildlife and how much we care about it,” Dunn says. “In the case of our seabirds, one of those claims is indisputably true. Britain holds populations of some species that are of worldwide significance. But if we lack even basic information on those birds and how they’re faring, especially at a time when our seas are in such flux, what message does that send about how much this country cares? And how can we ever act effectively?”

The plight of the puffin is shedding light on the fortunes of our marine wildlife generally and the shifting condition of our oceans as a result of rising carbon-dioxide levels. Now, puffin politics is also starting to show
this government’s indifference to nature.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue