Was this a tale of true love, or of a conman finding another mark?

Sometimes, your own passion can be hyped. Your feelings can become a corny, overwrought storyline you lose control over.

Christie Smythe, a Bloomberg News reporter, broke the story of the arrest of Martin Shkreli , controversial hedge funder, “Pharma Bro” and online provocateur, who became notorious for inflating the price of the lifesaving toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim by 5,000%. After Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in 2018 for securities fraud and conspiracy, Smythe visited him in prison and fell in love, losing her job and marriage. When she spoke to Elle magazine, in a story that went viral, Shkreli cut her off, saying: “Mr Shkreli wishes Ms Smythe the best of luck in her future endeavours”. She interpreted this as Shkreli being concerned about the fallout for her.
Christie Smythe.Christie Smythe. Photograph: @ChristieSmythe
This comes across as a perfect storm of Shkreli’s narcissism and Smythe’s obsession. If you wanted to be brutal, it’s less Romeo and Juliet, more Hannibal and Clarice. Still, Smythe’s downward emotional spiral makes you wince. A “little crush” is one thing, but she froze her eggs for this guy. Smythe denounces the public reaction as sexist, saying she knew her own mind. Certainly, even as she and Shkreli kissed and talked prenups during prison visits, she seemed aware that he was a master manipulator. That’s the point: sometimes people do know, but it doesn’t matter – the intensity still beats boring old real life.

A director once told me that he’d given up dating actresses, because they seemed to need their real lives to be as dramatic as their roles. Maybe a lot of us are like this – not just thespians, not just women. Particularly where love is concerned, we’re culturally conditioned (films, books, songs) to expect and embrace trouble. We’re repeatedly force-fed the same lines. True love never runs smooth. Passion is pain. Listen to your heart, not your head, whatever the cost… What a crock.

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It’s weird how people are conditioned to suffer for true love/grand passion. If people were urged to go through all this misery and drama for anything else (true friendship?), they’d wisely pass. Maybe this is how Smythe succumbed – in her mind, she was starring in her own personal “love behind bars” movie of the week. Which plot: the buttoned-up journalist swept away by passion? Or a redemption fantasy: the lost soul/pharma bad boy rescued by a good woman?

In some ways, Smythe reminds me of those women who write to lifers and start relationships with them, getting all the thrills of the forbidden without truly having to deal with the man. One theory is that she sold Shkreli out, playing him at his own game. That would be less painful than what appears to be the truth. That she was a narcissist’s mark – what she called love was someone coldly intuiting her need for drama, and exploiting her conditioning. And that she knew all this, but, for whatever reason, went along with it anyway.

No Fortnum’s hamper is hard for some but they’ll survive

fortnum and mason hampersFortnum & Mason has suffered unprecedented demand for their hampers. Photograph: Sylvie JARROSSAY/Alamy Stock Photo
Who will weep for the posh during lockdown? Who will find it within their hearts to sob for their lost or delayed Cognac butter, vintage Dom Perignon and cinder toffee?There are many reports about the horrors of lockdown for the poor and disadvantaged, but what about the terrible pain and mild inconvenience of the wealthy? Fortnum & Mason has been experiencing difficulties delivering its Christmas hampers, due to unprecedentedly high demand. Whole hampers are failing to materialise. Customers are being told they can only have them after the festive season. There are warnings that certain items will be left out. What impudence is this? I know if I were to receive a Fortnum hamper, and lift up the hallowed monogrammed wicker lid, I would be devastated to find my glacé clementines missing. You might say: “These people need a bit of perspective, this is a pandemic, yak, yak, yak”, but that is merely the politics of envy. Pure illogical spite against people who’ve done really well in life after, well, being born to rich parents.

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Some of us try not to be so vindictive. I have an image in my head of a fellow human being in a green quilted gilet and burgundy jumbo cords, an Irish wolfhound snuffling adorably nearby. They are staring out of the window of their second home in Cornwall or Devon, waiting sorrowfully for the basket of Fortnum’s goodies that (whisper it) never arrives. Where is a pop star to wail plaintively to a slowed-down song in a charity advert when you need one?Is this the great overlooked tragedy of Christmas 2020? I will be lighting a fragrant candle of remembrance in the window for all the Fortnum-suffering, and implore everybody to join me.

Don’t neglect the pets that have given you joy in lockdown

cat asleep on owner's lapIt could soon be compulsory to microchip cats as well as dogs. Photograph: taniche/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A public consultation has been launched on proposals to make it compulsory for owners to microchip cats . Good: microchips make it easier for pets to be reunited with their owners. The system is already in place for dogs – if a dog is found unchipped, the owners must fit one within 21 days or be fined up to £500 .

The consultation is partly in response to the lockdown pet boom, during which people have been acquiring predominantly cats and dogs, which is fantastic, particularly where animals require rehoming.

However, I have concerns. I worry that some (not all) new owners are acting on a whim. They could be inadvertently purchasing animals from cruel puppy farms. They may not comprehend the amount of care and attention that animals need, or the financial toll of pet ownership, regarding, say, food and insurance. They may not have fully considered if their new pets will still fit into their working lives, post-lockdown.

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Saying all this about lockdown pets makes me feel a tad Cruella de Ville, but these issues are real. We’re talking about living creatures, not toys to be discarded (though too many animals are). If people had no intention of getting a pet pre-lockdown, then I would strongly advise them not to bother. Pets aren’t just for lockdown, they’re for life.• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist