The Guardian Saturday 1 June 2013
Copyright (C) The Guardian

Section Index

GUARDIAN FAMILY PAGES

GUARDIAN HOME PAGES

GUARDIAN MONEY PAGES

GUARDIAN SPORT PAGES

GUARDIAN COOK

GUARDIAN REVIEW PAGES

GUARDIAN TRAVEL PAGES

THE GUIDE

GUARDIAN WEEKEND PAGES

GUARDIAN INTERNATIONAL PAGES

GUARDIAN FINANCIAL PAGES

GUARDIAN SATURDAY COMMENT PAGES

GUARDIAN COMMENT AND DEBATE PAGES

GUARDIAN LEADER PAGES

GUARDIAN OBITUARIES PAGES

GUARDIAN WEATHER PAGES


GUARDIAN FAMILY PAGES

Family: Songs, the keys to life: Why Cerys Matthews wants to teach the world to sing. By Nick Duerden

Family: 'If she hadn't thrown me out...': In his mid-teens, Matthew Smith got heavily into drugs. He was skipping school and creating havoc at home. Then he went too far. His mother decided she'd had enough - and threw him out. Joanna Moorhead meets them both four years on

Family: Worried about your child and drugs? Advice from Frank

Family: I'm just glad to be here: As a child, Peter White never saw his blindness as a problem. But then a family secret changed his view

Family: 'Childbirth? I felt brilliant. I was in utter ecstasy': Caroline Flint, once Britain's best-known midwife, says doctors are obsessed with risk in childbirth. She tells Susie Steiner why giving birth naturally can be mind-blowing ... even orgasmic

Family: Problem solved: Annalisa Barbieri

Family: Snapshot, Playlist and We love to eat

Family: A marriage in recovery: My husband is dodging his AA meetings

Family: A letter to...: My parents, about my boyfriend

Family: Tim Lott: Man about the house

Family: My family values: Alison Steadman Actor


GUARDIAN HOME PAGES

House rules: How the back door opens to lobbyists

Acton to Aleppo: one British Muslim's quest ends in death: Acton to Aleppo - Briton's quest ends in death

Sleaze returns to damage Tories as MP quits in lobbying scandal: Ex-soldier allegedly failed to declare pounds 2,000 paid by journalists in sting operation: Conservatives hit by sleaze row as MP quits

Contact

UN blasts Britain over human rights record since 9/11: Focus on failure to act over torture and abuse claims 40 measures needed to satisfy international law

Pacific seabed 'streak' could be wreck of Earhart's plane

For sale: pounds 5m cream of British art that Eliot's widow owed to Cats: Collection bought through book royalties for auction Cash will go to trust for young artists and poets

Convert casualty

First person: Tam Hussein: Ali wanted to restore his sense of Syrian honour by sacrificing himself

Peace talks on hold as Russia reveals new fighter jet deal: Setback for Geneva conference: MiG maker to ship 10 planes

New battleground?: Fearful villagers stockpile food as Golan Heights braces for war

Patrick Wintour: Analysis No love lost, but a headache for Cameron

Deputy speaker faces fourth sex assault claim: Police investigate intern's claim against Evans MP 'unaware of claims' and denies wrongdoing

Net firms under fire for 'paltry' donations to anti-abuse charity: Companies must help protect children, says MP Google, Facebook and Microsoft in spotlight

Urban Menace Beano exhibition opens in London

Police to explore possibility of other child sex crimes by Bridger

Rockall landing thwarted by heavy seas

Police find body in search for Georgia Williams: Man, 22, charged with murder of 17-year-old Nationwide hunt after she went missing on Sunday

Second suspect arrested after release from hospital: Police and lawyers discuss possible murder charges Inquest hears victim was identified by dental records

Protests: Rigby's family appeals for calm as far right mobilises

Courts Conman claimed to be comedian's brother

Universities Applications still down on levels before fee rise

Transport Investment vital, says London mayor

Sailing London to host round the world Clipper race

Mourning, campers

Catwalk to workforce: fashion week gets practical

Parts 'blew off' BA plane after maintenance mistake: Investigators say cowls hit fuselage and landing gear Airbus warned users about engine cover safety risk

UK fears after Swedish free school closures

The dream was a new Elizabethan age: reality was the end of empire

Zoe Williams: Saturday sketch If only she had a dragon, she'd make a delightful picture

Commentary I confess. I was in on the great Cornish cake theft

Digital Day 6 June 1944 on TV and Twitter

General anaesthetics may increase dementia risk, research shows: Study of 9,000 French patients tracks condition Buildup of neural plaques linked to drug doses

Let there be art: not a fresco to be seen in the papal pavilion: First Vatican-sponsored exhibition takes Genesis as starting point

Festival diary

Simon Hoggart's week The kleptocracy that's robbing us blind

John Plunkett: 'New York had better get ready'


GUARDIAN MONEY PAGES

Money: Beware the copycat minefield: Need a passport? Driving licence? Birth certificate? Official looking websites are tricking the unwary into paying over the odds. Miles Brignall investigates

Money: Personal effects: We want your expert opinion: We're thinking of building a shed/office in our garden. pounds 15,000 should do it, but are they any good? Anyone love theirs - or wish they hadn't bothered? I fear we won't get the money back when we sell, but I've got to commute less

Money: Alternative investment: Making modern art pay by degrees: The works of 3,000 hopeful graduates are now going on show throughout the country. Liz Phillips looks at how buyers can get in on the ground floor

Money: Your shout: Letters

Money: On reflection: Please help us to halt the sites

Money: Compensation: Long delays to get redress as consumer gripes hit record levels: Cases brought to financial ombudsman up 92% in year. By Miles Brignall

Money: Nationwide helps first-timers with a record low 2.54% rate: Mortgages Lender launches cheap Help to Buy loans, reports Hilary Osborne. But will the scheme spark a new housing bubble?

Money: Assets: The low-cost ways to buy shares: Most fund managers fail to beat market indices such as the FTSE 100. Patrick Collinson looks at some cheaper, better-performing alternatives

Money: New this week: Mortgages

Money: New this week: Buy-to-let

Money: New this week: Savings

Money: New this week: Personal loans

Money: New this week: Retail bonds

Work: Dear Jeremy: Problems at work? Our agony uncle - and you, the readers - have the answers

Money: Bachelor & Brignall: Consumer champions Lisa Bachelor and Miles Brignall fight for your rights


GUARDIAN SPORT PAGES

pounds 50m: Suarez can go, say Liverpool, but only for more than this

Agony for Wiggins as knee injury forces him out of Tour

Gatland's men must not hang their heads if early form falls short: Here's for starters: Lions' history shows a bad start in Australia need not be a portent of doom for the Tests, writes Paul Rees

Touring party primed to raise the standard and scale highest peak: Challenge facing class of 2013 in Australia is as daunting as ever: Barbarians v Lions

TV

Tour records: Tour itinerary

On the web guardian.co.uk/sport

A new experience: for once we are not the underdogs

Bargain hunt: How the marketing men joined the scrum for a big slice of history: Today it is big business but the first Lions tour to break even did not come until 1991, writes Owen Gibson

Big day for ... five players who must shine against Barbarians

Weather beaten: Humid Hong Kong ideal stage for warm-up game: Drink breaks and ice vests for the interval are planned in Lions opener, writes Robert Kitson

Wolves turn to Jackett in promotion hunt

'Say something ladies' blunders Blatter

Di Canio is quick off the mark in quest to rebuild Sunderland: Italian has already captured four players but overhaul runs deeper than playing staff, writes Louise Taylor

Transfer targets Where your club will be spending this summer

Spotters' guide: Hodgson's men enjoy a lesson in technique from the beach boys: Squad are determined to learn from mistakes in Wembley draw after day spent marvelling at skills on display throughout Rio

Brazil struggle to get the show on the road with World Cup round the corner: Problems mount on and off pitch before nation's second hosting of tournament, reports Fernando Duarte

Building work ongoing at Maracana

Odds: guardian.co.uk /football: Match zone: Previous games in Brazil: Key clashes: The managers: TV and radio

'Everything was just right in London - my shape was at the top': Olympic 800m champion relives golden moment with James Riach and talks of plans to race Bolt

Guptill's century leaves England red-faced

Surrey's Tremlett shows fitness and form but Rankin gets the call: Derbyshire Surrey 452 35-1

Scoreboard

Nadal erupts in anger at 'unfair' schedule

Sharapova and Williams cruise through with a minimum of fuss

Chess

Results and cricket scoreboard

EPO is old hat for new generation of doping cheats

Wiggins withdrawal raises questions over his future: Briton will miss Tour and may no longer be seen as top dog by Team Sky, says William Fotheringham

Wheels of fortune Ten turbulent months

'I'm a little bit afraid but I'm very positive and I have a clear head': Dettori dashes back in time for long-awaited return but has day to forget on the track, writes Greg Wood at Epsom

Today's Epsom Derby card with TV form guide

Chris Cook's selections

Battle Of Marengo stamina to break Dawn

Sheikh desperate for Derby victory to put drugs scandal behind him

Barney Ronay: Why are some people so slow to appreciate the talents of Trott?


GUARDIAN COOK

Cook: The 10 best: TOMATO RECIPES: This week's recipes cover the full spectrum of varieties and tastes, including tiny explosive tomberries, tart and chunky green slices, and sweet and chewy sun-dried specimens

Cook: Dan Lepard: The ripple effect: A baking marvel and a seasonal showstopper - line your pud with a bramley and raspberry sauce and don't skimp on the ice-cream

Cook: Get-togethers: A feast for the eyes: Cressida Bell hosts a birthday spread for old friends infused with the aesthetic sensibilities of her Bloomsbury-set heritage

Cook: Drinks: Cordially yours: The superfruit that saved Britain makes a healthy drink to rival branded alternatives: By Henry Dimbleby

Cook: Meet the producer: 'I was raised under glass' Love My Chillies has sated the nation's newfound craving for fiery flavours, says Salvatore Genovese

Cook: Readers' recipe swap: This week: Sustainable: Felicity Cloake samples your recipes made from ingredients in ready supply

Cook: Ask Sonya: What to feed hungry guests before dinner

Cook: The Flavour Thesaurus: Pineapple: When fully ripe, this fruit combines an array of tangy flavours with a spicy, boozy, confectionery quality

Cook: Good for you: Peas: Right now, there's only one way to eat this squeaky staple: freshly podded and by the handful


GUARDIAN REVIEW PAGES

Review: Buried treasure: Mes Aynak, a magnificent Buddhist city on the Silk Road, is the most important archeological discovery in a generation. But it is sitting on a vast copper deposit and is about to be destroyed. William Dalrymple reports from Afghanistan: ≥⃒ There is a growing conviction in Afghanistan that China could end up the ultimate winner

Review: Val McDermid: MY HERO EMILY WILDING DAVISON

Review: THE WEEK IN BOOKS: PalFest; Astrid Lindgren memorial award; Barbara Pym centenary; poems for Pussy Riot

Review: GUARDIAN BOOK CLUB: Paul Theroux on the route that led him to The Great Railway Bazaar

Review: Across the whale's domain: BOOK OF THE WEEK: A collage of memoir, cultural history and travelogue is full of the ocean's strangeness, writes Caspar Henderson: The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare 384pp, Fourth Estate, pounds 18.99

Review: The panegyrist of reading: Do we really need another addition to the Borges industry, asks Giles Harvey: Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature by Jorge Luis Borges, ed. Martin Arias and Martin Hadis, trans. Katherine Silver 320pp, New Directions, pounds 16.50

Review: Squirrel with a quill: Ian Thomson takes a charming tour of Planet Calvino: Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 Selected and with an introduction by Michael Wood, translated by Martin McLaughlin 632pp, Princeton, pounds 27.95

Review: What would an oyster do?: Blake Morrison enjoys time spent with a brainy, daft and very companionable hermit: Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson, translated by Linda Coverdale 256pp, Allen Lane, pounds 16.99

Review: The climate change conundrum: The City has already factored environmental disaster into share prices, Peter Forbes discovers: The Burning Question: We can't burn half the world's oil, coal, and gas, so how do we quit? by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark 256pp, Profile, pounds 9.99

Review: High kicks and low dives: Kathryn Hughes on a tale of sharp-angled girls making their way in a decade of excess: Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell 456pp, Macmillan, pounds 20

Review: Spare a thought for spammers: Steven Poole on the human faces behind your clogged-up inbox: Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet by Finn Brunton 254pp, MIT Press, pounds 19.95

Review: The whole world is magical: Isabel Allende's story of a teenager in crisis avoids brutal reality. By Emily Perkins: Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende, translated by Anne McLean 400pp, Fourth Estate, pounds 12.99

Review: All at sea: John Self on a book about the nightmare of the writer's life: Burnt Island by Alice Thompson 224pp, Salt, pounds 8.99

Review: FICTION: A long St Patrick's Day speech: A little ambiguity would have counterbalanced McCann's rhapsodic charm, writes Theo Tait: TransAtlantic by Colum McCann 320pp, Bloomsbury, pounds 18.99

Review: FICTION: View from the gallery: Alexandra Harris on a darkly absorbing novel about art and disorder: Asunder by Chloe Aridjis 192pp, Chatto & Windus, pounds 14.99

Review: 'Don't show hatred: the Germans will be flattered': A portrait of Germany in defeat is constantly surprising, finds Gerard Woodward: The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook 336pp, Viking, pounds 14.99

Review: The devil in person: Ian Sansom admires a collectively written historical thriller: Altai by Wu Ming, translated by Shaun Whiteside 272pp, Verso, pounds 17.99

Review: If I were given a red pen now and I went back, I'd take The Kite Runner apart Khaled Hosseini: THE BOOKS INTERVIEW: Photograph by Tim Knox for the Guardian

Review: POETRY: At an angle to the universe: Paul Bailey on the most thorough collection of Cavafy's poems to date: CP Cavafy: The Complete Poems translated with introduction and commentary by Daniel Mendelsohn 547pp, Harper Press, pounds 35

Review: CHILDREN'S FICTION: Tony Bradman finds pleasures and problems in this debut fantasy novel: Urgle By Meaghan McIsaac 347pp Andersen Press pounds 9.99

Review: NICHOLAS LEZARD'S CHOICE: Bayeux banter brings history to life

Review: CRITICAL EYE: Veteran novelists vie for praise

Review: Where the wild things are Further to Frances Stonor Saunders's review of George Monbiot's book about the "rewilding" of the British countryside ("Call of the wild", 25 May), the most prominent case study so far is at Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, where apex predators (wolves) have been reintroduced. There have been many interesting side-effects that suggest predator reintroduction can be highly beneficial to dysfunctional ecosystems. Regarding the notion that reintroducing predators will lead to a string of horrific attacks on humans, there have been no attacks so far related to any of the projects (bears in Italy, panthers in Florida and wolves in Yellowstone). DragonNoodle from the website

Review: True grit

Review: Ironic image

Review: Perfect view

Review: Obscenity street

Review: Would you Adam and Eve it?: Steve Jones on the fallout from mixing science and religion

Review: ARTS: His dark material: Werner Herzog's films portray humans as frail, vulnerable creatures caught in the gap between an indifferent nature and a punishing God. As The Act of Killing opens in the UK, Michael Newton celebrates the director's unique vision

Review: ARTS: A man or a company?: It may not be true that Walt Disney wanted to be cryogenically frozen, but Philip Glass's new opera about the last months of his life explores the man behind the myth. Nicholas Wroe meets its director, Phelim McDermott

Review: ESSAY: ESSAY: 'We all breathe the same air': In June 1963, JFK made a speech that changed the outcome of the cold war. Fifty years on, modern politicians should follow his example of leading, not following, public opinion. By Jeffrey Sachs

Review: Ely 1948: The Saturday Poem

Review: BESTSELLERS: The top 10 bestsellers through the Guardian Bookshop this week

Review: Tuesday

Review: Thursday

Review: Paperback fiction: Hardback fiction: THE WEEKLY CHARTS: Paperback non fiction: Hardback non fiction

Review: THE BACK PAGE: Rodge Glass on the rise of fiction with a global warning

Review: THE BACK PAGE: Steve Jones on the fallout from mixing science and religion

Film Byzantium Dir. Neil Jordan "Preposterous but watchable soap opera of the undead"

Theatre To Kill a Mockingbird Open Air theatre, London "A performance that is direct, simple and unshowy"

Music Field Day Victoria Park, London "Finally found its groove after some trying early outings"

Theatre Race Hampstead theatre, London "Moderately entertaining, Terry Johnson's production is well acted"

Review: Opera: Eugene Onegin Grange Park, Hampshire 3/5

Review: Theatre: Bristol beats Broadway as Lionboy is crowned king: Lionboy Bristol Old Vic 4/5

Review: Last night's TV

More reviews online


GUARDIAN TRAVEL PAGES

Travel: Beyond Glasto: After the party's over Somerset still has lots to offer, as Gavin McOwan finds out with festival founder Michael Eavis and, right, stars and locals add their top spots

Travel: Festival: County set: More top Somerset tips from locals

Travel: Food & Drink: More than a pie and a pint: To launch our two-for-one deal on lunches in 50 pubs featured in a new Sawday's guide, editor David Hancock picks 10 summer watering holes: Walkers can arrive in the bar with muddy boots, and not an eyelid batted

Travel: Corkboard: 5 blogs in ... Pacific NW

Travel: Corkboard: Cheap date

Travel: Corkboard: Travel trash

Travel: Corkboard: Hampshire The Greyhound on the Test

Travel: Corkboard: Escapism

Travel: Corkboard: What's new?

Travel: UK Accommodation: Cool cottages in ... Suffolk: Fancy a traditional seaside house, an old beamed cottage or a modern barn floating above countryside? Here are five lovely Suffolk pads

Travel: Culture: Not so Familia: Gaudi is Barcelona's most famous son but one of his collaborators, Jujol, created buildings with a lighter touch and humour, in its surrounding villages. Richard Eilers takes a tour

Travel: The Big Trip: Stay a while: Travelling doesn't have to involve moving. Three writers speak of the joy of staying put in one place, starting with Sylvain Tesson, who spent six months in a remote cabin in Siberia

Travel: Truly, madly, deeply: Many people enjoy a brief idyll on a Thai island. But Torre DeRoche forged a much more meaningful relationship with Koh Tao by living there long term

Travel: Stay for a month or three 10 long-stay hideaways: 10 remote hideaways

Travel: The Big Trip: La dolce vita - all summer: Lara Dunston learns after a few summers that the best way to experience Italian life is to live like an Italian - in rented flats, rather than hotel rooms

Travel: UK: KEVIN'S UNSUNG CORNERS OF BRITAIN: WENLOCK EDGE, SHROPSHIRE

Travel: Readers' Tips...Cheap Holidays In Italy


THE GUIDE

The Guide

The Guide: THIS WEEK THE CALL CENTRE

The Guide: AMERICAN LIE

The Guide: film: As Steven Soderbergh's Liberace epic goes straight from Cannes to HBO, John Patterson reckons that Hollywood's loss is the small screen's gain

The Guide: Coming soon: Out now: Out from Friday

The Guide: UK green film festival Nationwide

The Guide: Seasons In The Sun: The Heyday Of Nikkatsu Studios London

The Guide: Terracotta Far East Film festival London

The Guide: The Fog London

The Guide: Also out

The Guide: music: Choir practice with Gaggle. Theo Parrish's techno 101. Applied ambience with Brian Eno. Ruth Saxelby salutes the artists sharing their knowledge

The Guide: BOOKING NOW

The Guide: Paul MacInnes This week's new tracks

The Guide: Grant Hart Galway, Sligo

The Guide: Jeff Williams UK Quintet London

The Guide: Olof Arnalds On tour

The Guide: The Perfect American London

The Guide: Nicolas Meier Group On tour

The Guide: Mudhoney On tour

The Guide: Games news

The Guide: The Starship Damrey Nintendo 3DS

The Guide: Frozen Synapse iPad

The Guide: Grid 2 PS3 & Xbox

The Guide: Francesca Martinez: What The **** Is Normal?! On tour

The Guide: The World Champion: Judah Friedlander London, Edinburgh

The Guide: Kevin Eldon London

The Guide: Thick As Thieves Exeter

The Guide: Sub Club Soundsystem at Rockness Nr Inverness

The Guide: Pauline Boty Wolverhampton

The Guide: Merlin James London

The Guide: Sophie von Hellermann: Elephant In The Room Colchester

The Guide: Tom Pitt: Between Object And Place Derby

The Guide: Anthony Caro London

The Guide: Gary Hume, Patrick Caulfield London

The Guide: Moda WK Newcastle upon Tyne

The Guide: Walk On: 40 Years Of Walking Art Sunderland

The Guide: Bracken Moor London

The Guide: Two's Company festival Harrogate

The Guide: Let The Right One In Dundee

The Guide: Some Other Mother Kirkcaldy, Edinburgh

The Guide: Northern Ballet Mixed Bill Leeds

The Guide: Pulse festival Ipswich

The Guide: Sweet Bird Of Youth London

The Guide: Festival Of The North East

The Guide: JFest International Leeds

The Guide: The World Custard Pie Championships Nr Maidstone

The Guide: Out & about

The Guide: tv&radio: the planner 44 films 46 listings 48≥⃒

The Guide: Watch with... Jo Brand

The Guide: Saturday 1 June

The Guide: Sunday 2 June

The Guide: Monday 3 June

The Guide: Tuesday 4 June

The Guide: Wednesday 5 June

The Guide: Thursday 6 June

The Guide: Friday 7 June

The Guide: Pick of the day: Pick of the day

The Guide: FACT-CHECKING THE: FAMOUS: TILDA SWINTON: Her favourite films of all time: Just how posh is Tilda?: *DATA: JOHNNY DEE SOURCES: CELEBITCHY.COM, DAILYBEAST.COM, GUARDIAN.CO.UK, MUBI.COM, SCOTSMAN.COM, WIKIPEDIA.ORG


GUARDIAN WEEKEND PAGES

Weekend: Starters: Tim Dowling: I cannot express how threatened I feel by the fake shopping trolley coin

Weekend: Starters: Ask a grown-up

Weekend: Starters: Your view Letters, emails, comments

Weekend: Starters: Twitter fiction

Weekend: Starters: Big picture: Band Riders, by Henry Hargreaves

Weekend: Starters: Lucy Mangan: There's going to be blood on the carpet when Mum finds out

Weekend: Starters: Q&A: Sinead O'Connor: What is the worst thing anyone's said to me? 'Your mother has been killed in a car crash'

Weekend: Starters: Experience: I had a worm in my brain

Weekend: Sarko and me: He was rightwing. She was bohemian. He was president. She was a supermodel. No one expected the romance between Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy to last. But six years after they first met, the couple are married with a young daughter. The former first lady of France talks to Decca Aitkenhead about having a baby in her 40s, making 'Amour Nicolas' her musical muse and why she's not in any hurry to return to the Elysee Palace

Weekend: Secrets of the blue zone On the Greek island of Ikaria, life is sweet... and very, very long. Andrew Anthony reports. Photographs: Eirini Vourloumis

Weekend: 'I don't mind coming second to David in a Who's Witty competition because, frankly, so does everyone else': Heard the one about what you're meant to do after 20 years in one of Britain's most popular double-acts? Robert Webb's not yet sure of the punchline, finds Alexis Petridis. Main portrait by Peter Guenzel

Weekend: 'It just went for me...': From the woman who had to have 18 years of reconstructive surgery and the dog-lover who needed 50 stitches in her face, to the father who went to the park for a kickabout with his kids and ended up in hospital: victims of dog attacks tell Lena Corner their stories. Main portrait: Felicity McCabe

Weekend: weekender: Valerie June, singer, 30

Weekend: FASHION: Loud and proud: Turn up the volume this summer with bold prints and patterns. Pictures: Sven Jacobsen. Styling: Simon Chilvers

Weekend: FASHION: All ages: Simple pleasures

Weekend: Fashion: The Measure

Weekend: FASHION: How to dress: A leopard can change its spots

Weekend: What I see in the mirror: Gavin Turk

Weekend: BEAUTY: Get the look: Sali Hughes on eye creams

Weekend: FOOD: Super bowl: There's a scrumptious soup to suit every season, says Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Weekend: Wine: Big bottles, big bucks: Fiona Beckett on the new roses

Weekend: FOOD: Yotam Ottolenghi: Liver little: sweet fruit cuts through that strong flavour: These sweet-and-sour rolls are pretty intense flavour-wise

Weekend: RESTAURANTS: Marina O'Loughlin: 'It's not awful (well, not all of it), but neither do I want to eat any of it again': Kaspar's

Weekend: Puzzles: SOLUTIONS

Weekend: This column will change your life: Oliver Burkeman finds some cold truths about loneliness

Weekend: What I'm really thinking: THE WEALTHY WIFE

Weekend: RELATIONSHIPS: Blind date Cabaret performer Reuben Kaye, 28, meets fundraiser Max Goldman, 25

Weekend: SPACE: Yesterday once more: The 1970s is all over the high street right now - but think The Ice Storm rather than Boogie Nights...

Weekend: GARDENS: Only natural: Does your garden look a little too artificial? Andy Byfield, co-founder of the plant charity Plantlife, suggests some wildflowers to soften the hard edges

Weekend: GARDENS: Alys Fowler: Ever seen a carrot fly?

Weekend: GARDENS: ASK ALYS

Weekend: SPACE: Let's move to... Ramsbottom, Lancashire - it's artsy but not hoity-toity

Weekend: Space: Snooping around

Weekend: ON THE ROAD: 'Arse-cupping seats and a small, fat, grippy steering wheel whisper, "Go on, enjoy yourself"'

Weekend: Puzzles: General Knowledge Crossword

Weekend: PUZZLES: The Quiz

Weekend: BACK: Your pictures: This week's theme: sowing


GUARDIAN INTERNATIONAL PAGES

Social revolution

Iran using sophisticated online censorship ahead of presidential election, say experts: Candidates' names cause blocking of sites and texts Ahmadinejad favourite Mashaei among the targets

Off Keys Singer urged to boycott Israel

Belfast peace skills aid Colombia negotiations

Istanbul's bars face threat from drink curbs that could close down alternative spaces

Turkish police attack protesters with teargas: Violent clashes over plans to bulldoze Istanbul park PM Erdogan increasingly authoritarian, say critics

China releases Tiananmen prisoner with Alzheimer's

Not so dolce vita: miserable spring sees Italians downcast

France's market watchdog to rule on 'handbag war': Hermes says it is under attack by LVMH tycoon Case could hit standing of luxury goods groups

Hollande's auction of presidential wine cellar cheers Elysee

Russia Hacking the USSR - safe haven for web criminals

Afghanistan Taliban deny attack on Red Cross compound

Conservation Shark tourism to double as value of catches falls

Analysis Baby 59 highlights lack of child protection in China

Culture: Video: Hooray for Lollywood! Pakistan's cinema shoots for big box office: Distinctive drama and new multiplexes signal rebirth of film-making after decline: In September 2012, nine of Pakistan's traditional cinemas were burnt down by mobs. Now the Pakistani cinema industry is attempting to rebuild itself. The Guardian's Jon Boone speaks to the directors and producers behind the cultural revival guardian.co.uk/world/video


GUARDIAN FINANCIAL PAGES

Pay pain

Miner Bumi reveals 200 million dollars black hole at main subsidiary: Funds were spent 'with no clear business purpose' Rothschild and Bakrie family battling for control

Protests at ECB as jobless rate hits a high: Blockupy targets 'austerity architects' in Frankfurt No work for 1 in 4 young people across eurozone

Analysis Human and economic crisis threatens to destroy the euro

Vodafone pulls out of mobile race for Burma

HSBC recruits ex-spy chief for clean-up role

In numbers: Cash raised online to tackle Walmart over worker safety: Power of giving

Entrepreneurs: Crowd-funding powers dynamic business: From gravity lights to cat cafes, investment sites help pet projects get started

Britain's first Dreamliner touches down after delay

UK nears deadline for price-fixing protection: Energy market measures must be in place by July New European rules aim to prevent insider trading


GUARDIAN SATURDAY COMMENT PAGES

Frank talk: Frank talk: Frank Lampard has just broken the record for most goals scored at Chelsea FC, and signed a new contract; tomorrow he captains England against Brazil. But the end of his career also looms, and he is looking beyond football - to writing children's books

'Eleven people are looking after me': Adeniyi Adeyemi Adelakun - aka rapper Niyi - gave up a life of touring and partying with the stars to study English at Cambridge. So how was his first term? Not easy ...

Alienation causes murder and violence - not gender, or religion

The plot thickens: For the past century, councils have prided themselves on giving local people small patches of land to cultivate - and many are happier and healthier as a result. But now, with money and land in short supply, allotments are under threat

Soldiers are honoured according to who they were and how they died


GUARDIAN COMMENT AND DEBATE PAGES

Comment: The ghost of comedy past: Les Dawson is being resurrected for a night - but can a hologram tell 'em like he used to?

Comment: Invite the EDL for tea: On what has been called a 'day of hate', we should all try to put aside our prejudices and listen

Comment: I celebrate the 'fuck you' behind Pussy Riot's eyes: As Maria Alyokhina's hunger strike continues, her strength inspires others as much as it scares the Russian state

Comment: Ministers misusing statistics to mislead voters must pay: Politicians resign for fake expenses or receiving favours, but not for making false statements. They should be punished

Comment: Zosia wants your dollar: Kickstarter was a utopia for the skint-but-inspired to fund their work. Until the celebs got involved


GUARDIAN LEADER PAGES

On This Day: Chagall at Vence: 1 June 1961

Corrections and clarifications

Comment: Country diary: Sandy, Bedfordshire

Leading Article: Of crowning importance: The next Coronation

Leading article: Patrick Mercer: The scandal that was waiting to happen

Leading article: Unthinkable? Not privatising Royal Mail

Letter: The real agenda behind welfare cuts

Letter: Eye-watering leaps

Letter: We need a new dialogue between physics and philosophy

Letter: Brown's charity work

Good to meet you Leigh Venus

Letter: Dealing with online child abuse images

Comment: Loose canon: Wickedness, allied to the 'truth' of religious belief, can lead us to truly heinous acts, says Giles Fraser


GUARDIAN OBITUARIES PAGES

Obituary: Ronald Carter: Leading English furniture designer whose clients included the V&A and Heathrow

Maslanka's answers

Weekend birthdays

Obituary: Mulgrew Miller: Influential jazz pianist with an ebullient and graceful style

Obituary: Other lives

Letters


GUARDIAN WEATHER PAGES

Weatherwatch

Wordplay: Chris Maslanka's puzzles: Pyrgic puzzles

Summary

Futoshiki: Hard No 347

Killer: Sudoku classic: Hard No 2514: Solution No 2513: Hard No 347





GUARDIAN FAMILY PAGES

Family: Songs, the keys to life: Why Cerys Matthews wants to teach the world to sing. By Nick Duerden

By Nick Duerden

I know the value of a good song," says Cerys Matthews. But she is not talking about recorded music. She's talking about what to do when flying long-haul with toddlers. "I know songs to stall a tantrum, to soothe, to distract . . . There's a song for pretty much every moment in your life."

It is a lesson the BBC 6 Music radio presenter, and former singer with Catatonia, learned from a young age, growing up in Swansea among music lovers. And she is determined to share the joy of singing with us all, encouraging families everywhere to sing together. "People have sung for as long as they've been able. And doesn't everybody feel better after a good singsong?"

Well, perhaps. But an awful lot of us lack the confidence to try it. When did you last sing with your family?

In her new book, Hook, Line & Singer, Matthews leads us on a journey through the songs, lullabies, nursery rhymes and ballads that have soundtracked family lives over the centuries - both lyrics and musical scores - as well as a more personal selection of tunes she picked up as a child, either watching Saturday morning television, in the back of the family car or from the vintage song-sheets buried inside her grandmother's piano stool. If this is a highly personalised trawl through one woman's idiosyncratic musical life, then it is very Matthews, as anyone who has ever listened to her Sony award-winning BBC radio show will attest. What shines throughout is her boundless enthusiasm for all kinds of music.

Or nearly all music. She is not crazy about much of the most commercial stuff out there. "I think the balance isn't there at the moment, certainly for the kids. Rihanna, Pink and Beyonce. It all sounds the same. And because of piracy the money isn't going back into the industry, so they only back the bland."

The Matthews family were not musicians, but they had wide musical interests, embracing jazz, opera and Bob Dylan. "I'm so grateful for that," she tells me on an overcast May afternoon in a children's playground near her west London home. She is dressed in light colours, and wearing a straw trilby, eyes hidden behind sunglasses.

The book reflects an inherited appreciation of variety: each chapter features a different genre - from nursery rhymes to Americana - and includes not only lyrics but also musical scores.

Matthews' mission is to reclaim the joy of making songs ourselves. "I want to demystify it. We're used to such cleaned up, auto-tuned, processed music. It's like cheap food. We get used to the taste, but it doesn't give anything back. I want to make it really acceptable to enjoy making music whatever you sound like, and to unlock lovely memories."

Her own family memories are intimately related to music. Her sister lost her teeth in 1972 on an old iron horse somewhere near Sheffield. She had been singing the nursery rhyme See Saw Marjorie Daw when she fell, face-first, on to the horse's head. She had to be fitted with dentures and the song has had special significance ever since.

"Having a scientist and doctor as a father meant that, at home, skeletons, pickled fingers and other assorted bits of anatomy in jars filled our shelves," she writes. "Nursery rhymes and traditional songs were often used to inform and educate, and faced squarely up to subjects like death, ill-health and misfortune - and I've always found them utterly compelling."

Her school life was also intrinsically musical and Matthews started playing the recorder at six. "My first song was Three Blind Mice," she recalls. Within a year, she had graduated to fife, tenor and sopranino recorders. "We had a piano in the house, too. My parents weren't musical, but they liked to play and that was a blessing."

"One of the songs from my nana's stool was O for the Wings of a Dove, which is a great one to ruin - and I did, often."

As a teenager, she says, the piano was her solace. "Making an immense racket on the piano helped to make sense of the chaos around me."

By her late teens, Matthews was busking on the streets of Cardiff, and later formed a band, Catatonia, with her then boyfriend, Mark Roberts. A highly individual singer, Matthews was a bit like a Welsh Bjork, capable of doing wonderfully crunchy things with vowels and consonants that made songs such as Road Rage and Mulder and Scully so memorable. For a time, it seemed there was rarely a high-profile event at which she was not in flamboyant attendance. But she winces at the mention of Catatonia now. "Oh, we don't need to drag all that up again, do we? I mean, who wants to dwell on the past? I've got a new album coming out in September," she says. "Baroque medieval songs. I'm much more excited about that."

In 2001, Catatonia split up, and within a year Matthews had decamped to America. "It was me slamming the door very firmly shut on one chapter, so that I could open another."

She settled in Nashville and in early 2003 married the American music producer Seth Riddle, with whom she had two children, Glenys Pearl, now nine, and John Jones, seven. Nashville, she says, was wonderful. "Everyone was a musician there and nobody had the self-conscious streak we seem to have here in Britain."

But by 2008, her marriage was over and she was back in the UK. By now, she had a low-key solo career up and running, made an unexpected appearance on I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! and was starting to present shows on BBC 6 Music. A year later, she married her manager, Steve Abbott.

The couple met when she recorded a duet with one of Abbott's other clients, Aled Jones. "We just clicked. We had very similar taste in music, right down to the line between liking Bob Dylan and not really liking Tom Petty."

She smiles. "That kind of thing is important to me. I'm very opinionated about music. So is he."

Abbott already had two children and in 2009 Matthews gave birth to their son, Red. Together, they have five children, ranging in age from three to 21. "It may not be particularly straightforward," she says, "but it's normal for them." They all travel regularly to the US where, she says: "We continue to have very strong links."

Motherhood provided invaluable grounding for her, she says. "I was 35 when I had my daughter. To suddenly have someone else to look after gave me gravity." Did she need gravity? "I guess I did. I had a pretty crazy life until that point, I suppose."

What do the children make of her fame? Thankfully, they couldn't be less interested, she says, giving a shudder. Why thankfully? "Well, see, I live a very normal life. I like going to pubs, sitting by fires, talking with friends over a great bottle of wine. I don't like thinking too much or talking too much about myself." She stops and frowns. "What I'm trying to say is that with fame you can lose yourself - and I don't want to, not any more. If I dwelled too much on yesterday I'd be a very skewed individual. It's not healthy."

Which is why, she concludes, she never plays her children any of her old records and doesn't, for the time being, intend to. "That was then. I'm much more focused, and happier, with my life these days."

That's not to say she doesn't sing to them. "Those moments alone with a child . . . as the sun cools, the night draws . . . songs go hand in hand with those intimate and loving, trusting times."

Matthews is routinely asked about her children's musical tastes, and whether she tries to influence them. Today her 16-year-old stepdaughter likes Ed Sheeran and her nine-year-old favours Nicki Minaj. "But they'll find their own way and that's as it should be. You can't be a song Nazi, can you?"

But she adds, with palpable relief, that Glenys Pearl isn't much taken by One Direction and that when they first heard their last song, One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks), a combined cover version of songs by, respectively, Blondie and the Undertones, she simply played her the originals. "I told her to compare: which was the best?"

This sounds a little "song Nazi" to me, I say. She laughs: "OK, but I'm right, aren't I? I'm right.

"What interests me is bringing music back from being preened and polished and stylised. People aren't used to just breaking into song. But why should we be scared of making a noise? One of my favourite moments was in Cardiff, at a huge international rugby match. Tears poured down my cheeks as 60,000 people sang from the same place in their hearts. To sing in harmony, you can't help but feel great. You've got all these little waves and patterns in your body and your soundwaves mix with other people's and start shimmering together.

"We are here for a blink of an eye. The greatest pleasures are the simplest ones. The things that we can share with other people and make us feel good. So don't be ashamed if you think you can't sing. Try it - because it's your and it's free, and it's really enjoyable."

Hook, Line & Singer: A Singalong Book by Cerys Matthews is published by Particular Books on 6 June, pounds 20. To order a copy for pounds 16, with free UK p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846

Cerys will be singing at the Chester Music Festival on 7 June

Captions:

Cerys Matthews with two of her children Photograph by Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

You Are My Sunshine, taken from Cerys Matthews' sing-along book, Hook, Line and Singer

Cerys Matthews in 1999, singing with her band, Catatonia. Left, today - mother of five, broadcaster, musician and now author


Family: 'If she hadn't thrown me out...': In his mid-teens, Matthew Smith got heavily into drugs. He was skipping school and creating havoc at home. Then he went too far. His mother decided she'd had enough - and threw him out. Joanna Moorhead meets them both four years on

By Joanna Moorhead

For a long time, Kay Smith thought of herself as two separate mothers. "By day I was the mummy of a sweet little girl, taking her to the park, baking cakes with her, reading her stories," she says. Everything changed once her daughter, Lydia, was in bed. "As soon as she went to sleep I'd start worrying about Matthew, my teenager. Often I wouldn't have seen him all day - but I knew exactly what he was up to. He was taking drugs.

"I'd sit there, terrified about where he was and who he was with. One night I remember arming myself with a baseball bat and heading off into the night to search for him. After a day with Lydia, it felt surreal to be out there alone on the dark and dangerous streets - it was another world."

Things came to a head one night when Matthew returned to the family home in Urmston, Manchester, and started smashing the place up. "My husband, Robert, could see the state he was in, and tried to keep him out of the house," says Kay, 50. "But Matthew went berserk - he pushed his way in and he started destroying everything."

It was frightening, especially for Lydia, then eight. "We'd managed to shield her from Matthew's drug-taking, so she'd never known her brother in this sort of state," says Kay. "This time Lydia saw everything. In fact, she was the person who called 999."

Later that day, after the police had taken Matthew away, Kay made the hardest decision of her life. "I decided my little girl had to come first. Lydia wasn't safe in her own home any more - she couldn't live a normal little girl's life with a drug addict brother. And that's the moment I knew I was going to have to turn Matthew, who was 17, out of our family home."

A few days later, Kay drove Matthew and his things to a hostel across Manchester. "It was the worst day of my life," she remembers. "Matthew kept crying and telling me how sorry he was.

"And he was my baby once, just like Lydia, so inside it was tearing me apart. But I had to stay firm. I knew some people would call me a bad mother for chucking my son out, but I also knew that, at some level, allowing him to stay was condoning his lifestyle. I also believed that before he could climb out of the terrible hole he'd dug himself into, he had to hit rock bottom.

"My big terror, of course, was that he wouldn't manage to do it and simply be found dead somewhere."

For Matthew, meanwhile, that day in 2010 is a blur. "I was drugged-up and didn't really know what was happening or where I was going. All I did know was that I was having to leave home, and that definitely hurt."

Now 20, Matthew says his drug taking started when he was 13. "I remember a lad at school skinning up cannabis in the music room, and then we smoked it in the field behind school."

That first time, he says, he didn't even inhale - "I just pretended to be high" - but he didn't need to pretend for long. "By 16, I was a total mess. I was hanging around with other drug-takers, jumping off the school bus each morning to go for a joint in the park. I was going to school late every day, taking ecstasy, cannabis and other drugs, and had basically lost interest in everything else in my life. I was on a slippery slope downhill, and fast."

For Kay and Robert, it was deeply distressing. "We'd never had to deal with anything like this before and didn't know how to cope," says Kay. "For Robert, who used to be in the army, it was especially difficult: he found it very difficult to accept that we couldn't control what was going on, that we were helpless.

"Meanwhile, Matthew was in a terrible state and I was worried sick. He was grey and thin, his skin was appalling, he was on a very short fuse the whole time and he was totally paranoid. It was an utterly vile situation, and made all the more difficult and poignant because alongside it, Robert and I were trying to bring up Lydia."

Matthew remember's how he felt after his mother left him at the hostel. "They gave me a key and I went to my room. I remember thinking, what happens now? I just sat there all night smoking fag after fag, trying to make sense of it."

Life at the hostel was tedious and restricted, compared to home. "I had to go to meetings about my addiction, and I was only allowed out two nights a week. Of course I was still taking drugs, but it was all a lot more difficult. I'd spend a lot of time just waiting for my dole money to arrive so I could work out how many drugs I could afford."

Kay visited regularly. "I used to take him food, but I never gave him money. Sometimes I'd take him home to see his father and sister, but I'd never leave him alone for even a second because I knew he would steal stuff to sell so he could buy drugs."

Matthew agrees: "Mum would take me home and I'd be looking at everything in the house thinking, I could get a few quid for that."

More than a year after moving out Matthew had what he describes as an epiphany. "I realised I'd had enough. I thought, I can't go on like this - it's no life. I was down and depressed the whole time. I really missed my parents and Lydia and knew I had to work out how I could get back to them; how I could get out of this rut."

Kay says. "He sent me a text and it read: 'I'm not doing this any more.' He'd never said that before and I knew he meant it. It felt like a breakthrough."

It was - but breaking his drug habit wasn't easy. "Wherever I went I could smell cannabis. I'd have a few beers to help me to cope and end up drinking myself into oblivion. Then I realised I'd have to stop the drink as well and that was really hard."

After 18 months, Kay decided Matthew could come home. But there were ground rules. "I bought drug-testing kits on Ebay and said he'd have to agree to random tests. I told him he had to be helpful around the house, and be a responsible big brother."

Today life with the Smiths is very different. Matthew is recently back from Kosovo, where his older brother Lewis has been working. "I've never seen such poverty," he says. "It has made me think about what I want to do with my life.

"More than anything, I want to help people. I'd like to do youth work, maybe something to do with drugs counselling. I'm hoping to go to college and do a qualification in youth work."

Kay is proud of what Matthew has achieved. She says, "It was so difficult to pull back from where he ended up: he had to be determined and strong to do it. Now he's an articulate, positive young man: he's got his life back. He's brilliant with Lydia, who's now 12, and she adores him. While I'd be lying if I said there weren't days when, in my worst nightmares, he goes back to drugs, I really do believe that's not going to happen."

Matthew says he owes everything to his mother. "If she hadn't thrown me out, I'd be dead by now," he says. "I had no real awareness of how bad things were and was on a slippery slope that was going to end in disaster.

"What Mum did was tough love - really tough love. It took it out of her to do it. The only reason I survived this was because I had such a supportive family. I know how lucky I am."

For advice or support, contact these organisations: talktofrank.com (0800 776600) or adfam.org.uk

Captions:

Kay Smith and her son Matthew Photograph by Christopher Thomond for the Guardian


Family: Worried about your child and drugs? Advice from Frank

* Stay calm. If you get too intense and wound-up about it you'll increase the child's stress level and make things worse.

* Talk, talk and talk again. Try to find out how things are going for your child. How is he or she getting on with friends and schoolwork? Make sure you listen and don't interrupt or second-guess.

* Even if you're sure your child is taking drugs, you may have got it out of proportion. Most young people don't take drugs very often, and most of those who do don't carry on doing it long-term.

* Try to work out why your child might be using drugs. Some use them for fun, others to escape pressure or boredom. Try to find out what is motivating them.

* Be confident that you're doing all you can. Research shows that, where young people do develop a problem with drugs, the support of the family can make a difference to their ability to come through it.

Captions:

Frank is a government-funded helpline and website to inform the young about drug use


Family: I'm just glad to be here: As a child, Peter White never saw his blindness as a problem. But then a family secret changed his view

By Peter White

I was always rather happy about being "special" as a child. It wasn't just that I was blind, which people seemed to find very interesting and therefore took a lot of notice of me, which as an incorrigible showoff I liked. It wasn't even that there were two of us. I had an elder brother, Colin, who was blind, which I began to learn was very unusual, almost exotic; but other people seemed to think this was something called a Tragedy.

For me, it was just a piece of particularly good luck. It meant that I had someone to play with who understood the rules of blind cricket, who was rather clever and able, and who did dangerous things before I did, which stopped people being able to say, "You can't do that; you're blind", and who generally made blindness seem a pretty cool thing. But there was an even more significant badge of specialness that gave my already alarming self-confidence a further boost. I, it appeared, was something called "a million-to-one chance".

This emerged from one of those conversations I think children often delight in, where parents get carried away in reminiscence and tell you things you only dimly understand. This was the story about how my mother found out Colin couldn't see. Mother took a grim delight in tales where she had been disbelieved by stuck-up professionals, but proved to have been right all along. "I knew there was something wrong with that baby's eyes," she used to tell us, building the suspense. "But old doctor [I've forgotten his name now] said all mothers worried about such things; he'd be fine."

She finally got Colin to a very superior specialist, who held him for a few moments, studied him, then handed him back with the comment: "Not much sight in those, then."

Mother would deliver that line with bitter relish, and sadly, too many parents will still recognise the diagnostic style. This was wartime, which slowed down any plans for adding to the family, but when they did think about it, part of the consideration was, apparently, the production of a sighted child to look after poor old blind Colin. Back to the doctor's they went, to be told that the chances of producing another blind child were "a million to one". So they went ahead, and that was me.

And there the story might have ended, as a glib one-liner for a brash blind broadcaster boosting his income with after-dinner speeches; except that in the following year, Mum got pregnant again. This part of the story had never emerged in Mum's trips down memory lane but, as a teenager, I had just begun to talk to her more seriously, to listen more carefully, to the stories of our family. It was teatime, and it started as a casual chat about how much I would have liked a sister.

At this time I was at an all-boys' blind boarding school, thinking constantly about girls, and with absolutely no knowledge on which to base such thoughts. I guess I must have thought that having a sister might have helped with such ignorance in some, fortunately unspecified, way. And then mum dropped her bombshell. "Well, you nearly did."

I didn't see what was coming.

"How d'you mean?"

Then it all tumbled out. The picture of the young couple with a blind five-year-old and a blind baby, just crawling, living in a cramped postwar prefab; with no knowledge of the prospects for blind children. Would we go to school? Could we get a job? Would we ever marry? And maybe, unspoken - would they ever be free again? And suddenly, the prospect that they might soon be the parents of not two, but three blind children under six.

Put like that, it's a no-brainer. Mum was back at the doctor's again. This time, her GP came up trumps. It was realised, despite the stringency of the abortion laws at the time, that this option would have to be considered. I believe you had to have the agreement of at least two doctors and demonstrate unacceptable risks to the mother's health, mental or physical. The decision was complicated by gender. It was thought that our particular syndrome, in which the optic nerve between the eye and the brain hadn't developed, might be carried by the mother, but passed only to male children. Both my parents would dearly have loved a daughter, but at this moment were overwhelmed by the difficulties they might be about to face.

I still don't know about all the conversations that took place, the agonising that would have gone on. I don't know who tried to influence them, and how much the decision was truly theirs. What I do know is that the abortion went ahead; and that they never knew whether they might have had a little girl, and whether I might have had that sister.

That conversation with my mother was a profound wake-up call for me. For the first time, I felt sad for my parents, and saw the problem from their point of view. Perhaps having blind children wasn't such a laugh after all. I think my brother, less extrovert, less bombastic, more sensitive than me, had understood it better: my parents' grief at having to send their children away to school; the embarrassment on our behalf when we blundered into things or fell over; the knowledge of what we were missing.

I began to think about this from their point of view for the first time. But, typically of me, there was an "I" in my reaction. I began to realise how tenuous my hold on life was. After all, that third baby could so easily have been me. It might have been me sluiced down the drain or whatever it was that happened to aborted babies.

I never once thought of blaming my mother for that decision, but I did realise that my life, which even during all the inevitable horrors of adolescence I was enjoying, and was proud of, could have been snuffed out; and snuffed out because my disability was considered such a problem, not necessarily to me, but to other people. It was a thought that appalled me and, I realise, profoundly influenced my attitude to abortion. I was a teenager of the 60s, as excited by and as committed to all the growing freedoms as the next young radical; but abortion, well, hold on - not if it meant that it was me, or people like me, who were going to be aborted. This isn't religion; It's not even humanitarianism; its good, old-fashioned self-preservation.

As for my own attitude to procreation, it was rather cavalier. I knew I wanted children, and if I could find someone brave enough to have them with me, I would. As in childhood, though, Colin led the way. More careful than me by nature, he went for what then passed for genetic counselling.

Apparently the odds from my day had dramatically shortened: they were now down to four-to-one. I don't know what private conversations went on between Colin and his wife, but they decided to go ahead. The result: two lovely daughters, with no eye problems. (One of them has since had sons; no eye problems either). My wife, Jo, took a wonderfully, and typically robust, approach. "If I can put up with you as a blind husband, I guess I can cope with a blind child." In the event, she didn't need to prove her chutzpah. Two sons and a daughter - no eye problems.

But there was still one moment when the family's sang-froid about inherited blindness was put to the test. My daughter, Cathy, by no means a panicker, noticed that her four-month-old baby, Hannah, was looking over her mother's shoulder, when she might have been expected to be gazing adoringly into her eyes. Was this a problem?

Doctors were initially blase. But hang on; the White family had been here before. Didn't they think that perhaps they should look at family history? The penny dropped. Within 24 hours, Hannah had an appointment with an ophthalmologist.

When all the pretty dancing lights went on Hannah smiled, gurgled and followed them perfectly with both eyes. Just a lazy eye, apparently. I am sure Cathy would have coped perfectly had it been otherwise, but it was noticeable that even we, with all our experience, were not quite so cool at the possibility of the loss of perfection. It runs very deep.

Peter White presents Disability: a New History on Radio 4 every day next week at 1.45pm, with an omnibus repeat on Friday 7 June at 8pm

Captions:

Peter White, right, with his granddaughter, Hannah, 11. Above, with the newborn Hannah; Peter, centre, with his mother Joan and elder brother, Colin; top, Peter Photograph by Graham Turner for the Guardian


Family: 'Childbirth? I felt brilliant. I was in utter ecstasy': Caroline Flint, once Britain's best-known midwife, says doctors are obsessed with risk in childbirth. She tells Susie Steiner why giving birth naturally can be mind-blowing ... even orgasmic

By Susie Steiner

Caroline Flint is in tears and we are only five minutes into our interview. She is remembering the birth - at home - of her first baby. "It was the most wonderful experience of my life. It was mind-blowing. I felt so brilliant. I mean it was bloody painful and I hadn't realised how painful it was going to be, but it was ecstatic. Some women have orgasms - I didn't, but I was in utter ecstasy. All I've ever tried to do is enable other women to have such an amazingly powerful experience."

This was 1965, when 30% of births were at home. Flint was attended by an elderly midwife who was stone deaf and didn't do vaginal examinations. "She said: 'If you look at a woman, you know how far on they are.' Well, she's right. I learned such a lot from her. She kept acknowledging me, kept saying: 'You'd have thought this was your fourth not your first.' She was divine. Years later, I said to her: 'I try to be as kind to women as you were to me.'"

By this point, Flint is in floods of tears.

The experience set her on a path to becoming Britain's best-known midwife and vocal champion of natural birth. Now 71, Flint has had an extraordinary career. A former president of the Royal College of Midwives, she has delivered babies for many well-known people, including television presenter Davina McCall, actor Thandie Newton and model Stella Tennant. She set up London's first natural birth centre, for private clients, running it for 20 years. She was a regular on TV and in print, commenting on birth-related stories, putting the case for non-interventionist midwifery.

Then in 1999, at the height of her fame, Flint suffered her "annus horribilis" when she faced the midwives' disciplinary committee (the UKCC), following the death of a breech baby. The case gave rise to shrill headlines, including "Is this the end for home birth?", despite the fact that the case concerned a hospital delivery and Flint was exonerated in relation to the baby's death and her care during the birth. She was, however, admonished for inadequate note-taking, failing to carry out maternal observations and failing to notice maternal collapse an hour and a half after the birth.

It took a year, Flint says, to get over it and her confidence was shattered. It was a blemish on an otherwise worthy record - she claims to have had only one obstetric emergency in 35 years of delivering babies the natural way. She has published six books aimed at the profession and gives lectures all over the world. She continues to teach ante-natal classes for the National Childbirth Trust at her flat in Vauxhall, London, with its view over the Thames and where we are now sitting.

Flint's new book, Do Birth, is her first aimed at new mothers, rather than the profession. It is full of the kind of evangelising likely to incense some commentators and reignite the debate about the safety of home birth versus "medicalised" deliveries in hospital. Flint believes we have industrialised birth, that doctors have become obsessed with risk and that, as a result, more women are being traumatised.

"We have far too many obstetricians in labour wards," she says. "Those doctors need to do something and that is not entirely appropriate for childbirth. Childbirth is something where people need to sit there and say: 'Yes, I know it hurts, but you're getting on fine.' You need someone really patient."

"We are in London, one of the richest cities in the world. And the women having babies are well nourished and only having one, two or three babies. They are incredibly safe. They have never been at such low risk, yet the intervention rate is sky high. The only hope is that the government will realise that the way we do birth is so expensive, it's ridiculous. We could quarter the cost and have better outcomes. Normal birth is becoming a rarity."

Flint is so charismatic that it is difficult not to be swayed. She delivered nine of her 12 grandchildren because, "My life experience is that things very, very, very, very, very, very, very rarely go wrong. The culture in hospital is, 'What if something goes wrong?' and there is this frantic, barely suppressed level of panic everywhere, and because women in labour are so sensitive, they pick it up. That produces adrenaline, which suppresses oxytocin and that slows the labour down."

The problem with her book is that she idealises natural birth with talk of transcendental bliss and orgasm, and it begins to feel like moralising.

"A brutal entry into the world," she writes, "where the baby is pulled out of his mother's body, accompanied by loud voices and bright lights, and then rubbed with a rough towel, teaches this oh-so-sensitive baby that the world is a tough place where he may not always be welcome."

She claims that medicalising birth is as absurd as medicalising defecation, though, to my knowledge, doing a poo has never caused risk to life. She claims the baby in utero is in a state of "utter bliss" (on what evidence?) sucking on "sweet amniotic fluid" (in fact, amniotic fluid is fluid the baby has urinated).

"Think of every genius you have ever heard of," she writes, "and the likelihood is that they will have been born at home - Mozart, Beethoven, Einstein, Elgar."

Flint maintains that a woman in labour needs darkness, privacy, comfort and to zone into the sexual side of birth, to move and groan and moo while her partner gently stimulates her nipples and clitoris to get the oxytocin flowing. (I conducted a straw poll of mothers and they agreed that labour was about the least sexy thing they had ever experienced and their partners would have been liable to get a punch in the face if they'd tried any funny business.)

Home, Flint maintains, is the best possible place for this to happen, even for first-time mothers. "I can't imagine becoming sexually aroused in a brightly lit hospital. Can you?"

"After the birth," she writes, "you will snuggle in bed with your beloved partner and gaze at your baby, telling each other how very clever you are . . . fragrant, joyful and transcendant."

It is a book that will appeal to first-time mothers who desperately want to get everything right and who have furthest to fall when reality kicks in.

Shreelata Datta, a consultant obstetrician, worries that new mothers "are not informed about what labour entails. It is sad when you see a woman cry because she has asked for an epidural. What scares me is that those who don't achieve the gold standard of a normal natural birth feel something has gone wrong. Labour is unpredictable. I want women to understand that the most important thing is that they and the baby are well at the end of the process."

Datta says it is not surprising that there has been an historic stand-off between midwives and doctors on birth. "I'm not aware of many obstetricians who would go for a home birth for [a woman's] first delivery. Doctors are pessimistic because they see the worst. We focus on the outcome rather than the process. Our main concern is protecting both mum and baby."

It is such a shame that Flint has played up the transcendental gubbins - the foreplay, the mooing and frying up the placenta for a light snack - because she is no crackpot and has important wisdom to impart, based on a formidable 35-year career.

She is practical. She is not at all against epidurals, for example. "They are wonderful. Even at our birth centre, 9% of women needed an epidural, whereas in hospital it's about 85%. Why is it so painful in hospital? If childbirth was such agony, the human race would have died out. It is being made extra painful because women are frightened and are in extra uncomfortable situations."

The counter-melody of the book is a call to women to take control and play the system to get the best one-on-one care for themselves. Book yourself a home birth, Flint is saying, which will get you care from a more engaged midwife, free on the NHS - a midwife who is interested in you and wants you to have a great experience. By all means go to hospital down the line, but go with your midwife by your side.

"Most women can give birth perfectly well on their own without interference. Of course, some need a caesarean, some need extra medical care but most don't. I think if women could start off with a midwife in their home, whether they are high-risk or low-risk, and then if they need to go into hospital, the midwife can go with them. Much less intimidating."

Do Birth by Caroline Flint is published by The Do Book Company, pounds 6.99 (ebook pounds 3.99). To order Do Birth for pounds 5.59, including free UK p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846

Susie Steiner's novel, Homecoming, is published by Faber & Faber, pounds 12.99

Captions:

Special delivery . . . Caroline Flint, champion of natural birth Photograph by David Levene for the Guardian


Family: Problem solved: Annalisa Barbieri

By Annalisa Barbieri

My father left the family when I was six after he had an affair. We didn't hear from him for 20 years.

My mum had depression and was left in huge debt as my father refused to contribute financially - although she never said a bad word about him. I have always felt some sadness and longing for a father figure and felt guilty for leaving my mum whenever I went out and when I left home. None of this came from my mum; she always encouraged us to live our own lives.

Three years ago my paternal grandmother died. We always knew that this would be the time when we were likely to see my father again. When we met, he was timid but made it clear he regretted the past and wanted to start some kind of relationship with us. Although hesitant, I tried to be open-minded and felt that, in time, this could happen and that a part of me still wanted a relationship with him.

Nine months later my mum told me and my brother that she had started a relationship with my father. He was still married and living with my stepmother; the affair went on for more than a year before he summoned up the courage to leave her. He now spends alternate weekends with my mum and has basically picked up where he left off - they see all their old friends and live in the same town.

My relationship with my mum has deteriorated. I am angry that she would have an affair and do what my stepmother did to her; angry that she would choose to go back to a man who caused so much upset, and so sad that I cannot be a part of her life as I used to be. However, when we do see or speak to each other (less than once a month now), she acts as if nothing is wrong.

Part of me thinks that I should just get on with it and at least make the move to try to build a relationship with him, but I can't get over the hurt that he has caused. At the same time, I feel I am being unreasonable and worry that I am being childish. I also feel immense pressure to do something but don't know what.

A, via email

It is hard to tell if you feel more let down by your mother or your father. It sounds as if you could have rebuilt a relationship with your father, but then he had an affair with your mother. You have invested huge amounts in your mum. Despite you saying she has encouraged you to live your own life, you have suffered guilt; maybe you have stayed home when you wanted to be out. You propped her up, felt responsible for her. Part of you probably admired her for being stoical, keeping the family together, never bitching about your dad. But now it is almost as if she has been disloyal to you and chosen the cheating, lying dad over you. She hasn't: she is still your mum.

Neither of your parents have been the people you wanted them to be at various times in your life and that can't be easy. But I learned something a few years ago that I found liberating, which is that you cannot control anyone else's behaviour, only your own. Once you understand and accept this, it will concentrate your mind on what you want, how you want to behave, what you want to do.

There was a line in your original, longer letter that jumped out at me - that you are scared of upsetting your dad. I wish you had explained more of what you meant by this.

Maria Olteanu, psychotherapist, (www.ukcp.org.uk), thinks: "You, and the whole family, have been 'on hold' [and I would say slightly controlled by your dad, even in his absence] since you were six. And now it is almost as if you are travelling back in time."

Your parents are back together, same friends, same town. But so much has happened in between. "Things have not evolved in one established and logical direction, but they went forwards and backwards," suggests Olteanu, which "has generated pain and high emotional confusion".

So, what to do? Olteanu suggests letting go of things that are not yours to understand and says you seem confused as to whom you should love/trust. Therapy would really help you with this. In the meantime, you don't need to do anything about your parents. Invest in yourself for now: your friends, life, work, relationships. Anchor yourself a bit so that your emotional wellbeing is not totally tied to your parents. Once you feel stronger, build on your relationship with your mother. I think you want to, but feel let down by her. I bet she misses you. As for your dad, he really has some work to do, but that is up to him. Don't sabotage his efforts, but don't let him influence who you spend time with. For a weak man, you are all giving him far too much power.

Follow Annalisa on Twitter @AnnalisaB

Your problems solved Contact Annalisa Barbieri, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or emailnullannalisa.barbieri@mac.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence


Family: Snapshot, Playlist and We love to eat

By Phil Furlong, Barbie Wyard and Hilary Gresty

Snapshot: A man whose life's work was all play

My grandfather, Bill Bolland, was a gifted professional musician who was principal trombonist and musical arranger with the Joe Loss Orchestra. He was also accomplished on the piano, trumpet, cornet and hunting horn. After he retired, he joined the Saturated Seven, a Liverpool band who featured in the 1971 film Gumshoe. This photograph shows Bill in the background on trombone and Albert Finney on the right. (My own band were also in a brief scene, but ended up on the cutting-room floor!)

When I took up music, encouraged by my grandfather, older musicians described me as Bill Bolland's grandson, rather than the individual I was. This was no problem to me as I carried that badge with pride.

Music was Bill's life and he took the subject very seriously, expecting and requiring me to do the same. When he was older he could no longer blow so, aged 70, he swapped his trombone for a new instrument - the drums. Though he saw a few shows that I did, it was years later before I became anything like good enough for him to appreciate.

Grandad would take my younger brother and me away on trips in summer when we were children, engaging with us, joking and amusing us. Although he was a dapper, well-dressed man, during the scrapes with us, he would cast off the elegance and muck in with hilarious abandon.

When he was in his late 60s, he and I were out one day, pumping out the bilge on a beached boat for a friend. As he tried to climb off the boat, I was shocked at how frail he had become. During my teens he seemed to have aged.

The greatest shock was when he died when I was 20. Suddenly my mentor - my fount of wisdom - was gone.

To this day, my deepest regret is that I couldn't have spent longer with him. So many questions I can't ask, so many stories I didn't get to hear. Forty-odd years later, I still miss him.

Phil Furlong

Playlist: How Debbie Harry won over Dad

Heart of Glass by Blondie

Once I had a love and it was a gas

Soon turned out had a heart of glass Seemed like the real thing, only to find

Mucho mistrust, love's gone behind

My late parents could never have been described as music fans and were perplexed by their cuckoo in the nest, who commandeered the TV every Thursday evening for Top of the Pops. In an effort to try to understand his youngest offspring's strange obsession, my father would valiantly sit with me through each weekly instalment in the hope of experiencing a lightbulb moment that would somehow magically forge an understanding between him and this "netherworld".

Although Dad could never quite comprehend my Bowie obsession, he had a little more time for female singers and once admitted he could just about tolerate Mississippi by Pussycat. The only time he ever sat up and really paid attention was watching Blondie perform Heart of Glass.

For ever after he would talk of it as his favourite song while vehemently denying his interest was in any way connected to the goddess-like beauty of Debbie Harry.

Even after I grew up and left home, dad would still dip in to TOTP from time to time to (as he would say) "see if it's getting any better". A retired maths teacher, Dad was fond of analysing everything. One day when he was in his 70s, he said: "Now love, I'm glad you're here. There's something I've been waiting to ask you."

Thinking I was in for a heart to heart, I settled down to listen. "Marilyn," he said, pausing. "Manson. Now the name - I can see what he's done there. But what I really can't fathom is why. I mean, what's the point?"

For once, Dad left me lost for words.

Barbie Wyard

We love to eat: The Chocolate Cake

Ingredients

6oz (170g) plain flour

2 1/2 oz (70g) cocoa

4oz (115g) butter

4oz (115g) soft brown sugar

4oz (115g) golden syrup

1 egg

1/4 pt (568ml) milk

1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

Sift the flour and cocoa together. Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan, then add to the flour mixture. Add the egg. Warm the milk and pour with the bicarbonate of soda into the mixture. Beat well - it will be on the thin side - until stiff and dark. Pour into two greased and floured sandwich tins or one 18x27cm brownie tin. Cook for 30-35 minutes (or slightly longer if you are cooking it in the brownie tin) at 190C/gas mark 5 (test before removing it).

It has been birthday season in our house and the clamour from my now largely adult sons is still for "the chocolate cake". The original recipe is in my mother's 1956 recipe book - it is the most used page, and spattered with cake mix.

This is the first recipe I remember helping to make. My mother referred to it as economical as it only uses one egg. I never quite understood this given the amount of cocoa and syrup. As we have our own chickens, I quite like recipes requiring lots of eggs.

Baked as one cake, it has the perfect dimensions for football goals and players, and we have had Noah's Ark, Star Wars and pirate scenes. For us parents, it lends itself - just - to the increasingly large number of candles.And now our sons' birthday teas are more sophisticated, beer has replaced squash and fizzy drinks, but the yummy chocolate cake is still the centre piece.

Hilary Gresty


Family: A marriage in recovery: My husband is dodging his AA meetings

By Anonymous

R has stopped going to his AA meetings. He hasn't been for ages. From two or three a week to nothing in less than seven days seems pretty drastic.

"I thought I'd come back and help you because you sounded stressed on the phone earlier," he says.

It's true. I was stressed. Our youngest was dunking the loo brush into the bath I was lying in. I leapt out to grab it from him, and the phone rang and it was R. I explain this, but he continues.

"I realise I've been really useless recently. I need to be here more in the evenings."

I am worried. I know he is trying to be kind, but I can't help thinking that he is masking his own reluctance to continue with his AA meetings with an obvious show of husbandly consideration for me.

When R was drinking, he often lied about his whereabouts so he could create more time in which to drink. The stories he told were always underpinned with the notion that whatever he was doing, he was doing for me.

"I have to go into town because I want to buy you something really special for Christmas," would often be an excuse for him to down a couple more drinks in the pub next to his workplace. Not surprisingly, the lavish gift would never materialise.

In the kitchen, I watch him make up a bottle for our youngest child. He looks at me and smiles. I force a smile in return.

He calls up the stairs to the children: "Choose a story. I'm coming now."

There is part of me that is genuinely glad he is here, in the house at 7pm. I can sit in the kitchen and listen to some music in peace. I have been moaning that he is never around. And yet my experience of what this means in the long-run doesn't allow me that free-spirited sense of joy, because everything we do now seems to be tainted by a deceitful past. I crave the kind of carefree attitude that allows me to be happy without being bogged down by history.

Later, after sex, we talk.

"You know, part of the deal of us being together was that you kept going to your meetings. I know what happens when you withdraw from people. You stop talking to them, and then you stop talking to me."

"I just wasn't getting AA. I don't get the God bit, and the higher power. And loads of the people talk for too long when they share. And the cup of tea I had at the last meeting was hideous." He laughs at this. I don't join in.

"Anyway, I've still got you," he says, trying to hold me under the covers. I resist.

"I don't want it to be just me you've got. I can't be your only support. You need to talk to people who have similar problems."

Then I realise I am trying to control him again. And I admit that this never works. All the fretting and agonising and worrying about what he is doing to aid his recovery and maintain his sobriety only makes me feel crazy. It has never helped R.

But I have to have boundaries for myself, though annoyingly I can't think of any. And then: "Right. You're sleeping on the sofa. And I don't want sex with you again until you get support. If it's not AA, then you've got to find something else."

"You know we can't afford private therapy. We have no money. And I'm not drinking. That's what you wanted."

The "that's what you wanted" bit worries me, and R senses this.

"Of course, it's what I want too."

"It's not just about the drinking. It's your behaviour. You can stop and be a sober drunk you know."

I'm confused by what I've just said.

I tug the spare duvet out from under the bed, hand it to R and then feel intensely mean that I've turfed him out of his own bedroom.

"Can I take the radio please?" he asks calmly.


Family: A letter to...: My parents, about my boyfriend

Dear Ammu and Abbu, In your own ways, you are both rule-breakers. No doubt your sense of duty and commitment to "doing the right thing" is paramount in the value system that you shared with us, your children. But there was always that additional part of our education: your encouragement for us to challenge the status quo, to be true to ourselves, to ask questions, to seek the answers, and to say what we did and did not agree with. And so I wonder how much this revelation will even surprise you.

Dating wasn't a concept we had in our home. A traditional, loving, South Asian Muslim family, we soon learned that for us, at least, the ideal scenario would be an arranged marriage. After all, it worked for you, didn't it? Despite your age gap, you have gone on to have three children, two grandchildren, and successful, happy careers within your loving marriage of 30 years. And growing up - even still - I see the value in this system.

The family seeking out a partner for their child, matching these prospective unions as closely as possible on all kinds of factors - education, work, religion, background, hobbies - in a well-meaning attempt to maximise the possibilities for a successful marriage by minimising possibilities for conflict. Sometimes these pairings are successful, sometimes they are not. Although I assumed I would find my future partner through you, now, at the age of 25, I recognise that life held a different path for me.

I want to tell you both about the person I can't wait for you to meet. My friend, the person I love and have chosen to love, the person I hope and pray you will accept as your future

son-in-law.

If you had vetted him, he would have fallen at the first hurdle of your criteria - he is not Muslim, he is not from the same background as we are. But if you were to go beyond that, you would discover what I know to be true. That he has the kindest, most honest heart of anyone I have ever met. That he has the steadfastness of character that I used to think existed only in novels. That he will make a wonderful father. That anyone would be proud to welcome him into their family.

I have not gone into this blindly, and nor has he. We feel confident and hopeful that we can build a compatible, loving life together, acknowledging our differences but celebrating all that we share: our love of cooking, our closeness with family, our shared political outlook, our desire to move back up north once we are done having our London adventure. Yes, mother and father, he is a Yorkshire native too - just like us.

And when the time is right for us all - when we are ready to meet one another, I hope you welcome him with the fair-minded openness that I love you both for.

Your daughter


Family: Tim Lott: Man about the house

By Tim Lott

Of the many battlegrounds on which one fights in a family, food is one of the most poisonous - which is ironic, since it is meant to be all about nutrition. There are many fronts to this war, but the most fundamental is getting your children to eat what you want them to eat, rather than what they want to eat. This is most poignantly represented in literature in Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections when one of the main characters tries to teach his son to eat. He makes him stay at the table until he finishes it, but then forgets about him and goes to bed, leaving him stubbornly stranded until the small hours.

The idea of forcing children to finish their broccoli or beans, or whatever green object it happens to be, is one that most parents try sooner or later. That is how they find out that it doesn't work. Nothing, in fact, works. And it is my view that the more you bully your child into eating the "right" food, the more likely you are to end up with a teenager with food issues because they are likely to come to associate eating with stress.

I am not saying that one should leave children to sustain themselves on crisps and chocolate bars. I am merely pointing out that the need to make our children "eat well" may be rooted in matters other than the wellbeing of the child.

In my early years as a father, getting my children to eat what I wanted them to drove me to fury. I remember one epic battle when I tried to get Jean, then aged about eight, to eat a single pea. I failed. And I was furious. But I doubt it was really fury about the fact that she wasn't getting enough vitamins.

Louise, my youngest daughter, is similar in her determination to limit her diet to whatever she likes the taste of. This doesn't vex me so much now, partly because I have become lax and fatalistic about parenting, but also because I believe she will grow out of it.

Also, nutrition is a very inexact science - I understand there are tribal cultures in which a very narrow range of foods is consumed, yet they still produce healthy, well-nourished adults. Nevertheless, I still get mightily irritated if I, or my wife, have gone to the trouble of making a "proper meal" - something other than rice, potatoes or pasta - and Louise responds with a pointed "Yeuch!"

If only the frontier of the battlefield ended there. But my wife's reaction to my cooking is much the same as Louise's is to hers. Far more able at the stove than me, she tends to be dismissive of my efforts. I tried doing a barbecue recently and, after several complaints about the correct temperature of the charcoal, I tetchily handed the whole thing over to her. When I try to prepare anything, she has a tendency to stand over me to make sure I'm doing it "right" - ie her way.

Ihadn't done much cooking when I first met my wife, and I served her up something from a 1970s cookery book involving tinned sardines, raisins, pine nuts and pasta. She has never forgotten it and has since decided that I am some sort of debased, archaic version of the Galloping Gourmet (one of the first TV chefs, with an affinity for prawn cocktails and gammon steak). I cannot seem to escape this pigeonhole for all my Diana Henry/Nigel Slater-inspired efforts.

For food is not simply, or even primarily, about nutrition or even enjoyment. It is also about memory, control, love and much besides. And it is not only people with anorexia and bulimia who have an unhealthy attitude to it. It is rather like money, in that we all project our own personal obsessions on to the subject. Because when we feed one another, we are not only serving up portions of food - but great dollops of meaning.

Follow Tim on Twitter @timlottwriter


Family: My family values: Alison Steadman Actor

By Vicki Power

I was born in Liverpool in 1946, just after the war. Everyone had had a pretty rotten time of it for six years, so I was this lovely addition to the family. My sisters, Pamela and Sylvia, are 10 and 12 years older than me, so I was spoiled.

Mother nurtured my talent. My mum, Marjorie, was a housewife and she encouraged my acting. I would constantly borrow her clothes to play dress-up. We got a telly when I was seven and I would watch people like Hylda Baker and Beryl Reid and impersonate them. Very often my mum would say: "Oh, turn the television off. There's nothing on. Come on, Alison, do us some Hylda Baker."

My mum used to have a phrase: "They've got you on toast." It means they saw you coming. When I see shoes that cost pounds 500, I think: "Come on! What is going on?!" I once spent a fortune - and I mean like a week's wages - on a tube of moisturiser, because I thought, I'm in my 60s and I'm going to treat myself. I put it on and a couple of days later I got spots. In the bin it went. I thought of my mother. Now I use Nivea, which costs pounds 3.99, and my skin is fine.

My father's mother, Agnes, came round one day when I was about 20 and at drama school. I got dressed up and pretended to be a neighbour bringing back some eggs that she had borrowed from my mum. And my grandmother didn't know it was me! When eventually it was revealed, my grandmother said: "Oh, you should go to drama school and be an actress." She'd forgotten.

My parents loved each other. My mum often used to say to me: "Your father's such a wonderful man. When I married him, his mother said to me: 'If you walked 100 miles, you'd never meet a better man.' And it was true." That was a lovely thing for her to say to me.

My dad, George, was quite artistic. It is sad, really - he worked in an office all his life when he should have gone to music college or art school, because he played the violin and could paint beautifully. I have a lot of respect for him for working at a job that was probably not his true calling, but his father had died when he was 13 and they needed money. A story told at his funeral makes me very proud. While he was playing the violin in an amateur works orchestra, he had struggled with a difficult bit and heard his violin making this awful noise. The conductor said, "Stop! Stop!" and my dad apologised for messing up the piece, but the conductor said: "Don't apologise, George: you were the only person that attempted it." Everyone else had been pretending, and my dad had at least had a go. It was important for my sons to hear those stories: that my dad was an honest man who tried.

I have a great relationship with my sisters. We get together every few months and every 15 July if we are all free we visit our parents' grave in Liverpool. Usually my sons, Toby, 35, and Leo, 31 [from her marriage to film director Mike Leigh], come along. It is important not to forget that we had good parents and grandparents.

I'd always wanted to have children. I took a year off when Toby was born and loved every minute of it and the day I went back to work, I sat in the car and sobbed for 20 minutes. I was leaving my baby. I would stay with him all day and at 5.30pm, drive to the theatre and have a shower just to wake myself up. On matinee days I'd take him swimming in the morning before doing two shows. It was madness, but I'm glad I did it because hopefully the boys have good memories now.

My mother always looked her best. She never went to the shops without lipstick on, and would say to me: "Put a bit of lippy on, you'll feel better." I've found it to be true. She even painted her toenails until the age of 80 and did her nails two weeks before she died at 82. I'm going to do that, too.

Interview by Vicki Power

Love and Marriage is on Wednesdays at 9pm on ITV

Captions:

Alison Steadman . . . 'It's important for my sons to hear those stories about my dad, that he was an honest man who tried'



GUARDIAN HOME PAGES

House rules: How the back door opens to lobbyists

By James Ball

To those who do not know the intricacies of parliament and its arcane rules, the reasons for Patrick Mercer's resignation from the Conservative party and pledge not to stand at the next election will probably seem bizarre.

Mercer was apparently approached by journalists posing as members of a lobbying company, who asked him to set up an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) relating to Fiji. APPGs are semi-official groups of MPs and peers, which can be started by any parliamentarian who can muster enough cross-party signatures. While many serve as focus points for hobbies or campaign causes of MPs, they also work as a back door for lobbyists, who can use them to fund drinks parties, overseas trips and other events for businesses and governments.

Yet all this is within the rules. The reason for Mercer's resignation, it seems, is not that he was willing to accept funding and start such a group, but that he failed to declare pounds 2,000 of the proffered pounds 4,000.

APPGs have long been a subject of contention. They require only limited declarations of outside interests and often serve as social clubs: parliament's choir is established as a group as is its rowing team. As a result, many serve as avenues for sponsorship to come into the house. The choir, for example, received pounds 65,000 in sponsorship from BT, while the rowing team receives pounds 16,000 from Siemens towards parliament's boat race. The APPG on beer exists to "promote the wholesomeness and enjoyment of beer and the unique role of the pub in UK society", and receives more than pounds 65,000 in total contributions from Diageo, Carlsberg, Punch Taverns, SABMiller and others.

In all, there are now almost 600 such groups, representing countries, illnesses, industry and more - with some MPs enjoying membership of dozens at a time. Last year, the Guardian calculated more than pounds 1.8m in outside sponsorship came into parliament via such all-party groups. Provided any benefits are declared this is entirely within parliamentary rules. APPGs do not have to publish any minutes of their meetings or details of whom they meet but are able to issue passes giving access to the parliamentary estate.

Several groups are sponsored directly or indirectly by foreign governments, and in 2011-12, such deals facilitated trips to 27 countries, including China, Azerbaijan, Thailand and Israel for members of 15 different groups.

Last year, a working group set up by the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, and the Lord Speaker looked into "whether APPGs should be required to publish minutes and accounts; and the funding of APPG activities" - but it has yet to take any concrete action.

More than a year ago, the transparency activist Heather Brooke, the woman behind bringing the MPs' expenses scandal to light, warned that all-party groups "create the perception of lobbying through the back door".

The focus on this parliamentary back door as a result of Mercer's resignation - and if Westminster rumours are to be believed, forthcoming stings on other MPs and Lords based on similar approaches - may bring this relatively obscure practice to wider attention.

Captions:

Patrick Mercer after he was sacked in March 2007 for comments on racism Photograph: John D McHugh/AFP/Getty Images


Acton to Aleppo: one British Muslim's quest ends in death: Acton to Aleppo - Briton's quest ends in death

By Luke Harding

After five months fighting in Syria with the rebels, Ali Almanasfi's luck finally ran out. On Wednesday the 22-year-old Briton took a wrong turn and drove into a government checkpoint near the city of Idlib. Syrian soldiers immediately opened fire. They killed Almanasfi together with his two fellow passengers: an American woman and Islamic convert, Nicole Mansfield from Michigan, and a third, so far unidentified man, possibly Canadian.

Syrian TV showed the bloody aftermath of this one-sided encounter: a black VW Golf riddled with bullets and a haul of Kalashnikovs. Also visible was Almanasfi's maroon British passport. It gave his place of birth - London - and date of birth, June 1990.

For the Syrian authorities this was happy proof that Syria's two-year war was no longer a domestic conflict but was attracting European and North American volunteers, much as the Spanish civil war did in the 1930s.

The Briton's violent death was the culmination of an improbable journey from the streets of Acton to Aleppo, driven, according to friends, by a redemptive desire to atone for past misdeeds.

Almanasfi's family were conservative Sunnis from Damascus, Syria's capital. But he grew up in west London, the son of a bus driver, who later split stormily with Almanasfi's mother and remarried twice. In his passport photo Almanasfi looks not unlike Noel Gallagher.

As a teenager, according to his friend Tam Hussein, Almanasfi drifted into trouble. He got involved in street fights with other Acton gangs and petty crime: drugs, stealing, booze. In 2008 his father sent him to Syria to cool down. Apparently this didn't work. A year later he did something he would bitterly regret: drunk, he attacked an older man. The details are hazy. But he was caught, sentenced to four or five years in jail, and initially imprisoned in Feltham young offenders institute.

It was in prison that he became interested in religion. He discovered an identity. He grew a beard. Hussein recalled: "He became increasingly religious; the ghetto talk, the accent, the slang slowly disappeared.

"He became more articulate. He quoted Qur'anic verses asking me if there were any novels or history books that I would recommend.

"It wasn't an ideological thing. He wasn't a Salafist jihadist. He didn't use that lexis. It was much more: 'I want to do something.' "

When he emerged from Portland jail in Dorset in 2011 this desire took tangible form. Almanasfi decided he would travel to his father's homeland Syria and join the revolution against President Bashar al-Assad, its horrors vividly depicted on British TV screens.

Hussein said: "He told me: 'I want to do something good for once. I want to do something pure.' I told him: 'You are out on parole. You have a sick mother. Don't do it.' "

Almanasfi ignored the advice. He abandoned the bricklaying course in which he had briefly enrolled, and began figuring out how to slip clandestinely into Syria.

It was at this point that Britain's secret services appeared on the scene. Almanasfi had begun attending a radical mosque in west London. He popped up on MI5's radar, intelligence sources made clear on Friday.

In December, according to Hussein, Almanasfi said that British "spooks" approached him in the street, addressing him politely as "Mr Ali".

"Ali said they seemed to know what he was about. They asked him a few questions. It was a probe. They wanted to know if he was planning to go over." The verb "go over" had only one meaning among radical British Muslims - to join the rebels in Syria. It's uncertain how much the authorities may have known of his intentions.

In January Almanasfi did indeed go over, despite MI5 warnings: he left the third-floor Acton flat he shared with his mum and disappeared. He sent a valedictory text to his half-brother Safwan in Halifax. It read: "I'm off. I love you." He seemed aware of the risks but also confident that he would survive his idealistic adventure unscathed. "He told me about some guys who were killed there. He said these guys were hotheads who didn't know what they were doing," Hussein said.

Almanasfi's final five months in Syria are a mystery. In west London his family reported him missing; police called round at his flat, but found no trace. Like other foreign volunteers - at least 600 have gone to Syria since 2011 from at least 14 European countries including the UK - Almanasfi found it easy to cross the border.

Most probably he entered from Turkey: a short night-time walk across a muddy field and through a hole in a barbed wife fence and then an olive grove. He may have entered legally via the international crossing point at Bab Al-Hawa. All he would have needed to do is to flash his British passport.

Once in Syria Almanasfi made the occasional Skype call home. He turned up in Qusair, near the border with Lebanon; over the past two weeks the town has been the scene of vicious fighting between the opposition and resurgent regime forces supported by Hezbolllah fighters. He appeared in Hama. He seems to have been in Syria's north, possibly holed up in the Akrad mountains in Latakia. We don't know how he met up with Nicole Mansfield, or the other dead foreigner. Their corpses were laid out together on Thursday in a Syrian government morgue.

In Arabic culture it is shameful to disrespect an elder, to beat up an old man an act of terrible dishonour. Almanasfi appeared haunted by this ghost. He looked at fighting for the rebel cause "almost like a redemptive act", Hussein said.

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Captions:

Nicole Mansfield, the American who died alongside Briton Ali Almanasfi in a hail of bullets fired by Syrian government troops


Sleaze returns to damage Tories as MP quits in lobbying scandal: Ex-soldier allegedly failed to declare pounds 2,000 paid by journalists in sting operation: Conservatives hit by sleaze row as MP quits

By Rajeev Syal

The Conservative party was left reeling by sleaze allegations last night after an MP resigned from the parliamentary party for allegedly failing to declare thousands of pounds paid by a fake lobbying firm in a damaging journalistic sting.

Patrick Mercer, MP for Newark, stepped down from the party's whip yesterday after accepting pounds 4,000 from undercover reporters posing as lobbyists. He failed to declare pounds 2,000 of the money within parliamentary rules, it is understood.

The disclosure will make uncomfortable reading for David Cameron, who is under pressure for failing to introduce promised legislation to shine a light on the activities of lobbying companies. One Conservative source said: "The PM wanted sleaze allegations to be a thing of the past but they are coming thick and fast now."

In a further development, the Guardian has learned that police investigating the Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans have approached a 22-year-old former parliamentary intern over an alleged groping incident in a House of Commons bar. He would be the fourth person to make a complaint about Evans, also a Conservative, who was arrested in May on suspicion of rape and sexual assault.

Mercer, who has a majority of over 16,000, said he was resigning the Tory whip immediately "to save my party embarrassment", and would not stand again at the next general election.

His action comes before a BBC Panorama programme, made in conjunction with Daily Telegraph journalists, which will allege that he broke lobbying rules. The programme is expected to make other potentially damaging allegations against MPs and peers willing to accept money from lobbyists. Mercer is expected to argue that he was the victim of entrapment, not legitimate reporting.

The MP has been covertly recorded by BBC reporters posing as lobbyists who allegedly paid him to lobby on behalf of Fiji. Mercer - a former army major who completed nine tours in Northern Ireland and who has been highly critical of the prime minister - was approached by a fake firm called Alistair Andrews Communications around seven weeks ago.

Panorama said the fake company aimed to lobby on behalf of Fijian business interests for the country to be readmitted to the Commonwealth. Fiji's membership was suspended in 2009 amid criticism of its human rights record and lack of democracy.

Mercer set up an all-party group and asked a number of questions for a pro-Fiji group by the lobbyists who he now knows were undercover reporters. He signed a contract with the firm that would guarantee payments of pounds 2,000 a month and received a total of pounds 4,000 for consultations over the period. Last week, he declared the money, but the first pounds 2,000 was not declared within four weeks, which is a breach of House of Commons rules.

Mercer is expected to claim that he was urged by undercover journalists to break parliamentary rules but did not do so. He was asked to write a report which would conclude that Fiji should be readmitted to the Commonwealth, it is understood, but he declined to do so.

The MP indicated that he was prepared to issue proceedings against the broadcaster and newspaper. He said: "Panorama are planning to broadcast a programme alleging that I have broken parliamentary rules. I am taking legal advice about these allegations and I have referred myself to the parliamentary commissioner for standards. In the meantime, to save my party embarrassment, I have resigned the Conservative whip and have so informed [the chief whip] Sir George Young."

Mercer's constituency appeared to be standing by him last night, even though he is now no longer a Tory MP. Stuart Wallace, chairman of the Newark Conservative Association, said: "Until such time as the investigation is concluded, Patrick will be an independent member of parliament and not subject to the rules of the local party."

But Conservative MPs called for the government to stand by its pledge to introduce powers which allow voters to recall errant MPs.

Zac Goldsmith, Tory MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, wrote on Twitter: "If it's bad enough for you to resign from your party, how can it be OK to continue representing constituents at all? Where's that recall?!"

A Conservative party spokesman said: "The prime minister is aware. He thinks Patrick Mercer has done the right thing in referring himself to the parliamentary commissioner for standards and resigning the whip.

"It's important that the due processes take their course."

A spokeswoman for the standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, said she had not yet received Mercer's self-referral and would consider the case for an investigation once she had had the chance to consider it.

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Captions:

Patrick Mercer signing a contract with Panorama's fake lobbying firm. He

says: 'Let's sign this, with pleasure'


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UN blasts Britain over human rights record since 9/11: Focus on failure to act over torture and abuse claims 40 measures needed to satisfy international law

By Ian Cobain

The British government's human rights record since the attacks of 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq is facing ferocious criticism from a United Nations panel, which warns that prompt action is needed to ensure the country meets its obligations under international law.

In a report published yesterday, the UN Committee against Torture recommends more than 40 separate measures which it says will need to be taken if the UK is to be given a clean bill of health.

While the committee has focused on the failure to hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses in the so-called war on terror, and for the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq, it also raises a series of other serious concerns over matters that include the controversial Justice and Security Act, the forced removal of failed asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, and the failure to hold a public inquiry into the state's involvement in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

The report - which will doubtless make uncomfortable reading across Whitehall - contains the harshest criticism that the committee has yet made of a British government. It is the first substantial criticism since 1992, when the UK was told that were it not for the mistreatment of terrorism suspects in Northern Ireland, it would have been found to have "met in virtually every respect" its obligations under the UN convention against torture.

Its publication follows a two-day hearing in Geneva earlier this month, during which some committee members angrily accused the British government delegation of providing evasive answers to their questions about the UK's human rights record in recent years.

While the committee's report concentrates on human rights violations that predate the 2010 general election, it repeatedly expresses concern at the failure of the current government to take steps to hold those responsible to account.

Addressing the government's decision to suspend the judge-led inquiry into British involvement in torture and rendition since 9/11, the committee recommended that it "establish without further delay an inquiry on alleged acts of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held overseas committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of British officials". The perpetrators identified by this inquiry should be "duly prosecuted and punished appropriately" and the victims compensated, the report says.

Moreover, a report on the work that was conducted before the inquiry was suspended - and which was completed and delivered to prime minister David Cameron almost a year ago - should be published promptly.

The committee condemned what it described as an "escape clause" in the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, the piece of legislation that incorporated the UN torture convention into UK law. It called for the repeal of the clause, as it provides British officials with a defence against prosecution for torture if they can show that they had "lawful authority, justification or excuse" for inflicting severe pain or suffering.

During the hearings earlier this month, the committee's members made clear that they were concerned that another piece of UK legislation, the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, may explain why no British intelligence officer has ever needed to rely on that defence, as it ensures they cannot be prosecuted within the UK once a warrant providing such "lawful authority" has been signed by a government minister.

The report says the committee is "deeply concerned at the growing number of serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including by means of complicity, as a result of the state party's military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan".

The failure to secure convictions at court martial following the murder of Baha Mousa in Basra in 2003, and the one-year sentence imposed on the one soldier who admitted a criminal charge of inhumane treatment, was a matter for "deep concern", the committee said, as was the failure to prosecute anyone for the torture of other Iraqi prisoners.

"The committee regrets that the state party continue to resist a full public inquiry that would assess the extent of torture and ill-treatment and establish possible command responsibility for senior political and military figures," it said.

The report recommends that British soldiers and intelligence officers receive training that will help them to understand that the use of torture is absolutely prohibited in international law.

The committee also expressed concern that the secret court procedures introduced by the Justice and Security Act, which comes into force in July, could be used to deploy hearsay evidence or evidence obtained through torture. It also said the new secrecy regime should not be permitted to conceal evidence of human rights violations - something the new law's critics believe to be its intention.

The report urges the government to:

* Rewrite its guidance to intelligence officers who are trying to obtain information from prisoners held by states with poor human rights records, as there is still a risk it could result in people being tortured.

* Cease reliance on "unreliable and ineffective" diplomatic assurances when seeking to deport people to countries where they risk being tortured.

* Consider halting the deportation of failed asylum seekers to Sri Lanka.

* Move towards the abolition of non-jury trials in Northern Ireland.

* Hold a public inquiry into the 1989 murder of Pat Finucane.

* Ensure that police officers fire Taser weapons only when "there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury".

The committee has given the British government 12 months in which to explain how it can make improvements in four key areas. These are the establishment of an inquiry into the UK's involvement in torture overseas; ensuring Sri Lankan asylum seekers are not forcibly returned when they face mistreatment at home; securing the release from Guantanamo of the British resident Shaker Aamer; and establishing inquiries into human rights violations committed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Asked about the concerns raised by the committee, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, which led the British delegation to Geneva earlier this month, issued a statement saying the British government "does not engage in torture, or solicit, encourage or condone its use" and works to prevent torture occurring.

The statement added that the government took seriously its responsibilities under the convention against torture: "The government is currently considering the recommendations made by the UN committee in its most recent report."

Captions:

A suspected Iraqi soldier bound with plastic handcuffs after surrendering to Royal Marines at a checkpoint in Umm Qasr Photograph: Jon Mills/Rex Features


Pacific seabed 'streak' could be wreck of Earhart's plane

By Ian Sample Science correspondent

Air crash investigators may have found the wreckage of the plane piloted by the revered US aviator Amelia Earhart in her failed attempt to fly around the globe.

Expedition leaders from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (Tighar) said they had spotted an object that looked like the fuselage of a Lockheed Electra off an island in the South Pacific.

Earhart and her navigator vanished on 2 July 1937 after they took off from Papua New Guinea in a twin-engined Electra en route to Howland island. They were more than halfway through an unprecedented bid to circle the globe along the equator.

Earhart was already a sensation in the US after flying solo across the Atlantic in 1932, and smashing a number of altitude and air-speed records. "At the time she was alive, Amelia Earhart mattered to people. They lived their lives differently because of the example she set. She was an inspiration," said Ric Gillespie, executive director of Tighar.

Last July the group chartered a research ship from the University of Hawaii to scour the seabed around an uninhabited atoll called Nikumaroro where Earhart and her navigator may have crash-landed after losing their way. The expedition used robotic underwater vehicles to map the seabed but found no sign of the plane.

The story changed in March this year, when a member of the public noticed an object in a sonar picture that the expedition had made public. It amounts to no more than a golden streak on a grainy image taken in 180-metre-deep water, but the seven-metre-long object matches surviving parts of fuselage from other Electra accidents, said Gillespie.

He believes Earhart crash-landed on the atoll and survived for a while as a castaway after the plane was swept into the ocean by rising tides. From the edge of the island the seabed drops off sharply, reaching a depth of 7,000m in parts.

"Our minds tend to make things be what we want them to be, we know that. Maybe it's a fishing boat that nobody knew about. Maybe it's an unusual coral reef. But it's the right size, the right shape, and it's in the right place to be part of the Electra," Gillespie said.

Tighar, a non-profit organisation, has been hunting for Earhart's wreckage for the past 25 years. The group hopes to return to the atoll in 2014 with a tethered remote underwater vehicle that can film video footage of the mysterious object.

"We will go back. We do not give up," Gillespie said.

Adrian Furnham, a psychologist at University College London, who wrote a paper last year on conspiracy beliefs around the disappearance of Earhart, said: "It is quite feasible that aeroplane wreckage has been found that could have been hers. The question is what is this team's history of success, and what is their motivation? It's one of the most interesting aircraft wreckage mysteries in history. There cannot be a more exciting case to solve."

Amelia Earhart and her navigator vanished halfway through an attempt to fly around the world along the equator


For sale: pounds 5m cream of British art that Eliot's widow owed to Cats: Collection bought through book royalties for auction Cash will go to trust for young artists and poets

By Maev Kennedy

Years after the death of TS Eliot, when the cunning, treacherous, and sometimes criminal felines of his Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats were transformed into the spectacularly successful musical Cats, the royalties allowed the poet's widow, Valerie, to amass a collection of art and antiques that could have graced a museum.

She collected works by John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough, Stanley Spencer and LS Lowry, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, along with jewellery and furniture, portrait miniatures, and a flattering view by Winston Churchill of his host's front garden.

Valerie Eliot died last year, aged 86, and at her request her treasures - described as "one of the finest collections of British art to come to the market in generations" - are to be auctioned at Christie's in November. Proceeds from the sale, estimated at pounds 5m, will be used to continue her work of encouraging young poets and artists through her charity, Old Possum's Practical Trust.

Her marriage had been a romance as striking as the plot of any musical. The poet's first marriage to Vivien Haigh-Wood was famously unhappy. They married in 1915, when both were aged 27. They separated, but never divorced, before her death in an asylum in 1947. Valerie Fletcher was in her Yorkshire classroom when she heard a recording of Eliot's The Journey of the Magi, and declared that she would marry the poet. She went on to work as his secretary at the publishers Faber & Faber, and did indeed marry him in 1957, when she was 30 and he was 68.

Her friend and obituarist Rick Gekoski recalled that the blissful newfound happiness of the somewhat stern figure of a man seen as one of the giants of 20th-century literature caused some amusement among their friends: "They adored each other, doted, smiled and giggled, whispered secrets and held hands in public."

After his death in 1965 she devoted her life to preserving his archive and promoting his work, editing and publishing thousands of letters, and founding, funding and annually presenting the poetry prize established in his name.

Orlando Rock, a deputy chairman of the auction house, said: "Christie's is delighted to be entrusted with the collection. Valerie's devotion to her husband helped her form a particularly enlightened collection of British art, which she knew he would have applauded and cherished."

As his literary executor, she gave Andrew Lloyd Webber permission to create Cats, the musical, from Eliot's 1939 work. The decision astonished the literary world, as she was famously protective of allowing quotation from his work.

It opened in London in 1981 and ran for almost 9,000 performances, closing on its 21st birthday in 2002. It ran on Broadway for 18 years and, translated into more than 20 languages, has toured the world many times. The royalties allowed Valerie to begin collecting seriously, and photographs show the walls of the London flat she had shared with the poet lined with art. One of the most valuable is a drawing of Helmingham Dell in Suffolk, by Constable in 1800, which was the basis of several later paintings, and is estimated at up to pounds 500,000.

The sale will include many of the most famous British artists of the 20th century, including a self-portrait by Stanley Spencer estimated at up to pounds 300,000. He had just finished it when he was invited to open the annual bazaar in his beloved home village of Cookham, the setting for many of his paintings, because the renowned cricketer Denis Compton had cancelled. Spencer donated the painting, which was auctioned at the bazaar for pounds 11.

Lowry is represented by a cheerful view of the beach at Deal in Kent - estimated at up to pounds 250,000. A photograph of the flat shows the Lowry hanging over a table with a small sculpture of a recumbent horse by Elizabeth Frink, estimated at up to pounds 120,000, one of several of her sculptures and drawings in the sale. Highlights of the collection will go on public display for the first time this summer at Christie's in London and New York.

Captions:

Valerie and TS Eliot's flat showing some of her collection, which auctioneer Christie's said 'encapsulates the history of British art, from Hilliard to Freud'

TS Eliot with Valerie. Top: a portrait by John Smart among the works for sale


Convert casualty

The family of an American woman killed fighting with rebel forces in Syria have spoken of their shock. Nicole Lynn Mansfield, 33, was one of three westerners reportedly killed in the northern province of Idlib.

Speaking from the family hometown, Flint, Michigan, relatives said they did not know who she had been with, and were not aware she was in the region. "I didn't think she was [a terrorist], but God only knows," her aunt, Monica Mansfield-Speelman, told the Detroit Free Press.

Family members said Mansfield had been brought up a Baptist but converted to Islam after marrying an Arab immigrant several years ago. After the marriage ended, Mansfield-Speelman said, her niece remained a Muslim and had visited Dubai three years ago. "I'm just devastated," she added in comments to the news agency Reuters.

Her grandmother, Carole Mansfield, told the newspaper that, although Mansfield possessed "a heart of gold", she was "weak-minded". "I think she could have been brainwashed."

Syrian TV footage of the aftermath of the fighting showed a black VW Golf, in which the westerners had reportedly been travelling, riddled with bullets.

Matt Williams New York


First person: Tam Hussein: Ali wanted to restore his sense of Syrian honour by sacrificing himself

I knew Ali Almanasfi not as a terrorist but as someone who wanted to repent for his past. Earlier this year I went to Syria to report on the Islamist brigades, and he asked if I would take him over the border. I refused as he was out on parole. I wasn't going to help him break the law again, especially as his mother was sick and he was doing so well.

He said that he wanted to do something about Bashar al-Assad, who was an oppressor who had massacred children in Darayya, where Ali's mother owned a flat. Above all, he wanted to make amends for his past. He wanted to restore his sense of Syrian honour, or sharaf, by sacrificing himself for the rebel cause. He went to Syria just like many went to Spain in the 1930s, full of conviction that his cause was just.

The first time I met Ali was in Damascus 2008. He was a tall, imposing teenager who spoke Syrian dialect fluently. Despite his towering size he was a gentle soul, and clearly looked up to his brother. He had come to Syria because he was in trouble with the law in Britain and his brother had asked me to talk some sense into him.

I ended up spending a lot of time with him in cafes and restaurants in Damascus. Ali had enrolled on a brick-laying course in London and waxed lyrical about the trade. By the end of his time in Damascus I shared his contempt for shoddy Syrian brickwork. In his mother's small flat in Darayya he would also tell me about life on "the street"; about the gangs, the turf wars, the girls and the drugs. He felt guilty because he knew that he was from a respected Syrian family in which honour and religion were most important, not who was the biggest bad man in town.

When I returned to London in 2009 I kept in touch with Ali. When my boy was born he was there, showing him much tenderness. Then one day I received a remorseful phone call. Ali had struck an old man in a shop. When he regained his senses, he said that he couldn't believe it was him. Ali was always ashamed about that.

The next time I met him was in Feltham young offenders. The Ali I met there was remorseful but getting used to life on the inside. From there he moved to Portland prison, where we kept in touch by phone and by mail.

With that customary Syrian charm, Ali always asked about my family and my boy. But prison seemed to have changed him. He became increasingly religious; the ghetto talk, the accent, the slang slowly disappeared. He became more articulate and he quoted Qur'anic verses. I was happy for him because he had found direction in his life.

When he was released in 2011, the smooth-faced Ali I knew had turned into a shaggy, bearded one. He was on parole, which would have ended in July. When I met him in London he hugged me as if I was his long lost brother. As we walked from Victoria towards Hyde Park corner he told me about his optimism for the future. His dream was to get his driving license, get a van and get back to his education. He said that he had started talking to his family about Islam and that his mother was overjoyed by this change. We saw each other a few times after that.

When the conflict broke out in Syria I noticed his attention turned increasingly towards his country of origin. Over the phone he would express his distaste for what the regime was doing, especially after the Darayya massacre. But I didn't suspect that he was thinking of going there. In fact, he had told me he was under the wing of a Jamaican carpenter who had converted to Islam.

Before I set out for Syria in February 2013, he insisted on meeting me. He was eager to find out about my route and the preliminary preparation. He revealed that he too was thinking about going over but that he was going "to do it smart not like the other guys he knew". According to him, some guys went over and were told to return because they were lazy. He said that some of his friends had been acting suspiciously and had drawn attention to him. He suggested that intelligence services had approached him.

In January, his brother received a text from Ali saying that he was off. His family never saw him again. A few weeks later the police and parole officer came looking for him. I found out after my return from Syria that he had adopted the name Abu Julayb, and was based in the Qusair area, speaking to his family on Skype occasionally. Last week I was told he had moved to Aleppo.

Tam Hussein is a journalist who has worked in the Middle East


Peace talks on hold as Russia reveals new fighter jet deal: Setback for Geneva conference: MiG maker to ship 10 planes

By Haroon Siddique Richard Norton-Taylor Shiv Malik Dan Roberts Washington

Peace talks in Geneva between Syria's warring parties are almost certain to be postponed after further diplomatic setbacks yesterday, as Russia announced its intention to ship more weaponry to the Assad regime.

Heavy fighting continued in Syria, where it emerged that a British man and American woman had been killed, apparently while fighting with the rebels in Idlib, in the north, earlier this week.

The US and Russia had together conceived the Geneva talks between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition, raising hopes that the two superpowers, long at odds over the issue, could at last make some progress in curbing the violence.

But after Syrian National Coalition leader George Sabra ruled out taking part while civilians were being killed and "in light of Hezbollah and Iran's militia's invasion of Syria", diplomats admitted that the talks would not take place in early June as scheduled. They remain hopeful that they will go ahead in July or August.

However, the US and Russia's differences were once more brought into stark relief with the news that Russia's MiG aircraft maker is finalising an agreement to ship at least 10 fighter jets to Syria. MiG's director general, Sergei Korotkov, said a Syrian delegation was in Moscow to discuss the details of a new contract for the delivery of MiG-29 M/M2 fighters.

The US has already criticised Russia for agreeing to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, a deal that has prompted alarm in neighbouring Israel.

"It is not helpful to have the S-300 transferred to the region while we are trying to organise this peace [conference] and create peace," the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said in Washington.

"We ask them again not to upset the balance within the region with respect to Israel," Kerry added. "The weaponry that is being provided . . . has a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region and it does put Israel at risk. It is not, in our judgment, responsible because of the size of the weapons, the nature of the weapons and what it does to the region in terms of Israel's security, so we hope that they will refrain from that in the interests of making this peace conference work."

More than 80,000 people have been killed in the fighting in Syria, according to the UN. Yesterday, Syrian TV reported that the British man, Ali Almanasfi, 22, from Acton, west London, was killed, alongside an American woman and another unidentified westerner, on Wednesday. Syrian TV posted a picture of Almanasfi's passport and graphic pictures of his body were posted on the internet.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We understand that a British national has been killed in Syria. Their family have been informed and we are providing consular assistance."

Scotland Yard confirmed that his family had filed a missing persons report on 4 February, and it is understood the report contains the family's fears that he may have travelled abroad.

At the flat where Almanasfi's mother and sister live, his family were visited by two police officers but refused to comment on reports of his death.

Almanasfi's brother-in-law Kusai Noah said he was stunned about the news of his death. "He didn't tell anyone that he'd gone . . . we didn't know that he was going anywhere," he said. "He disappeared."

Syrian TV identified the dead American woman as Nicole Mansfield, 33, from Michigan.

Their deaths came amid growing concerns about the increasing prominence of jihadist groups within the rebel fighters. The most powerful, Jabhat al-Nusra, pledged allegiance to al-Qaida in April. The uprising against Bashar al-Assad began with peaceful protests in March 2011 but has since erupted into a bloody civil war. Assad maintained from the start that he was fighting against "terrorists", including foreign jihadists.

Almanasfi was known to MI5 along with other British citizens who have gone to Syria, intelligence sources made clear yesterday.

British counter-terrorist officials, almost certainly including MI5 officers, are said to have tried to persuade him not to go. "We do try and stop people from going. We have to do it by persuasion as we can't stop them from going," a Whitehall source said.

Between 70 and 100 Britons are believed to have travelled to Syria to join the fighting.

Captions:

The crew of a Syrian tank this week near the town of Qusair close to the Lebanese border. Hezbollah fighters have joined regime troops to fight rebels in the area Photograph: Reuters


New battleground?: Fearful villagers stockpile food as Golan Heights braces for war

By Phoebe Greenwood Majdal Shams

One-year-old Angie stretches out her small hand towards the cherries and peaches on display outside a grocery shop in the village of Majdal Shams, on the slopes of the Golan Heights, while her mother explains why she is stockpiling food and has cleaned out her family's bomb shelter.

"Anyone here who looks at the current situation knows you need to prepare, especially food for the kids. Adults can wait to eat while fighting goes on outside, but if your child wants milk," she says, pointing towards Angie, who is now howling with tears of frustration, "you'd better have milk to give them."

Angie's mother, who asked not to be named, has been stocking up on rice, canned food, oil and wheat for the past week. She listens to news reports of missiles from Russia and Israeli air strikes, she hears the cracks of gunfire and thuds of mortars just minutes away in Syria, and feels the war coming closer.

"There is an atmosphere of fear now. Everyone is preparing for war," she says.

As the fast-escalating war of words between the Assad regime and Israel threatens to reignite a conflict that has lain dormant for more than 45 years, villages along the faultline in the Golan Heights are stockpiling food and medical supplies.

On Thursday Bashar al-Assad threatened to "open a front on the Golan Heights" should Israel make good the promises of its security chiefs to prevent Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems becoming operational on Syrian soil.

"There is clear popular pressure to open a front of resistance in the Golan and there is Arab enthusiasm and a desire to come and fight against Israel," the Syrian president told Hezbollah's al-Manar TV.

Many in Majdal Shams, a small Druze village, are convinced that this political posturing will soon become impossible to back out of. The community is preparing itself for a war neither country wants.

A survey of local shop owners confirms that many customers have been buying extra supplies. Except the butcher. "People are trying to save their money in case there is a war, and meat is expensive," Rabeer explains. "I'm sure there will be war between Israel and Syria within the next two months but we are Druze - none of them want to fight us."

The Golan Heights is home to more than 80,000 Druze, an esoteric Islamic sect whose insular, self-governing communities are accommodated by governments across the Middle East.

"We are in a very special situation. We are lucky our village wasn't destroyed in 1967 because Israel considers us Druze, so we are not a target for them. We are Syrian, so we are not a target for Syria or for Hezbollah. We are like an island in this region," explains Dr Maray Taisseer, a consultant at the Majdal Shams medical centre and community spokesperson.

The village clinic has built up supplies of essential drugs, trained medical staff in emergency care and made contact with the Red Cross to agree plans for the evacuation of the injured. The nearest hospital is in Sfat, more than an hour away.

The war, if it comes, may not be a disaster, Taisseer suggests, if it delivers Golan back into Syrian hands.

"Whatever happens in Syria, everyone agrees we should be liberated. This is Syrian land and that is clear," he states unequivocally.

Families here are divided in their loyalties to regime and rebel forces, but all are committed Syrian nationalists. The enemy is the Israeli occupier.

Captions:

Bashar al-Assad: 'There is clear popular pressure to open a front

of resistance in the Golan'


Patrick Wintour: Analysis No love lost, but a headache for Cameron

David Cameron's initial reaction on being informed of Patrick Mercer's decision to resign the Tory whip will likely have been a glow of pleasure, followed by a small sinking feeling. Mercer was no friend of Cameron's. He gave what might be described as his definitive judgment in 2011, saying of the PM: "He's a most despicable creature without any redeeming features." It is safe, then, to conclude that Mercer does not wait by the phone in the event of a Cameron reshuffle of the ministerial ranks.

So the prime minister, holidaying in Ibiza, will have no personal regret at Mercer's downfall. On the other hand, the Tory party does not need a byelection in Mercer's Newark seat. A byelection in Newark would be hard to call. Labour has revived itself in the east Midlands, but Ukip are surging everywhere, and the Conservatives have an impressive 16,000 majority. With politics so unpredictable, the only certain bet is that the Liberal Democrats will lose their deposit.

Cameron would also face being reminded that he has failed to act on two constitutional reforms - the regulation of lobbying and the right of electors to recall MPs. Before the general election, Cameron famously said that lobbying was the next great scandal waiting to happen, and has twice promised to act, but failed to do so. Nothing has emerged from Nick Clegg's constitutional reform unit on right of recall or lobbying. But once anyone delves beyond the headlines of recall of MPs and a statutory register of lobbyists the issues become more complex.

Nick Clegg has always taken a minimalist view of the right of recall. Clegg has been concerned that this kind of empowerment could leads to rich lobbying groups spending fortunes to turf out or intimidate politicians.

The recall proposals considered by the coalition in 2012 were relatively modest: a byelection could be triggered if 10% of voters in an MP's constituency sign a petition demanding the vote. The petition would be permitted only if the MP is jailed for under 12 months or if the Commons decides that "serious wrongdoing" has taken place. However, no time has been found in the legislative timetable for the measure.

The position on lobbying is similar. Two select committee inquiries have called for a statutory list of approved lobbyists, but there is an institutional reluctance to legislate, partly because some of the scandals do not seem to involve established firms. A Cabinet Office consultation showed strong support for a statutory register of lobbyists, a robust definition of lobbying, disclosure of financial information and independent oversight. But, again, nothing appeared in the Queen's speech.


Deputy speaker faces fourth sex assault claim: Police investigate intern's claim against Evans MP 'unaware of claims' and denies wrongdoing

By Patrick Strudwick and Rajeev Syal

Police investigating sexual assault allegations against Nigel Evans are planning to interview a fourth alleged victim who claims that he was intimately groped by the deputy speaker in a bar in the House of Commons.

The former parliamentary intern, 22, claims he was assaulted in the Sports and Social Club bar in December 2011 even though he had never spoken to the MP for Ribble Valley and was there with his parents. Detectives have contacted the alleged victim and asked for a formal statement.

Evans had been arrested following allegations that he raped one man and sexually assaulted another between 2009 and 2013 - accusations he has branded "completely false". A third person gave a statement to Lancashire Constabulary last month claiming he too had been sexually assaulted.

The MP vigorously denies the claims.

The former intern said he had just finished a stint in the House of Commons and was in the bar with his parents - he was showing them around parliament and had stopped off for a drink - when the alleged incident occurred. Evans, it is claimed, stood with his back to the former intern and groped his bottom for around a minute.

This week police contacted the former intern, who now has a full-time job away from parliament, and asked for a statement.

Evans, 55, was arrested on 4 May after allegations that he had raped one man and sexually assaulted another. The MP read a statement outside his Lancashire home vehemently denying the accusations against him after he was released on bail last month. The senior Tory spoke of his "incredulity" after being arrested over allegations by two men he had until then "regarded as friends".

Evans, who came out as gay in 2010, said he had just endured "the worst 24 hours of my life".

At the time of his arrest he said: "The allegations are completely false and I can't understand why they have been made, especially as I have continued to socialise with one [of the complainants] as recently as last week.

"I appreciate the way the police have handled this in such a sensitive manner, and I'd like to thank my colleagues, friends and members of the public who have expressed their support and - like me - a sense of incredulity at these events."

In the days after his arrest, Evans announced that he would step away from the Speaker's chair for a few days but would return to work the following week. The Speaker's office released a statement saying that, while Evans will remain deputy speaker, he will not resume chairing duties while police investigations continue.

Evans has refused to comment on previous claims that at least one of the complainants was a House of Commons passholder.

A spokesman for Lancashire police said: "It remains an ongoing investigation and we won't be commenting further."

Captions:

Nigel Evans was arrested last month following allegations of sexual assault


Net firms under fire for 'paltry' donations to anti-abuse charity: Companies must help protect children, says MP Google, Facebook and Microsoft in spotlight

By Josh Halliday Alexandra Topping

Google donated little more than pounds 20,000 last year to the charity responsible for policing child abuse images online - the equivalent of 90 seconds' profit for the internet firm.

The search giant was one of a number of firms, including Facebook and Microsoft, that pledged relatively small amounts to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in 2012, despite their multibillion-dollar turnovers.

Facebook made a donation of around pounds 10,000 and Microsoft's Bing search engine gave about pounds 20,000, according to the IWF's own records.

The scrutiny comes after Mark Bridger was jailed for life for the murder of five-year-old April Jones, having earlier looked at child abuse images online.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, said internet companies needed to ensure the IWF was properly resourced to tackle urgently the proliferation of child abuse images online.

"I am shocked that, despite the importance they have said they place on its role in keeping our children safe, they have donated such paltry amounts to it, which for them represent a drop in the ocean. As it stands, it is difficult to take their commitment to protecting our children seriously," Vaz said.

Google, Facebook and Microsoft said they had a strong relationship with the IWF and other child protection bodies. Facebook sponsored an event hosted by the IWF last year and made donations to agencies in other countries, it said.

Sir Richard Tilt, the IWF's chair of the board of trustees, last night said it would welcome more money from members. "There's certainly scope for increasing our number of analysts and we know if we had more analysts we could do better. If we could get more money that would enable us to do more," he said.

The biggest web companies - apart from Twitter and Amazon - are members of the IWF and block about 1,000 illegal sites at any one time.

But the IWF's five-strong team of analysts has become overwhelmed as reports of child abuse sites soared by 40% compared with last year, to 40,000, or 150 a day. The body is pushing companies to introduce new measures in the next 12 months including a "splash page", which would warn visitors to websites showing unlawful abuse images.

Tilt, a former director of the prison service, believes the setting will be a strong deterrent and potentially prevent further attacks. "There probably is a link that [online abuse images] make people more likely to commit dreadful offences, but the trouble is there isn't any clear evidence," he said.

Deborah Denis of the Lucy Faithful Foundation, a children's charity dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse, called on search engines to become more involved. But she said more stringent measures for those caught with indecent images would be "unacceptable and unrealistic".

Denis said: "If we attempted to lock up everybody who looked at indecent images of children, we simply wouldn't have enough space in prison."

Google was singled out for criticism by Liz Longhurst, whose daughter Jane was murdered by extreme pornography user Graham Coutts in 2003, prompting her to campaign for internet firms to ban such images. She said internet firms must "get their act together" and start tackling violent online imagery. "What annoys me immensely is that Google won't block these sites. They say we've got to have freedom. All I ask them is where was my daughter's freedom - tell me that."

Scott Rubin, Google's director of communications outside America, said the company had a "zero-tolerance approach" on child abuse images, and added: "The SafeSearch filter, which is designed to prevent sexually explicit material of all kinds from showing up in your search results, should not be conflated or confused with our dedication to keeping illegal abuse imagery out of our products. We don't rely simply on filtering technology to block child abuse images; we go beyond that.

"We are very proactive and work with the right people, including the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children in the US and the IWF, to keep child abuse content off all of our sites. Any implication we aren't doing anything or we refuse to be part of removing this material is wrong."

A spokeswoman for Microsoft said: "When we are made aware of any illegal content we remove it from our services, including our search engine, and report it to the police."

Facebook said it has technology that scans for child exploitative content and automatically flags images to law enforcement. It added: "Facebook works closely with CEOP [the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre] in the UK to help bring offenders to justice."


Urban Menace Beano exhibition opens in London

By Mark Brown Arts correspondent

Thrashings, hair pulling, stink bombs and teacher-baiting all feature in a new exhibition on London's South Bank, as does a cafe where patrons can make crucial epicurean decisions about toasted sandwich fillings - jam and cheese or a double helping of baked beans?

The place is Beanotown: a recreation of the fictional home of comic characters such as Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids.

Housed underneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Beanotown is a riotous installation charting the comic's history with original artwork, as well as giving visitors a chance to play "table Dennis" or fire missiles at a board that says "Imagine this is your teacher's bum".

The show is a collaboration between the Southbank Centre, Beano publishers DC Thomson and Wayne Hemingway's design agency.

Hemingway said the DC Thomson archive is remarkable. "As designers we were like kids in a sweet shop - it was just ridiculous; we were wetting ourselves, it was that exciting."

He said the project was immediately hijacked by younger members of his company, including his 26-year-old son Jack, who led the design team. "It shows that the Beano is timeless, and they've had such a blast doing it."

One of Hemingway's favourite discoveries was that the Nazi regime had put Beano writers on its enemy hit lists - the show includes original comic strips of Lord Snooty foiling the Fuhrer.

The exhibition could be the most exhausting place to work this summer. Within an hour of opening, it was overrun with children reading comics, looking with bewildered concern at the man dressed as Dennis, or trying to work out where the fart noise comes from when you walk through the main door.

Photograph: Belinda Lawley


Police to explore possibility of other child sex crimes by Bridger

By Steven Morris

Detectives will continue to explore the possibility that Mark Bridger committed offences against other children before he abducted and murdered April Jones, it emerged yesterday.

Over the eight months since he was arrested following April's disappearance detectives have been looking for evidence of previous offences against youngsters.

The father of six has been close not only to his own children but to the sons and daughters of a series of partners. He came into contact with children when he worked as a lifeguard at the leisure centre in April's home town of Machynlleth, mid Wales, and at an outdoor activity centre in the area. Dyfed-Powys police also spoke to colleagues in Australia because Bridger spent some time travelling there.

DS Andy John, who led the investigation, said: "We have considered all the children he potentially had access to. "

John said so far no allegations had been made but police are conscious that other victims may come forward.

Detectives are surprised that Bridger, 47, leaped from being a man with no history of any sort of child abuse to a child killer. He is being held in isolation because of the possibility that he will be attacked by other prisoners as he begins a full-life term for April's murder.

April's grandfather, Dai Smith, said the family did not believe her body would ever be found. "When a child dies in an accident it's a terrible thing, but I think this is worse - the fact that we don't have her body. I don't think anyone will ever know for sure what happened to her, only him," he told S4C.

April's family will continue to be looked after by the police and a network of professional and volunteer helpers.

DS Hayley Heard, a family liaison officer, said: "We will always be there, family liaison officers, but we have sourced a group of volunteers and professional people who can support them following on from the trial."

A recovery group involving agencies including social services and children's services has been set up by Powys county council to help others touched by the case. Among those who have been offered help are some of the 29 child witnesses the police interviewed, former schoolmates of April, members of Bridger's family and other residents of Machynlleth.

Susan Dale, who set up the Listening Point counselling and drop-in centre on the Bryn-Y-Gog estate where April lived, said it would be years before the town began to recover.


Rockall landing thwarted by heavy seas

By Severin Carrell Scotland correspondent

The adventurer Nick Hancock has returned to port after heavy seas thwarted his aim of landing on Rockall, delaying his record-breaking solo occupation attempt.

His ambition to scale Rockall, a barren islet some 230 miles west of the outer Hebrides, in the early hours of yesterday, and set up a homemade survival pod, became impossible after the Atlantic swell is thought to have reached eight metres in height.

Hancock is attempting to set two new records on the tiny rock, by living there alone for 60 days, beating the solo occupation record of 40 days set by the SAS veteran Tom McClean in 1985 and the 42-day record set by three Greenpeace protesters against oil exploration in 1997.

It appeared after the aborted landing attempt that the Orca III, the leisure vessel that Hancock chartered for the Rockall trip, would head for St Kilda, the remote archipelago and world heritage site 187 miles off the Western Isles which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland. A Maritime and Coastguard agency official in Stornoway said they believed the Orca III would base itself at St Kilda overnight before Hancock attempted a second landing on Rockall today.

However, there was no further direct contact with the Orca III yesterday. During the day the swell became much rougher than expected. It is thought this may have forced the Orca III's skipper to change plans again, and return to port at Leverburgh, Isle of Harris.


Police find body in search for Georgia Williams: Man, 22, charged with murder of 17-year-old Nationwide hunt after she went missing on Sunday

By Steven Morris

A 22-year-old man has been charged with the murder of missing teenager Georgia Williams after a young woman's body was found in woodland near a remote mountain pass.

Jamie Reynolds will appear before magistrates in Telford, Shropshire, today accused of killing the 17-year-old former head girl and police detective's daughter.

A nationwide police hunt has been under way since Georgia was reported missing on Tuesday, having left home in Wellington, Shropshire, on Sunday evening saying she was going to see friends.

West Mercia police had been asking for help in tracking a van between Shropshire and Scotland, but at a briefing last night revealed they believed Georgia had died at an address in Wellington.

They said the body of a young woman had been found at woodland near the Nant-y-Garth pass on the A525 between Wrexham and Ruthin in north Wales, around 50 miles from Georgia's home.

Georgia's family were said to be devastated. Earlier yesterday friends of the popular teenager had handed out leaflets asking for information about her, insisting they believed she could still be alive.

Speaking outside Wellington police station, the Telford and Wrekin commander, Superintendent Nav Malik, said: "Following liaison with the crown prosecution service we have charged 22-year-old Jamie Reynolds with the murder of Georgia Williams.

"For obvious legal reasons I'm not in a position to talk to you about that to ensure a fair court outcome in due course. Sadly yesterday afternoon new evidence came to light which identified that Georgia had died at an address in Wellington.

"I can confirm that late this afternoon the body of a young female has been found in woodland in the pass near Nant-y-Garth. We haven't identified that body but early indications suggest it's linked to the disappearance of Georgia.

"We are liaising closely with Georgia's family who are devastated. This has proved particularly challenging given that Georgia's father is a police officer here. Whenever someone from the police family is involved it is particularly distressing."

Earlier in the investigation police had stressed the man under arrest was not Georgia's boyfriend but a friend through social media.

A major police operation was launched after Georgia was reported missing. On Wednesday police arrested Reynolds at a budget hotel in Glasgow and he was returned to Shropshire.

There had been extensive appeals from Georgia's friends on social media sites for information about her disappearance, and yesterday afternoon some of them took to the streets of Shropshire to drop leaflets and put up posters.

Katy Lafferty, Georgia's best friend, said the last time they spoke the teenager appeared her normal self.

She said: "I last spoke to her on Saturday and she was just the same as she's always been. It's difficult but you've got to believe in her and get through.

"It is heartbreaking, I cannot ever imagine that this would happen."

Captions:

Katy Lafferty, 17, best friend of Georgia Williams, holding a leaflet appealing for information Photograph: Joe Giddens


Second suspect arrested after release from hospital: Police and lawyers discuss possible murder charges Inquest hears victim was identified by dental records

By Vikram Dodd and Haroon Siddique

Prosecutors and detectives were last night in discussions as the second suspect in the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby was released from hospital, meaning that police questioning of Michael Adebolajo could finally begin.

Adebolajo, 28, was arrested at the scene of the soldier's death last Wednesday, and ever since had been treated for bullet wounds after police who arrived at the scene shot him and another suspect, Michael Adebowale, who has already been charged with murder.

Detectives from Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism command are liaising with lawyers in the special crime and counter-terrorism division of the Crown Prosecution Service. They are discussing if there is enough evidence to charge 28-year-old Adebolajo with the murder, and possibly other offences.

The taking into formal police custody of Adebolajo was the most significant in another day of developments in the investigation and fallout from Rigby's death, believed to have been motivated by the ideology of violent jihad.

It came as a man who claimed on BBC's Newsnight programme that Adebolajo had faced MI5 attempts to recruit him and believed the security service had been complicit in his alleged torture in Kenya, was charged under terrorism laws.

The Metropolitan police said Adebolajo had been arrested on suspicion of attempting to murder a police officer at the scene near to the barracks in Woolwich, south-east London, where Rigby was stationed.

The murder sparked intense media coverage, in part because of videos taken by witnesses on mobile phone cameras. They show a man at the scene, clutching a knife and cleaver, attempting to justify the killing in the rhetoric of violent jihad as a strike against the west.

Detectives also arrested two men yesterday over the supply of illegal firearms. They were arrested as officers tried to hunt down the source of a revolver seen in video footage being held by one of the suspects. The other suspect, Adebowale, has been charged with possession of a 9.4mm Dutch KNIL model 91 revolver.

Police said yesterday's arrests were of a 42-year-old man, detained in north London, which led to searches at two homes. One in east London led to the arrest of a 46-year-old man. Both were held on suspicion of being involved in the supply of illegal firearms.

At the opening of the inquest into Rigby's death, deputy chief inspector Grant Mallon told Southwark coroner's court that the soldier was returning to the Royal Artillery barracks after working at an army recruitment fair at the Tower of London. Two men drove a car on to the carriageway where he was walking, before attacking him with knives and a cleaver, the court heard. They then dragged his body into the middle of the road, and encouraged passers-by to look at what they had done, Mallon said. The inquest was told Rigby had to be identified by dental records.

In another development, a friend of Adebolajo's was charged with terrorism offences. His solicitor claimed his client had been targeted after embarrassing the security services in a TV interview over their contact with the suspect.

Ibrahim Hassan, 28, was arrested last Friday at the BBC's central London headquarters minutes after recording a Newsnight video making allegations about MI5 harassing Adebolajo. Yesterday it was announced he had been charged in relation to alleged video and other material that could encourage terrorism. The charges are not linked to Rigby's murder.

Yesterday evening, one video over which he was charged, In Pursuit of Allah's Governance on the Earth, was still available on YouTube. It was posted under a name Hassan uses, Abu Nusaybah.

His solicitor, Tasnime Akunjee, said: "He emphatically says he is not involved in terrorism . . . It's his belief he was arrested because he spoke publicly about matters that embarrassed the security services."

The Queen visited Woolwich barracks yesterday morning, when she met officers and soldiers associated with Rigby. The visit was a longstanding commitment, but a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said "the Queen was privately acknowledging the events of last week".

Captions:

The Queen's visit to Woolwich had been arranged before the events of last week

Members of the 14th Regiment Royal Artillery inspect flowers at the site where soldier Lee Rigby was murdered outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich last week Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA


Protests: Rigby's family appeals for calm as far right mobilises

By Peter Walker Matthew Taylor Haroon Siddique

The family of Lee Rigby have urged people to "show their respect", saying the murdered soldier would not want anyone to exploit the event to cause division.

Their call came as far-right groups prepared for what could be their biggest mass mobilisation in years, including dozens of planned protests by the English Defence League (EDL) and a British National party (BNP) rally today in central London.

The statement, issued on behalf of relatives including Rigby's mother and stepfather Lyn and Ian, wife Rebecca and son Jack, said his friends included those of different beliefs and cultures, all of whom he treated "with the greatest of respect".

They said: "We would like to emphasise that Lee would not want people to use his name as an excuse to carry out attacks against others. We would not wish any other families to go through this harrowing experience and appeal to everyone to keep calm and show their respect in a peaceful manner."

There has been a sharp increase in reports of Islamophobic incidents since Rigby's death; more than 200 were reported to a hotline in the week following his murder in Woolwich, south-east London, on 22 May.

The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, had planned a six-mile march from Woolwich to Lewisham today. But the Metropolitan police changed the route to central London - between Millbank and the Cenotaph in Whitehall - because of fears that taking the original route could cause disorder.

At first, Griffin said on Twitter that he would defy the ban and he called on EDL leaders to join him. He appeared to back down a few hours later, tweeting: "Meet at permitted demo site. Marching to Cenotaph so maximum respect in dress & actions please."

Anti-racist campaigners say there could be as many as 60 EDL protests around England today, making it the largest far-right mobilisation in 30 years. Some of the biggest turnouts are expected in Birmingham, Luton and Leeds.

Groups opposed to the far right, such as Hope not Hate, and faith organisations have been organising their own activities. Yesterday, representatives of Greenwich Islamic Centre, which has no links to the alleged attackers but became a focus because of its proximity to the murder site, hosted an event in which Muslim community leaders joined representatives from the Jewish, Anglican, Catholic and Sikh faiths to lay a wreath spelling "Peace" at Woolwich barracks, where Rigby was based.

It was preceded by a "tea and biscuits" event at the Greenwich centre, modelled on the much-praised impromptu efforts of a York mosque to charm a gathering of EDL would-be protesters earlier this week.

Tariq Abbasi, chair of the Greenwich centre's trustees, said it had enjoyed good relations in the local community for almost 30 years. He said: "We have now been pushed in at the deep end due to no fault of ours. It's very difficult."

Mohamed El-Gomati, page 42 ≥⃒

Lee Rigby treated friends of different beliefs and cultures with the greatest of respect, his family said yesterday


Courts Conman claimed to be comedian's brother

By Press Association

A man who posed as comedian Peter Kay's brother to scam cash from pub landlords has pleaded guilty to fraud. Peter Stead claimed he was Danny Kay, brother of the Phoenix Nights star, when he offered to put on comedy nights in the East Midlands.

Police said Stead, 50, of no fixed address but previously of Mackworth, Derbyshire, employed the ruse of fundraising for the Lewis Mighty Fund, a charity raising money for a boy who died of cancer last year. Stead was given cash by landlords to secure the bookings but failed to deliver.

Stead pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud at Derby crown court yesterday, and was remanded in custody before sentencing on 21 June. PA


Universities Applications still down on levels before fee rise

By Richard Adams, education editor

The number of students in England applying to go to university remains well below the level before tuition fees were raised to a maximum of pounds 9,000, according to new figures from the body administering university admissions.

The revised numbers from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show that 428,000 prospective students in England applied to higher education institutions for admission in September this year, a 2% improvement on the 418,000 who applied in 2012.

But the figure remains well below the 464,000 applications in 2011 and 461,000 in 2010, suggesting the fee rise from pounds 3,000 to pounds 9,000 a year remains an obstacle to widening participation.

Significantly, university applications from those living in Scotland and Northern Ireland are virtually unchanged and remain stable compared with previous years.

Northern Ireland capped tuition fees at the lower pounds 3,000 level plus inflation, while Scotland declined to introduce fees at all for Scottish students studying in their home nation.

The updated figures show that the share of school-leavers going to university at 18 has improved slightly. The age group has shrunk as a proportion of the population.

The Ucas figures for 2013 previously suggested that the numbers of part-time and older students in England had been most affected by the leap in tuition

fees.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, which lobbies on behalf of British universities, said more detail was needed.

"While the picture looks positive for younger applicants, we must wait to see how applications from mature and part-time applications have fared," Dandridge said.

"Numbers have decreased greatly since 2010 and any further drop would have significant implications for potential students and the country

as a whole," she warned.

Richard Adams


Transport Investment vital, says London mayor

By Gwyn Topham, transport correspondent

Boris Johnson has warned the government it would be "insanity" to curb transport investment in London at a ceremony to mark a major milestone in the construction of Crossrail, which he said the coalition had considered scrapping.

The mayor was speaking below ground in the cavernous concrete box that will be the Canary Wharf station, beside a tunnelling machine that broke through the walls this week after six months boring across the capital.

Tunnelling on the pounds 14.8bn project will end next year, ready for the 2018 launch of rail services from Maidenhead and Heathrow through central London to the City and into Essex. Johnson said Crossrail had given a "vital lesson in the importance of maintaining investment in transport infrastructure".

"Now you can see the utter insanity it would have been to halt this project in 2010, " he said. "In such a big economic hole, the best thing we could do is keep digging." Gwyn Topham


Sailing London to host round the world Clipper race

By Press Association

London is to host the start and finish of the 2013-14 Clipper round the world yacht race. The race will start on 1 September and cover 40,000 miles, visiting 14 ports on six continents in the world's longest ocean race, before returning in July 2014.

The event was founded in 1996 by Robin Knox-Johnston, who in 1968 became the first person to sail solo nonstop around the world. It aims to offer amateurs from all walks of life the chance to experience the thrill of ocean racing and a circumnavigation of the planet.

The race will see the debut of the third generation Clipper 70 ocean racing yacht. The 12-strong fleet will be hosted in a race village at St Katharine Docks and will begin and end their journey on the Thames in front of Tower Bridge.

Knox-Johnston said: "What better place to host the start and finish than London, in front of one of the best known landmarks in the world. This will be the first time the capital has hosted a global yacht race start and finish."

London mayor Boris Johnson predicted this "feat of human endeavour" would be a draw to sailing fans and a huge boost to London's economy.

He said: "Those who take part are an inspiration to us all and exhibit the very best of the human spirit. As they battle through everything the elements can throw at them, I wish everyone on board these stunning vessels the very best of luck."

More than 3,000 people have participated in the Clipper race since the event began. PA


Mourning, campers

Captions:

Su Pollard outside Rotherham minster after the funeral service of Paul Shane, star of 80s BBC sitcom Hi-de-Hi! Shane, who died aged 72 after a short illness, played holiday camp host Ted Bovis in the hit series Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe


Catwalk to workforce: fashion week gets practical

By Lauren Cochrane

With graduate fashion week opening in London tomorrow, expect the usual front-page grabbing designs from the latest generation of young talent. But this year the four-day event also has a focus on getting these graduates into the fashion workforce.

There are around a million young unemployed people aged 16 to 24 and graduate fashion week is attempting to prevent that figure increasing. It has introduced a job zone, where graduates can find advice about everything from interviews to writing a business plan, and has added awards beyond design, for disciplines such as media and marketing. "Not all graduates are going to be designers," said Rob Templeton, chair of GFW since 2011. "We wanted to show the different options available."

Set up in 1991 by designer Jeff Banks, the event has helped launch successful names including Stella McCartney and Christopher Bailey in its 22-year history. This is the sort of career trajectory dreamed of by most of the 5,500 design graduates emerging from BA courses this year. Templeton is there to bring them down to earth. "Young designers think they only want to work for a brand in Milan or London but the reality is very few people succeed in doing that," he said. "There are lucrative jobs to pursue - pattern-cutting is a great skill that's in demand."

While Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art both have their own shows, GFW provides a space for colleges outside London. Bournemouth, Bath Spa, Kingston, Manchester and Northampton are among the universities participating. They will be joined for the first time by international colleges including Parsons, which counts Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan among its alumni. With representatives of Abercrombie & Fitch and Ralph Lauren attending last year, the international reach of GFW is increasing and Chinese suppliers are expected this time. The focus is on developing the event from a day out for members of the public - although they can still buy tickets for the shows - to a place to do business.

Alice Smith, a partner in recruitment consultants Smith & Pye, which has worked with brands from Gap to Louis Vuitton, attends GFW regularly to find new talent. "It's been a public event and it needs to be industry-facing," she said. But while 62 people have been hired by GFW sponsor George since last year, a good number of those have been internships and placements, and Smith said she rarely places someone in a job straight out of college.

Internships, often unpaid, have become essential to getting a paid job in fashion. Emily Button, a Bath Spa graduate who showed her final collection at GFW last year, said the images of her collection on the runway provided an "amazing talking point" in interviews but ultimately it is work experience that counts. She is now coming to the end of a year-long paid internship at Roland Mouret. Previous internships at MaxMara and Jasper Garvida helped her get there. "It's about anything that will give you the edge," she said.

Templeton added: "Graduates who have done internships are 50%-60% more likely to get a job. We're trying to instigate that across more colleges so it's more a part of courses." He has plans for workshops to support graduates throughout the year and mentoring programmes online. "Things like this can make a real difference."

Captions:

Designs that will be on the runway at graduate fashion week by (from left) Naomi Lewis of Nottingham Trent University, Bournemouth's Michael Beel, and Emma Shea from the University of Northampton Photograph: Tung Walsh for the Guardian


Parts 'blew off' BA plane after maintenance mistake: Investigators say cowls hit fuselage and landing gear Airbus warned users about engine cover safety risk

By Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

A maintenance error led to engine parts being blown off a British Airways plane forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow last week, investigators have confirmed.

Pictures showed that the cowls covering the aircraft engines were not properly shut, leading the 40kg metal coverings to fly loose during takeoff.

In a special bulletin yesterday, the Air Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) confirmed details of the damage the Airbus A319 sustained in the incident, in which the plane trailed smoke as it was forced to land on one engine over a heavily populated area of west London.

At least one of the cowls struck the plane, causing damage to the fuselage, wing, landing gear and a fuel pipe. Both of the engines were exposed, and the right-hand one caught fire and was shut down by pilots.

Investigators called on Airbus to again tell operators to ensure essential checks are made on the cowl closures, a known safety risk. Airbus had noted 32 similar incidents on its A320 family of planes, including the A319, in which the engine cowls detached in flight, causing damage to the plane. The manufacturer issued a safety briefing last year urging crews to be aware of the risks.

The AAIB said that cowls had not to date caused an engine fire, and the exact cause of the blaze was still under investigation.

The report made clear that previous information from the US government that the left-hand International Aero Engines V2500 engine was closed down was incorrect, confirming it continued to function.

The London-to-Oslo flight BA762 turned back to Heathrow soon after takeoff on 24 May. Passengers and witnesses saw smoke and flames emanating from the plane. The 75 passengers and crew were evacuated via emergency slides on landing.

Both runways at Heathrow were closed briefly, and British Airways cancelled all short-haul flights until 4pm the same day.

The British Airways chief executive, Keith Williams, said: "We welcome the publication of the AAIB interim report. We continue to co-operate fully with the investigation team and can confirm that appropriate initial action has already been taken in accordance with the AAIB's safety recommendation to Airbus.

"We regret we are precluded from releasing or discussing any additional details while the AAIB investigation is ongoing.

"We commend the professionalism of the flight crew for the safe landing of the plane and the cabin crew and pilots for its safe evacuation. We continue to offer our full support to those customers who were onboard the flight."

An Airbus spokesman said: "We're supporting the AAIB-led investigation and will be following its recommendations."

Passengers expressed incredulity that the emergency was caused by a known risk. Alexandra Townsley, 27, a solicitor from west London, who was sitting in seat 5F beside the right-hand engine, said: "I think people who were on board are going to be very angry. It's one thing to think that things go wrong, but this seems to be something standard that wasn't checked - what procedures are in place? If it's something that can be missed that easily and is missed repeatedly, I don't see why Airbus can't find a way to fix it so it can't happen again."

She added: "It sounds like this was a lucky miss."

She said of the flight: "It was absolutely terrifying. We knew something was wrong right on takeoff as we saw the cowl door ripped off, just as the wheels came off the ground. I find it strange that the report says that crew weren't initially aware that anything was wrong. We were all shouting."

Jean Ralphs, a passenger who was sitting in seat 3F on the flight, said: "I will not fly on the first flight of a day on any Airbus plane until this is sorted out. I don't think the answer is adequate."

David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight Global, said: "It would have been difficult to fly with the damage to the wings and exterior - but well within the capability of a highly trained crew."

The AAIB's full report will follow, probably in several months.

Engineers insepct the damage to the Airbus 319, which was forced to make an emergency landing at Heathrow airport


UK fears after Swedish free school closures

By Richard Orange Malmo Richard Adams

Britain's adoption of the Swedish "free school" model has been called into question after one of Sweden's largest private sector school operators announced it would shut down, leaving hundreds of students stranded.

JB Education, whose schools educate around 10,000 pupils, said it would sell 19 of its high schools and close the remaining four. The decision, which follows four school closures announced by the company in February, came as the Danish private equity group Axcel, which bought the chain in 2008, decided it could no longer continue to cover the company's losses.

"I'm devastated that the company I've managed for a short time won't survive," said JB Education's chief executive, Anders Hultin. "It's extremely regrettable that it will affect the students."

Ibrahim Baylan, education spokesman for Sweden's opposition Social Democratic party, said the closures should come as a warning to the UK not to slavishly adopt the model, where private companies can set up profit-making free schools, paid for by the state but with little government oversight.

"Before you do something like this you have to really, really think about how you set up the system," he said. "The system here is not working as it's supposed to work. Nobody could foresee that so many private equity companies would be in our school system as we have today."

Two Swedish school companies, Kunskapsskolan and Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES), have already taken over the management of schools in the UK, albeit on a non-profit basis. Like JB Education, both are owned by private equity companies. Kunskapsskolan's non-profit UK arm, Learning Schools Trust, operates schools in Suffolk, Northamptonshire and two in Richmond, south-west London. IES is often cited as an inspiration for the Conservative push for free schools, with education secretary, Michael Gove visiting IES's schools in Sweden. Through a trust named Sabres, IES has run a free school in Breckland, Suffolk since 2012.


The dream was a new Elizabethan age: reality was the end of empire

By Tristram Hunt looks back at the emotions and hopes of a June day in 1953 when a young queen began a reign of awesome change

'A coronation is a nation's birthday," wrote the great patriot historian Arthur Bryant in the official guide to Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, "a nation is a union in both space and time. We are as much the countrymen of Nelson, Wesley and Shakespeare as of our own contemporaries. Our queen is the symbol of that union in time." Thus the official tone was set: the June 1953 coronation was not just a moment to anoint a monarch, but to rededicate a nation to its historic purpose.

The symbolism of coronation provided a golden opportunity to reaffirm the magic of monarchy, revel in the blessed sweep of British history, and spiritually rejuvenate a war-weary people. As the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, contentedly put it: "The country and the Commonwealth last Tuesday were not far from the Kingdom of Heaven."

Yet, despite all the medieval mummery and consecrated oil of the Westminster Abbey service, it would be wrong to regard June 1953 as a moment of backward-looking indulgence, an Establishment answer to the modernism of the Festival of Britain. Instead, with its live TV coverage and deft manipulation of the young Queen's image, it was a vehicle to upgrade the Windsor brand and to focus on the postwar future.

To cap it all, by more than happy coincidence, on coronation day itself came news of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's ascent of Everest. "Be Proud of Britain on this Day," ran the Daily Express headline.

"The coronation was like a Phoenix-time," recalled Princess Margaret. "Everything was being raised from the ashes . . . and nothing to stop anything getting better and better." The spirit of the age was clear: the young Queen offered Britain (but principally England) another go at the golden rule of Elizabeth I. "It is our hope that Her Majesty may live long and happily and that her reign may be as glorious as that of her great predecessor Queen Elizabeth I," announced Clement Attlee on behalf of the Labour party. "Let us hope we are witnessing the beginning of a new Elizabethan Age no less renowned than the first."

Yet if Elizabeth I had built an empire, the young Queen was already presiding over its rapid dismantling. Tory MP Bernard Braine thought "the old Elizabethan age great precisely because the spirit of adventure led great men in little ships to sail into the unknown". That vision now had to be revived among the "simple, backward, unsophisticated peoples" of the British Dependencies.

However, those poor benighted souls had other ideas: between 1945 and 1965, the number of people living under British colonial rule shrank from 700 million to five million. The 1948 British Nationality Act had inaugurated modern, multicultural Britain. And with the British monarch no longer head of state in Ireland, it was in vain that the romantic old colonialist Winston Churchill argued for the traditional coronation script of "the Imperial Crown of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the seas". Instead, the proclamation was changed to "Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth," reflecting Elizabeth II's passion for the Commonwealth and its status as the post-imperial club.

Yet if the Commonwealth was sanctified by the coronation, the Mother Country felt less secure. For all the inclusion of Union symbols, the backdrop to June 1953 was growing Scottish nationalism and discontent with the title of Queen Elizabeth II (Scotland had never had a Queen Elizabeth I). On Christmas morning 1950, the Stone of Scone - crowning stone of the kings of Scotland since the 10th century - was stolen from beneath Westminster Abbey's coronation chair by an undergraduate brigade of Scottish nationalists and driven back to Scotland in the boot of a Ford Anglia. Four months later it was handed over at Arbroath abbey, scene of the declaration of Scottish independence in 1320. Fearful of provoking Scottish nationalism, the government did not prosecute the protestors.

It was a telling prelude to a reign which would see the eclipse of Britishness as a default form of national identity. The natural, instinctive, 1950s sense of British nationhood - forged through two world wars, a Protestant faith and an imperial project which suffocated the tensions of internal UK differentiation - would not see out the second Elizabeth's reign.

Yet one of the few symbols to unite the nation remained the monarchy. Even if the coronation was itself, as David Cannadine put it, "a cavalcade of impotence" and palliative to the loss of world-power status, the show successfully rebooted the House of Windsor.

Much was made of the royal couple's modernity (the aeroplanes, radio and television), and the young Queen's femininity, able to juggle children and a handbag, along with the crown of state and orb and sceptre. It certainly inspired the future Mrs Thatcher. "Women can - AND MUST - play a leading part in the creation of a glorious Elizabethan era," the young Margaret Roberts wrote. "Why not a woman chancellor - or a woman foreign secretary?" Or, indeed, prime minister alongside Queen.

Of course, there were concerns about the cost of the occasion amid a huge budget deficit on the back of the Korean war, but the minister in charge was adamant. "The argument is unsound that because we are forced to cut the people's bread we should also cut their circuses," declared David Eccles. "Whether one thinks of the stability of our institutions, or of morale in a difficult year, or of earnings of the tourist trade, a fine show is justified."

It was certainly a fine show, with the Queen's beauty and composure much remarked upon. And across the country, the popular response was elemental and heartfelt. A mass observation panellist reported that in Fulham's working-class Lillie Walk, there were "rows and rows of bunting . . . every house has pictures of the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne pasted in the parlour window . . . the outer walls of the front parlours are completely hidden with Union Jacks."

In Birmingham, Mary King tried in vain to record her own response to the coronation: "At the end I was too dazed, too emotionally disturbed physically and spiritually, to write any details."

As the postwar realities of Britain's diminished place in the world started to dawn, the coronation of Elizabeth II offered one final testament to our unique sense of national purpose. The crowning of the beautiful Queen saw England as Israel once more: a country gifted a special, Protestant, imperial place in the world.

"A fair and youthful figure, princess, wife and mother, is the heir to all our traditions and glories," as Winston Churchill poetically put it, "and to all our perplexities and dangers never greater in peacetime than now. She is also heir to all our united strength and loyalty . . . That it should be a golden age of art and letters we can only hope but it is certain that if a true and lasting peace can be achieved . . . an immense and undreamed of prosperity, with culture and leisure even more widely spread can come . . . to the masses of the people."

This successful conjoining of monarchy to the masses would be the story of Elizabeth II's reign. And her great ability has been to manage it over 60 years of such profound and awesome change.

Leader comment, page 44 ≥⃒

Captions:

Coronation anniversary banners have been unfurled along Regent Street, central London Photograph: Felix Clay for the Guardian

The Queen during the silver jubilee in 1977 - a far bigger occasion than 2013


Zoe Williams: Saturday sketch If only she had a dragon, she'd make a delightful picture

By Zoe Williams

'The Queen is an admirable person who, with her consort, offers a delightful picture of family life and of devotion to her public duties. It is pleasant to honour her." This was our own, frankly astonishing, appraisal 60 years ago, when the Queen held the nation riveted to its tiny, black and white telly, to bask in the pleasantness of watching her crowned.

Astonishing because, even back then, I believe, the Guardian was the least authoritarian newspaper. Yet it managed to tie itself in this verbal knot - together with her family, she makes up a lovely picture of a family (if only she had a dragon, she would offer a delightful picture of a lady on a dragon) - trying to find something to admire in a monarch whose authority, whichever way you cut it, is either meaningless or freighted with unwelcome meaning, the pinnacle of a hierarchy whose foundations are random and, well, not very nice.

Ah. There's the rub. Whatever you think of the monarchy as a concept, it is hard to say anything unpleasant about its embodiment. Back then, it was because she was a family person, who did her duty. Today, underneath the purple awnings of Regent Street and Jermyn Street, it is because "She's almost 90! I think she is utterly amazing," the words of Debbie, 50, from Bournemouth. Katie, 29, agrees: "You know, she is really old. And she still works really hard. It's true that she doesn't affect my life at all. If only she could use her powers to overthrow the government, that would be good."

There is, regardless of anyone's position on the royal family, an underpinning idea that the Queen's job is quite hard. When she was younger, it was marvellous that she could combine it with a family; now that she's old, it's incredible that she can combine it with being old. In all the time in between, it was just fabulous that anybody would want to do it at all.

This 60th anniversary is low-key. Heraldic purple drapes festoon a small amount of central London. There was a rumour that they were sponsored by Cadbury, a rumour which I've now spread all over town ("I wouldn't mind," said Andrew Wallis, 73, "if they hadn't been taken over by an American company"). In fact, it turned out not to be true, but it feels atmospherically true, with the decorations so mass-produced and cheap-looking.

It's not the jubilee - ain't no river pageant and closed-off bridges. But then, not many people can put their finger exactly on the difference. Kenny, 39, said gamely: "You see, the coronation marks the date that she was actually coronated. The jubilee is just when she started." Yes. Of course. But the question left hanging is: why celebrate both?

"It's Britishness, isn't it?" Kenny continued. "It's a reason to celebrate Britishness." Asked whether he would, personally, be celebrating, he laughed. "No, of course not." I always think it's an endearing habit of the nation that, if anything could possibly be construed as an excuse to start drinking in the day, preferably the morning, we will grab it as though on to an ancient birthright.

It clearly doesn't have the wraparound festivity of last year, when occasions backed on to each other like enthusiastic conga-dancers at the nation's year-long self-celebration. So nobody wants to be the first to crack open the Pimm's. Indeed, all the shops are suggesting discreet coronation purchases: union flag cupcakes, gingerbread men with crowns on.

For that matter, it's not the same as the 25th anniversary of the coronation, either, which Knight, in his 50s, remembers well. "It's totally different. Everyone was out, celebrating the day. There's not the same sense of community any more. People just don't get on as well. Neighbourhoods have changed."

And how does the mood compare to the big day of 1953 itself? Andrew Wallis was the only person I spoke to who remembered it. "I was at school, so we didn't see it on television. We went to a church service; we saw a pageant. It was very exciting." It sounds heavily religious, which is possibly what's missing this time around.

It's hard to take a view, when you don't believe in God or aristocrats. And yet, if we're talking about the Queen herself, she does work hard. It is pleasant to honour her.


Commentary I confess. I was in on the great Cornish cake theft

By Michael White

Coronation day was obviously pretty important to the Queen, who'd waited quite long enough - 17 months - to be crowned. And many people were also chuffed by the news management that ensured most of us learned that pre-rolling news day that Mount Everest had finally been climbed by a British-led team. But from a personal point of view the day's big events were my first (and last) sporting triumph, and my first encounter with organised crime.

It rained a lot in London, but it was sunnier in Porthpean, our village on the Cornish south coast, and a fete with races, a feast and a marquee with a coronation cake, had been organised.

There weren't many kids around, so I cleaned up in the boys under-eight category and won more prizes than I would ever win again for sporting endeavour. A coronation paintbox, a coronation penknife and other souvenirs with the crowned Queen's head on them. There was also the coronation mug which was - much more important - full of sweets.

Hard though it is to imagine the world of austerity, far more severe than George Osborne's, that lingered (and in some way intensified) after the guns fell silent in 1945 as a near-bankrupt Britain struggled to find its feet again in very different circumstances. But when you're seven, the end of sweet rationing was more important. No more coupons!

For us the whole royal cycle had begun at school the previous year, on 6 February. We had been listening to a BBC schools programme on the wireless. But when it ended a solemn announcer told us that the King, George VI, had unexpectedly passed away during the night at Sandringham.

"Now children, what have we just been told?" said the teacher. As a relatively sophisticated six-year-old I already knew better than to believe the media, so I said nothing. But a bolder girl called Gillian piped up "Please miss, the king's dead." "Foolish girl," I thought. But Gillian was right.

Seventeen months later there we all were with our tinsel and flags. It was unthinking, comforting patriotism in a country still basking in what kids in the playground used to express - chanting - as "We wun the war."

All sweet and harmless? Not quite. On the night of 1 June, Porthpean's coronation cake was stolen from the marquee. I can now confirm I was in on the cake theft. It all seems a long time ago - but probably not as long as it feels to the Queen. Sixty years and still reigning as hard as a bad Cornish summer.


Digital Day 6 June 1944 on TV and Twitter

By Jason Deans

The story of the "soldier in the surf", the subject of the famous photo that inspired Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, will feature in a Channel 4 history initiative marking the 69th anniversary of the D-Day landings next week, with 24 hours of TV and Twitter coverage recreating the events of the pivotal second world war battle in real time.

D-Day: As It Happens will follow the stories of seven individuals involved in the 6 June 1944 operation to land more than 150,000 Allied troops on the Normandy beaches, through regular updates on TV, social media and the internet over 24 hours from 9pm on Wednesday 5 June.

They include Huston "Hu" Riley, then 22, a US soldier captured struggling through the surf under intense German gunfire by photographer Robert Capa in a black and white picture published in Time magazine. The story of how he survived, despite being hit several times by machine-gun fire, will be told by Channel 4 through tweets and TV voiceover by an actor, based on interviews Riley gave before his death in 2011.

Channel 4's real time initiative also draws on archive film, photographs, radio reports, diaries, letters and official records, along with previously unpublished research by historian Colin Henderson, to piece together the experiences of Riley and the six other D-Day protagonists, only two of whom are still alive, in meticulous detail.

Peter Snow and former marine Arthur Williams will host pre-recorded shows bookending Channel 4's coverage on the evenings of 5 and 6 June. In between viewers will see short archive clips of D-Day events broadcast at intervals during the Channel 4 schedule. D-Day: As It Happens can also be followed on a dedicated Twitter account and website.

"We're trying to take the information revolution we've all lived through and apply it to TV history," said Channel 4 specialist factual commissioning editor John Hay. Photograph: Robert Capa


General anaesthetics may increase dementia risk, research shows: Study of 9,000 French patients tracks condition Buildup of neural plaques linked to drug doses

By Denis Campbell Health correspondent

Older people who have a general anaesthetic while undergoing surgery are 35% more likely to develop dementia years afterwards as a result, according to new research.

The study has reopened the question of whether anaesthetic agents may potentially affect the brains of children or elderly patients, as some evidence suggests.

Research from France being presented tomorrow at a conference of anaesthetists identifies postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), a common delirium-like complication of major surgery in older people, as a likely cause of dementia that develops some years later.

Amyloid plaques are found in the brains of those suffering from Alzheimer's, by far the most common form of dementia, as well as dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson's disease dementia. Previous studies have suggested that certain anaesthetics may promote the inflammation of neural tissues and so lead to either POCD or Alzheimer's disease precursors, including amyloid plaques. But the authors, led by Dr Francois Sztark of the University of Bordeaux, say it is still uncertain whether POCD can be a precursor to dementia.

Their research used data from the 3C study, which began examining the health of 9,294 people aged 65 or over in the French cities of Bordeaux, Dijon and Montpellier from 1999. Participants were checked two, four, seven and 10 years later. Each time the 7,008 patients without dementia were asked if they had had either a general or local anaesthetic since the last check-up. After two years, 2,309 (33%) had undergone one in that time, of which 1,333 (19%) were general and 948 (14%) local. In total 632 participants developed dementia over eight years.

Sztark's team found that, at the two-year follow-up, 37% of those with dementia had been exposed to anaesthesia, compared with 32% of those who had not experienced neurodegeneration. While 22% of the patients with dementia had had a general anaesthetic, 19% of those free of dementia had done so.

A summary of their findings, which are being unveiled at the European Society of Anaesthesiology, states: "After adjustment, participants with at least one general anaesthesia over the follow-up had a 35% increased risk of developing a dementia compared with participants without anaesthesia." That risk is for general anaesthesia, not all anaesthesia, they stressed.

Sztark said the authors had a "95% confidence interval" in that level of heightened risk of a condition which 800,000 Britons already have.

Dementia organisations responded cautiously. Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "This is early data and given the complexity of the findings we need to await the full peer-reviewed publication before fully interpreting the results. Research into the impact of anaesthetics on dementia is challenging because it can be very difficult to tease out cause and effect."

Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "The early results from this study support the view that anaesthesia may increase risk of developing dementia but questions still remain about why this is the case and whether other factors could have a role."

Captions:

Link to dementia suggested among elderly who have undergone surgery


Let there be art: not a fresco to be seen in the papal pavilion: First Vatican-sponsored exhibition takes Genesis as starting point

By Charlotte Higgins Venice

The papacy has not always had a good time at the Venice Biennale. In 1999, most strikingly, visitors were treated to the sight of a lifesize wax image of Pope John Paul II being struck down by a meteorite, courtesy of the artist Maurizio Cattelan. This year, though, the Vatican has chosen to enter the first ever Pavilion of the Holy See, becoming one of the 88 nations to show work at this cacophonous, often irreligious festival of art.

The Holy See pavilion takes the first 11 books of Genesis as its starting point. Its title - Creation, Uncreation, Re-creation - hints at ideas "fundamental for culture and for church tradition", according to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi (right), the president of the pontifical council for culture and the figure behind the Holy See's appearance at the biennale.

Three rooms of works take on the themes in turn: interactive videos by the Milanese collective Studio Azzurro focus on creation; then come stark images of man's destructiveness by Czech photographer Josef Koudelka. Paintings hinting at hope by American Lawrence Carroll complete the all-male lineup.

Reactions to the pavilion have been mixed - from admiration at the Vatican's willingness to engage with the art world to disappointment that the Holy See, historically the most important patron of art in the western world, has fielded a kind of all-purpose spiritual mishmash.

The author of Fides et Forma, an Italian blog on art, architecture and the Catholic church, has written that the money for the pavilion (albeit privately raised) was being "spent on an absurd event" and "an insignificant mental rumination". Staging the exhibition was "an act of egotism, not of love for the church and Jesus".

But according to the curator of the pavilion, Micol Forti, who is also the curator of 19th-century and contemporary art in the Vatican museums, involvement in the biennale is an opportunity for the Roman Catholic church. "It's very important for the Holy See to be here: it's a different situation where you can create a space for a dialogue with different ideas, different ideological thinking, different religions," she said. "Here at the biennale, it is not important where you are from: the only important thing is that there is a place where you can speak."

They had deliberately steered clear of work that engaged directly with Catholic themes or imagery, she said. "For Cardinal Ravasi, it is very important to distinguish between religious and liturgical artwork and that which engages with spiritual ideas. The Sistine Chapel is a church: it contains completely revolutionary artworks but it is still a church.

"[The Holy See pavilion] is not a church; this is a completely different context. We respect this context: it is a place for international art from different contexts, philosophies, culture and religions."

Forti said that she and the selection committee for the pavilion "never asked the artists whether they believed or not. We started from the topic of the exhibition: for me it was important that there was intellectual honesty, a clear path in the artists' thinking."

As he made the final touches to his room of paintings, Carroll, who is based near Rome, said: "I have an Irish mother, and I was raised a Catholic, but whether we were members of the church or not was never a question asked of any of the artists. It was not important whether we were atheists, Jewish or Catholic."

He added: "I applaud Cardinal Ravasi for this - it was very difficult and controversial within the church because many people don't want this kind of dialogue. But how beautiful to invite atheists, anyone, into a dialogue."

He said there had been no guidance or censorship from the Holy See: "I made my work in the way that I always do."

He had no hesitation in accepting the invitation to represent the Holy See. "You can look at any national pavilion and ask whether an artist would want to show with them," he said. "If you look at America, you can think about the wars they have been involved in, the drones . . . What's more important is the bridge they are trying to create - the idea of a bridge and the extension of a hand."

Forti added: "It's important that the church was to have a relationship with the culture outside: it's a first step towards both speaking and listening."

The Venice Biennale runs from 1 June to 24 November

Captions:

Touch-screen panels by the Studio Azzurro collective in the 'Creation' part of a three-stage series of works that include 'Uncreation' and 'Re-creation' on show at the Holy See pavilion Photograph: Domenico Stinellis/AP


Festival diary

By Charlotte Higgins

* The opening of Jeremy Deller's British pavilion for the Venice Biennale was celebrated with a big, raucous party on the Isola delle Vignole: lethal cocktails and dinner then dancing to the wonderful Melodians Steel Band, who provide the soundtrack of David Bowie, A Guy Called Gerald, and Vaughan Williams in the film in Deller's show.

One young lad was having such a great time he stripped off and danced on the tables naked. "Who is that?" people asked, in a state of mild shock. Two theories: one that he was part of the Austrian Gelitin artists' collective; the other that he was part of the posse from Palazzo Peckham (a biennale project run by young artists from south-east London). Either way, everyone relaxed about the display of flesh and bits when it was revealed as possible Art with a capital A.

There is good news, by the way, for those who can't get to Deller's pavilion before it closes on 24 November. The exhibition will - a first for UK presentations in Venice - be restaged in Britain, starting in January at the William Morris Gallery in London, then travelling to Bristol and Margate.

* Out on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore there's a vast sculpture (below): a version of Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant, the sculpture that adorned the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2005. Back then we loved it. Here? Not so much: it's a horrible shade of mauve, is ridiculously over-scale, and looks deeply jarring beside Palladio's great church. Since it is inflatable, artworld wags have been plotting how to shoot a dart into it and watch it deflate like a great big burst balloon.

* The 35-year-old British painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is having quite the year. She has been shortlisted for the Turner prize; she has a beautiful room of her paintings, all imaginary portraits of black subjects, (left) included in the central Venice Biennale exhibition; and this week, also in Venice, she was awarded the Future Generation Art Prize, bankrolled by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk. The cheque will be a comfort if she misses out on the Turner this December - she gets 100000 dollars (pounds 66,000), though 40000 dollars of it must be spent on art production costs (that's a heck of a lot of paint and canvas). That compares with pounds 25,000 prize money for the British award.

* There are lots of trees in the Biennale this year. The Belgian pavilion consists of a corporeal hulk of a felled elm by Berlinde de Bruyckere; in the Nordic pavilion the trees sing courtesy of Finnish artist Terike Haapoja; and in the Latvian pavilion a huge tree branch suspended from the roof swings like a giant twiggy pendulum. For its first ever Venice pavilion, Kosovo is showing a work by Petrit Halilaj that is not so much a tree as a giant, earth-perfumed root ball, or giant-sized bird's nest - put together painstakingly by the artist over a period of two months using soil, mud, branches and twigs brought from the young republic. The original Yugoslavia pavilion in Venice's Giardini - a place redolent of the geopolitics of a past age - is run by Serbia. Charlotte Higgins


Simon Hoggart's week The kleptocracy that's robbing us blind

By Simon Hoggart

nullSuppose you got a letter from HMRC saying: "Your tax bill of pounds 3,258.47 is now overdue. If it is not paid immediately further action will be taken." At the end is a scrawled note, saying, "but if you buy me lunch, and give me a job when I leave, we can call it quits for pounds 105."

Inconceivable. But this is what Dave Hartnett, the former tax boss who wrote off millions of pounds owed by multinational companies has been accused of doing. He's now with Deloitte, the tax management company that fixed many of these deals that were so delightful for the companies concerned, and so damaging for our cash-strapped Treasury. Then there is the pounds 350,000 in bonuses shared by five Railtrack executives, even though they have failed to meet their targets and thousands of passengers endure a service that would be unacceptable to travellers on a medieval ox cart. Their moolah is, in effect, public money.

And Nick Buckles, the boss of G4S, whose performance over the Olympics was described by MPs as "a fiasco . . . a shambles . . . humiliating . . . inexcusable . . . astonishing . . . unacceptable and amateurish" is leaving the firm, with a payoff that includes a year's salary, his pounds 9.5m pension pot, plus shares, of more than pounds 16m. And G4S is still getting government contracts!

I was going to say that we must admit that we are living in a kleptocracy, like Russia or many developing-world tyrannies. We are so used to a vague notion that people in Britain are basically honest, that we don't care to acknowledge we are being robbed blind by a small group who can do absolutely nothing that will prevent them getting richer and richer. Such as bankers. Maybe we should call it a "wankocracy" since it benefits the stupid, the boorish and incompetent.

nullAndy Warhol was wrong. Most of us don't get our 15 minutes of fame; 15 seconds has to be enough these days. Our new car has an excellent feature. It's a sign saying "cancel" and it appears on the little TV screen on the dashboard. This means that when the radio programme you're listening to is interrupted by a local traffic report, you can prod the thing with your finger, and it's gone! This is welcome when the report has tidings of a burst water main 65 miles away. It's most useful to silence local presenters and disc jockeys, some of whom clearly hope that one day they will snag some great and important person in the BBC who will, by sheer chance, be listening to them for the short period after the traffic report ends.

"So, motorways running smoothly through the county except for delays on the M46 because of George Michael blocking two lanes northbound. Hey, it's no wonder he started out with a group called Wham!"

The director general just happens to be listening. "My goodness," says Lord Hall to his driver, "this presenter of Drive Time Borsetshire is a hilarious broadcasting genius! The new Kenny Everett! Sign him up, now!"

We saw the same at the egregiously awful Eurovision song contest last month. Some bizarre freaky person wearing colours never found in nature would appear, grinning like a ventriloquist's doll of Jack Nicholson, saying: "Hiya, Sdockholm, here are the vodes from Filthistan, bud first may I say whadda fandastic show you're pudding on there! Hey, grade zduff! Congradulations, guys in Sweden!"

That's enough for Simon Cowell, who says: "We need him to be a judge on Britain's Got Talent." He picks up a phone, then remembers he forgot to cancel the milk and it slips his mind. Oh, well. Another 15 seconds of fame wasted.

nullIt appears our wilder press has always been much the same. I've been enjoying The Annals of Unsolved Crime by the (very serious and sensible) journalist Edward Jay Epstein. He analyses the Jack the Ripper case, and it turns out that the letter signed with the famous soubriquet was almost certainly forged by a deputy editor at the Central News Agency, which had been making a fortune reporting the murder of prostitutes in the Victorian East End of London. So Epstein says there was no single ripper, just a murder or two, plus some copycat killings, certainly not committed by a member of the royal family or any famous artist.

nullYour letters and emails: Sir Peter Alliss (the knighthood has been awarded by me) messages to say that some of his fans' memories, while close, are not entirely accurate. He had been watching a golfer who had taken a big divot out of the course. "That looks a bit heavy," he remarked. But when the ball landed close to the hole he added, "but perfect, just like Kate Winslet."

His favourite, which he says he deploys only on rare occasions, is: "Why dig for bait when you've got a boat full of fish?" I have asked him to elucidate.

nullMore labelling madness: James Eedy bought a bottle of carbonated spring water. "Dietary info: suitable for vegetarians."

Don Gould sent a clipping from the Daily Telegraph, about how packs of peanuts had to be withdrawn from the shelves by the Booths supermarket chain because, even though the front said what was inside and the packaging was transparent, the writing on the back did not point out that the product contained nuts.

nullAnd back to the first item. John Hampson sent a freedom of information request to the Office of Rail Regulation wanting to know how much they had paid in compensation for trains delayed by Railtrack. It turned out that most of what he wanted to know was exempt from FOI so they wouldn't tell him. "But I did learn that Network Rail employs a 'head of transparency'."

Captions:

The winner of Eurovision where everyone craves 15 seconds of fame


John Plunkett: 'New York had better get ready'

By John Plunkett

Not many television executives get their kicks away from the glare of the studio lights by going rally driving. But Deborah Turness, who once competed in the 33-day Paris to Peking off-road rally, is no ordinary industry suit. The first female editor of a network TV news operation in the UK when she was put in charge of ITV News nearly a decade ago, Turness has just repeated the feat in the US where she was confirmed last month as the new president of NBC News.

"She has such energy and passion that you knew Deborah was in the room even if you couldn't see her. Her presence was so overwhelming," remembers former ITV News editor-in-chief David Mannion, who hired her to rejuvenate the channel's news bulletins.

The only journalist invited to the Buckingham Palace state banquet for President Barack Obama, Turness earned the nickname "Mad Dog", a reflection of her capacity for ideas ("Out of every 10, nine will be crazy and one will be genius," says a colleague) and prodigious work rate - she only sleeps five hours a night. It is a maverick streak that can perhaps be traced back to her convent school days where, legend has it, she was expelled aged 13 after nuns caught her kissing boys in the grounds.

"She doesn't give up until she gets what she wants," says Mannion. "If someone made 99 phone calls to get something, she would make 100. We put the wind up the BBC and others because she is such a terrific asset."

After taking charge of ITN-produced ITV News in 2004, Turness put News at Ten back on the map following years in the wilderness with a string of award-winning scoops - the video of the arrest of the failed London bombers in 2005, the leaked report on the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, and the first engagement interview with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

"You could plug Deborah into the national grid and shut down a couple of nuclear power plants, she is easily the most energetic and enthusiastic producer I've ever worked with," says ITN Productions editorial director Chris Shaw, who worked closely with her on Channel 5 News.

The mother of two young children - she is married to John Toker, the former ITN producer and government communications director - the family will relocate to New York in the summer.

Turness, 46, is the latest in a succession of media executives to swap London for New York, including former BBC director general Mark Thompson, now chief executive of the New York Times company, and Jon Williams, the former BBC world news editor who is now foreign editor of ABC News. She will also go head to head with another ITV export, James Goldston, who has been credited with rejuvenating ABC's Good Morning America, which has eclipsed NBC's Today from its longstanding position at number one in the breakfast ratings war.

Chris Cramer, a former senior BBC executive who left in the 1990s to run CNN's international operations, remembers the advice he was given at the time by the news network's founder, Ted Turner: "He said that an English accent gave you a very large IQ mark-up. But it didn't last very long."

The challenge at NBC will be a rather different one to ITV, with ratings under pressure and the network still suffering the fallout from a 30 billion dollars takeover by media and technology giant Comcast two years ago. "It's a much more febrile world [than the UK]: ratings are everything," warns Stephen Claypole, a former BBC news executive who went on to senior roles at news agencies Reuters and Associated Press.

"It is much more driven by the bottom line than anything in the UK and is intensely political. American network [news] presidents come under enormous pressure from the Republican right, with quite a bit of sniping from the general direction of Fox News.

"It's a remarkable appointment," adds Claypole. "The American networks have been rather more backward in advancing and promoting women, so it's also a very welcome one."

Turness's TV career began in unlikely surroundings - the kitchen of ITN's Paris-based producer, Barbara Gray. After spending a year in France for her degree, she took a postgraduate radio and journalism course at Bordeaux university in 1988 and telephoned Gray asking for work experience.

"I explained that the Paris bureau had been closed down and she would have to work in my kitchen, but she was pretty cool about that," says Gray. "It was obvious to me after two stories that she was definitely a news person. She had the gift of the gab and was able to convince prospective interviewees that they were on to a good thing."

In Paris, Turness also produced reports for Jon Snow, now anchor of Channel 4 News, but failed to make the shortlist for the ITN training scheme despite landing an exclusive interview with then French prime minister Jacques Chirac, which made the lead story on the News at Ten. Turness has described herself as "broken-hearted".

Snow recalls her as "truly exceptional from the very outset. Original, imaginative, inexhaustible and right on top of the story. Could I have imagined she would ever become president of NBC News? Not exactly, but I'm absolutely not surprised. She's a star, and ITV News is as good as it is because of her."

Turness went on to freelance for ITN, ending up as Washington producer, where she covered the Oklahoma bombing, the Atlanta Olympics and the invasion of Haiti. She also covered Bill Clinton's first term in office and later, when she returned to London to help launch Channel 5 News, would sign up Monica Lewinsky as a reporter. She was a key member of the ITN team responsible for dispensing with the newsreader's chair, presenter Kirsty Young famously "perching" on the desk.

But Turness also spent six months as editor of Channel 4's short-lived and largely disastrous Big Breakfast replacement, RI:SE. Turness has pointed out that she was "second editor. . . not the one who devised the initial plan" for the show. She left after six months. "I missed news horribly . . . I had to make myself read Heat magazine every week."

Her return to ITN, with a brief to relaunch ITV's bulletins, proved more fruitful. "They had become very turgid, very predictable," she said in 2004. Under Turness, they regained their confidence and sense of purpose and a string of Bafta and Royal Television Society awards - despite working on a fraction of the BBC's budget - although News at Ten is still beaten in the ratings by BBC1's flagship 10pm bulletin.

"She ripped up the rule book," says ITV News presenter Mark Austin. "She has a real knack for connecting with viewers and a great one for taking an idea and expanding it until she has made absolutely the most of it."

Austin was once sent to anchor the programme from the Antarctic, from where he interviewed then prime minister Tony Blair via satellite in Downing Street about global warming. "It was unusual and bold and typical Turness," he says. "If NBC is looking for someone to shake the place up, she will do that. They won't know what's hit them, but they will probably like it when it does."

One colleague describes her as a "bit of an unguided missile. Her enthusiasm could get the better of her", while another says: "She's very radical and out there and questions stuff and sometimes you will bring in an exclusive and she'll ask where are we taking it next."

Nigel Baker, news editor at ITN when Turness did her first shift in London, recalls: "It was clear from the beginning that she had the determination and energy to succeed. I learned many years later she had actually been ill but never mentioned it and never let it show."

At ITV Turness had a staff of fewer than 300; at NBC it will be 800. "It's really a transition from driving a powerful speedboat to being the captain of a supertanker," says Baker. "There will be a cultural change as well. American journalists are very different to their British counterparts. British journalists take the job seriously but tend not to take themselves too seriously. American journalists do both."

Turness, who takes up her new role on 5 August, generates admiration and affection in equal measure. "She's a force of nature," says Adrian Monck, who was part of the launch team of 5 News. Anyone who saw her performance as Lady Gaga at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival in 2010 will attest to that.

"Deborah epitomises everything that is best about ITN," says ITN chief executive John Hardie. "She's inspired our newsrooms for 24 years with her ideas, energy and enthusiasm. She leaves to make history yet again in one of the biggest jobs in TV news. New York had better be ready for her."



GUARDIAN MONEY PAGES

Money: Beware the copycat minefield: Need a passport? Driving licence? Birth certificate? Official looking websites are tricking the unwary into paying over the odds. Miles Brignall investigates

By Miles Brignall

Pensioners Brian and Valerie lost pounds 80 after going on Google to renew their passports. The couple, from Harrogate, realised too late that the website they used, UK-passport.net, was not the official government service they had expected and that they had parted with their cash for "virtually a piece of paper which could be obtained for nothing from the Post Office".

Another Money reader, Veronica Fenton, is furious that her daughter, a single mother, was caught out after a Google search directed her to passport-uk.co.uk, where she handed over her credit card details and passport number, only to end up paying an inflated price to obtain a passport.

These are just two of the many letters Guardian Money is receiving almost daily from readers, outraged at the list of websites that appear at the top of Google searches and persuade the unwary to pay twice as much as they need to renew their passports.

But the issue stretches much further than passports. On virtually every government or local authority service where a fee or licence is required, commercial organisations are paying Google for their websites to come top on searches - and then obtain fees by preying on the unwary. The list includes birth and death certificates, congestion charge payments, driving licences, national insurance numbers and even rod fishing licences.

Each website tries to appear as official as possible. Indeed, passport.uk.com has "Official UK Passport Application" in its title line, and pays Google to sit firmly above the real official site, gov.uk/renew-adult-passport.

Why, everyone asks, is Google allowing this, and indeed profiting from it? Why is the government not doing more to shut down these sites?

Last week, Guardian Money scored a small, albeit temporary, victory when we took up Brian and Valerie's case. Google acted promptly, taking UK-passport.net off its searches. But days later, the ad reappeared on its search results, with slightly different wording at the top of the opening page.

The way these sites work is to mimic the official passport site, passing on your details and charging you a fee for the privilege. Many describe themselves as "third-party processing firms" that make the application process "quicker and easier".

But as Chris Ralston, another reader who was caught out, says: "The site I was taken to looked like the official government site. I am quite capable of filling in a form; these people need to be stopped. It's outrageous."

Many users only find out they are not on the official site when they also have to pay the real passport service a charge of pounds 72.50. Many ring the Home Office's passport service to complain, where the problem is now so common that staff have got used to explaining to upset callers that the site is nothing to do with the official service.

Google says its rules do not allow firms to charge fees for services that are free from an official site, but a few minutes on the web uncovers many companies doing precisely that. The sites are supposed to prominently make it clear that the service they are offering is available elsewhere for free or for a lower fee, but this information is often buried at the bottom of the page in greyed-out type.

In Brian and Valerie's case, prior to our intervention UK-passport.net had a message at the bottom of its page stating that it was not connected to IPS. Maybe it was relying on the fact that few consumers know that this stands for the Identity and Passport Service, which is actually now called Her Majesty's Passport Office. Following our calls to Google, the disclaimer is now more prominently displayed.

UK-passport.net has now refunded the pounds 80 fee the couple paid, but Brian says they have had to put their Rhine cruise on hold because of fears their new passports would be delayed while they took on the company.

A spokesperson for Google said: "Our 'sale of free items and official services' policy makes it very clear that we do not allow the promotion of sites that charge for products or services that are otherwise available for free, unless they clearly state that the original service is available for free elsewhere, provide a working link to the official source where they can get the free service, as well as accurately represent the added value they are charging for. If we discover sites that are breaking this policy we will take appropriate action."

There are signs that the government is becoming increasingly frustrated at what it calls "rogue sites". A spokesperson for Her Majesty's Passport Office told us: "It's totally unacceptable that unscrupulous companies are continuing to trick people into paying for information which is available free of charge by Her Majesty's Passport Office.

"We have already taken action with the Advertising Standards Agency to fine the owners of rogue sites and ensure they do not use official logos or branding. We continue to monitor these sites and explore new ways to counteract their activities.

"Customers can find information and download passport application forms via our website - gov.uk/renew-adult-passport and telephone advice line on 0300 222 0000."

We contacted UK-passport.net and asked them to justify their services. A director, James Wyatt, told us that his firm offers a genuine service aimed at people who need help filling in the application form, and said the site makes it explicitly clear that it is not the official IPS site. He told us in the past large numbers of passport applications failed each year because of errors - errors that his team will spot, saving his customers time. When asked why he thought so many Guardian readers were claiming they'd been misled, he said he had nothing to add.

While most of the complaints that Money has received relate to passport sites, anger is also growing at sites that require users to pay for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). These are free from the official site, nhs.uk/ehic/, but type EHIC into Google and click on the companies in the yellow ad box at the top of the search results, and you'll be asked to pay around pounds 25 for your card.

For example, Applyehic.org appears to fall foul of the Google guidelines but it continues to operate in spite of this. The website invites applicants to tick a box to confirm they have read its terms and conditions - but if you actually click on the terms and conditions link, there aren't any.

Once you've got your health card and try to renew your old paper driving licence, the same company behind UK-passport.net will charge you pounds 50 to check your licence application. The site features the same colour scheme as the old Direct.gov websites.

Those applying to pay London's congestion charge face similar issues, as do those applying for a fishing rod licence. Perhaps the most nauseating are the sites that try to lure people wishing to obtain birth, marriage and death certificates.

Could a blanket ban be imposed on such sites? It's interesting that Google at one time promoted sites that came top on searches for the NHS Direct telephone number, but simply connected callers to the line on a premium rate instead. Under pressure from the public, it now bans commercial users from using its AdWords system to buy such searches. Critics say this shows that the internet giant, which made a profit of pounds 2.6bn in the UK in 2011 but paid just pounds 6m in tax, could do more to help consumers.

Captions:

Change driving licence to photocard

Government website pounds 20

Copycat website pounds 50

European health (Ehic) card

Government website Free

Copycat website pounds 23

Congestion charge

Government website pounds 10

Copycat website pounds 16

Replacment birth certificate

Government website pounds 9.25

Copycat website pounds 16

Passport application

Government website pounds 72.50

Copycat website pounds 112.50

Fishing rod licence

Government website pounds 27-pounds 72

Copycat website pounds 47-pounds 92


Money: Personal effects: We want your expert opinion: We're thinking of building a shed/office in our garden. pounds 15,000 should do it, but are they any good? Anyone love theirs - or wish they hadn't bothered? I fear we won't get the money back when we sell, but I've got to commute less

* I've worked from home since the 1990s and am very glad I didn't go down this route, having heard tales from colleagues who spent money on such structures but still ended up working on the dining room table and using their office as a junk room: uncontrollable temperatures and humidity; trudging up the garden path in the pouring rain to answer calls; and planning permission and other issues.

Do you really need more space than a desk, or even just a laptop? Consider other options: a corner of a bedroom; using the loft; using a fraction of your budget to buy a folding dining table. Anyone buying your property can simply re-purpose the rooms to suit themselves, but they probably wouldn't pay a premium for a log cabin.

Roger Thomas, Amersham, Bucks

* I had a garden lodge installed six years ago and loved it from the word go. The company, Garden Lodges of Barton le Clay, Bedfordshire, did a terrific job putting up a 3.88m by 3.33m building for pounds 11,000. It is solid, insulated, doubled glazed and has mains electric, lighting and computer connections, and a heater. I use it as an artist's studio and my only regret is that I didn't buy a bigger one. It fits beautifully in my garden and is always complimented by visitors.

I don't care about getting my money back. I bought it because I wanted it, not as an investment. The local authority consider it a "temporary structure" and as it is prefabricated I imagine it could actually be disassembled and moved if necessary.

Lindsay Rough, Watford, Herts

* I built a fully insulated 5m x 3m workshop/office for pounds 4,500. It's all been done by my own hand, with the exception of laying the concrete base when some friends were drafted in to help in exchange for a few beers and bacon butties. I could have done it cheaper - the cost includes pounds 1,500 spent on cladding it in western red cedar and pounds 500 for a painted steel clad roof for durability. Doors and windows were sourced at nominal prices from a local supplier as spares from his yard. Make sure you check planning restrictions regarding position, plan area and height (planningportal.gov.uk/permission).

It has taken just short of a year to build but we now have a clean, dry, warm space that functions as an office and a workshop where I can plan my next project.

Pete Anstock, Westerham, Kent, who wins this week's pounds 25 National Book Token

* My husband, an academic, is about to retire and said two years ago that he would dispose of the vast majority of his books. I thought this was foolish and our daughter came up with the bright idea of a timber building in the garden. We visited an excellent local firm, Timber Homesteads, which dealt most efficiently with the planning application (not necessary in all cases), and we now have a very attractive "garden room" that was installed in five or six working days with a minimum of upheaval. It has an efficient electric heater and telephone and internet connection, and a local carpenter built shelves and a desk. We were not thinking about adding value to the house, but surely an extra room (as we see it) is worth pounds 15,000? Go for it!

Gisele Earle, Oxford

* There is no way of knowing if it is a viable economic enterprise, as sadly the "value" of your house is determined by location-location-location and presumed (by estate agents) to be the same as similar neighbouring properties. However, in terms of joie de vivre, in enriching home space and the transformative lifestyle of working more from home, the human value may be exponential. Just imagine George Bernard Shaw without his rotating garden shed - as an escape from daily life inside his grand Edwardian arts and crafts house - where he wrote many of his great works.

Trevor Jones, Cheveley, Cambs

For more ideas go to www.guardian.co.uk/money then click on Blogs and Personal Effects

Any answers? We've just moved to a house with a garden for the first time and want to buy some outdoor toys for our six-year-olds. A trampoline has been suggested, but could drive

the neighbours mad. What will sustain their interest for years to come without breaking the bank?

Reply Email your suggestions to personal.effects@guardian.co.uk or write to us at Personal Effects, Money, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. There's a pounds 25 National Book Token for the best answer.


Money: Alternative investment: Making modern art pay by degrees: The works of 3,000 hopeful graduates are now going on show throughout the country. Liz Phillips looks at how buyers can get in on the ground floor

By Liz Phillips

Over the next few weeks, the degree shows at art schools across Britain will be showcasing the talents of 3,000 graduating hopefuls. A few will go on to become the next Hockney or Warhol, and see their works fetch a fortune, although the vast majority will never enjoy financial success.

So if you are keen to support young artistic talent - but have an eye to possibly making a few quid along the way - where do you start in what is a famously fickle market?

Sarah Ryan says she has the answer. She set up New Blood Art (newbloodart.com), and has, since 2004, trawled round all the degree shows in England, Scotland and Wales signing up artists. She then sells their work online through her website. "It is like looking for a needle in a haystack," says Ryan, 39, a former art teacher and graduate of London Guildhall, now called London Metropolitan.

Trying to pin her down on what she looks for is as elusive as finding the next Damien Hirst. "It's not about the medium or the style; it's more about the quality of the artist. They need to have distilled their style into something characteristic of themselves, to have a unique visual language. I speak to the artist and their tutors," she says.

Tellingly, it's not only about being talented. She's looking for those who are prepared to put in long hours in the studio, apply for prizes and residencies and intend to dedicate themselves to art for decades to come. "Talent alone won't take them through. People can coast with that. They need to be totally committed and passionate."

When she founded New Blood Art, selling art over the web was in its infancy. But in the past few years there's been an explosion of site launches from galleries, artists' collectives and individuals themselves.

Many of the sites which show a collection of artists have no adjudication process. The artists simply upload examples of their work, sometimes for a fee. One example is Saatchi Online, started by the Saatchi Gallery in 2006, which is free for any artist to use.

"I have reservations about that," says Ryan. "It's a lovely ideal, but artists need guidance, especially when it comes to pricing their work. They need a track record of selling at a particular price. We go as low as is comfortable for the artist to get traction. Then, when there's demand, the price can gradually pick up."

She cites Welsh artist Iain Andrews, a graduate of Aberystwyth, as an example. When she took him on in 2005, his paintings were selling for pounds 300 to pounds 400. More recently he sold a commissioned abstract for pounds 20,000.

The price tag on his works shot up after he was featured as one of the emerging artists on the TV series, School of Saatchi. He won the Towry award in 2011 and The Marmite Prize in 2010. But the level of demand means Ryan has no originals to sell.

She also bought early work by David Wightman in 2004, which sold through New Blood Art for around pounds 700. It now fetches pounds 8,000 to pounds 30,000 through Halcyon Gallery on New Bond Street, which represents the artist.

Ryan makes her living by taking a cut of the artists' sales - and, on the face of it, this sounds breathtakingly high. When New Blood Art sells an item, it keeps 40% of the price. Compare that with the debate over investment funds on the stock market (see page 6), where the argument is over charges of 2.5%. But Ryan says her costs are actually lower than the physical galleries, which typically

take 50%.

The basic tenet of any investment is buy low, sell high. She says you could wait until you see the price of an individual artist's work start to pick up before buying or they win a major prize.

"I would rather invest before you see any increase, but there's more risk and more reward," says Ryan. "If you wanted a surer thing you could wait until the price goes up."

Among the 200 artists she features online, she tips Polish Bartosz Beda whose oil paintings cost pounds 500 three years ago and are now nearly pounds 3,000; Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf whose prices have trebled in seven years; Lisa Scrimgeour whose work sold out as soon as she was launched online and Masaki Yada who has attracted renowned collector Anita Zabludowicz.

"Some people buy a whole collection, which immediately makes their investment more valuable," she says. "By investing you affect the value, especially if an esteemed collector buys the work, too."

But what of this year's crop? Who's hot right now? Ryan says she has been immensely impressed by works coming out of the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, which is part of the University of Dundee. She tips works by Yasmin Davidson, "a lovely and very talented graduate", selling for pounds 450 upwards. She also rates the work of Morag Cullens, also from Dundee, whose framed oil on paper creations sell for pounds 500 upwards.

Potential investors can, of course, attend the degree shows themselves and make their own choices - and enjoy a great day out. The Edinburgh College of Art show opens today, with the college transformed into the Scottish capital's biggest gallery space as it celebrates the work of more than 500 graduating artists, film makers, designers and architects.

On Monday, Portsmouth's degree show opens to the public. Shows in Glasgow, London, Leeds and Birmingham follow in the next week. Most are free entry, although some are weekday only.

How to buy online:

* Check the returns policy of the site. The law states you have a seven-day cooling off period during which you can return the goods and get your money back, though some sites give you 14 days.

* When the artwork arrives, check it. The stretcher should be thick and the canvas must be high quality to stand the test of time.

* Look at how long the site has been running and whether it has repeat buyers.

* Ask how many other paintings have sold at that price point by that artist.

* Find out whether the site will resell your painting.

Captions:

Good impressions: Online dealer Sarah Ryan believes some of the hotest young talent can be found in Dundee this year. She particularly likes works by Yasmin Davidson (left) and Morag Cullens

Bright future:

Among the 200 artists featured online by New Blood Art are Lisa Scrimgeour (left), Masaki Yada (above) Bartosz Beda (above right) and Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf (right)

Early days: Works by David Wightman (above) and Iain Andrews (right) are in big demand. Paintings that went for hundreds of pounds a few years ago now fetch five figures


Money: Your shout: Letters

Don't wave goodbye to common sense

I have had an Oyster card since they were introduced and have always kept it in a separate card holder (A pack of cards can leave you ending up with a losing deal, 25 May). I wouldn't think of taking out my wallet - complete with cash, credit and debit cards - and waving it around in a crowded tube station. Oyster has speeded up public transport, especially buses, and we would be worse off without it. But I agree, banks should have warned account holders when they issued the contactless cards. The problem is not limited to Oyster.

EastFinchleyite

at guardian.co.uk/money

* I am sure Oyster cards are great - one card for one purpose, clearly defined. However, contactless cards are less useful and wide open to fraud, yet the banks foist them on us - how do you verify the transaction if you don't enter a pin? Literally anyone can use any card, stolen or cloned, with impunity.

In the meantime let's have banks inundated with calls asking how to disable the technology, with complaints about it, demands for non-contactless cards and similar campaigns against retailers who install such technology - M&S would be a good start.

StuartHX at guardian.co.uk/money

* What happens if a Transport for London inspector checks to see if you have touched your Oyster card on boarding a bus? If a contactless card has been incorrectly charged or - as the TfL spokesperson said - neither is charged, how can you prove it was a system error rather than an attempt to fare dodge?

MikeGray at guardian.co.uk/money

* When I read about people holding their wallet containing an oyster card and a contactless bank card to a reader, I thought it was the height of stupidity. How on earth is the reader supposed to know which card you want to use?

And I agree, why would you want to have to get your wallet out in a busy station? TfL provides handy little wallets for a reason.

GlasgowGal at guardian.co.uk/money

* Banks love contactless cards because (they hope) they encourage consumers to spend more. Just what we need.

Marcia MacLeod, London NW6

Save your car: insist on the 'buy-back' option

I have much sympathy for the unfortunate woman having her car written off for the cost of repairing an indicator unit (One bump and it's the scrapheap, 25 May). I have learnt from a recent experience: if the insurers want to write your car off, you can insist it is sold back to you. If the damage is trivial or largely cosmetic (and you can live with a less-than-perfect repair) then do it yourself, or get your local garage to do their best.

Mike Parsons, via email

* Simple rule of thumb: if the car is more than five years old get the cheapest third-party cover for legal niceties (although sometimes comprehensive is just as cheap) with the largest excess to drive cost down, and never make a claim. The insurance is to cover your liabilities (others) not your assets (car).

checkreakity at guardian.co.uk/money

* Everything about this story makes me prefer the German system. Here an independent, state-approved engineer of the car-owner's choice makes the assessment.

UnashamedPedant

at guardian.co.uk/money

First class should be

in a class of its own

I totally agree that first class rail travel with a number of companies makes for an extremely pleasant and enhanced travelling experience (All rail passengers can now afford to be upwardly mobile, 25 May). However, it is quite remarkable that there are no agreed standards as to what merits the additional charge. Southern Railway stands out as an example of total lack of value: the seats are identical, with a small section of a standard carriage - without even a door between - labelled "first class". Fares can be up to three times the amount. There is nothing extra in the way of refreshments and, in peak times, standard class passengers use the seats with seeming impunity (quite possibly through ignorance).

Companies like this should be shamed into either providing a distinguishable service, or follow the example of Chiltern Railway which has abolished the class system.

Danny Allen, Bourne End, Bucks

* I'm sure ATOC is very pleased about first class sales increasing. I doubt, however, they mentioned the Olympic effect. Volunteers and ticket holders could buy discounted tickets in the National Rail Games Travel scheme. I was able to buy a single ticket from Flitwick to London for pounds 6 (a return is normally pounds 12-pounds 35 depending on the day). Interestingly, I could get a first class single for only pounds 9, which meant I could guarantee a seat after a 12-hour day when I would be travelling home on a stuffed commuter train. I'm sure lots of others made the most of this, too!

Mel Scrivin, Evesham,

(Olympic & Paralympic Gamesmaker

I wouldn't bet on

the stock market

Sorry, it's all gambling, and the people you are betting against - the professionals in the City and Wall St - have far more time and knowledge than the average person to observe trends etc. (Buy and sell . . . come boom or doom, 25 May). The professional's job is to fleece the punter and move as much money as possible from the worker to the pocket of the financial class.

Also, it is not explained why the stock markets rose so much this year. Did the world become a safer, happier place while I wasn't looking, or did the money men chance their arm as far as they could? I vote the latter.

Inconsolable at guardian.co.uk/money

* A handy article, but just four years too late . . . After making my fair share of investment mistakes, the most valuable lesson I learned is to follow Warren Buffet's advice: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful." In fact Buffet's quotes, generally, should be essential reading for all investors old and new.

BrazilR at guardian.co.uk/money

What really makes all-inclusive appealing

Dave2222001 (Personal Effects, 25 May) says an all-inclusive holiday is about "as appealing as a burger, a swimming pool, a bottle of vodka and a sun bed". Sounds good to me.

Mark Jay Smith, London SE23

Keep on motoring

with the AA challenge

I want to again urge Guardian readers to challenge renewal quotes on AA membership. I was stopped by an RAC salesperson today trying to sell me the full breakdown package for joint membership for pounds 135. I told him that the AA, for which my husband and I have had joint membership for over 12 years, had sent a renewal quote for the same service for pounds 240. Every year I challenge the price rises. This year was the largest. When I queried it, it was reduced to pounds 142. I was told the AA's business relies on the fact "approximately 75% of customers do not challenge the price hike".

Rosie Brocklehurst, St Leonards-on-Sea

What a difference

a few pages make!

Once again a news item on best savings rates on page three of Money completely at odds with the best buy Isa rates on page 7 (25 May). The former says rates of 3% (Virgin), 2.75% (Principality) and 2.55% (Coventry) are available, albeit only on five-year or two-year fixed rates, whilst the latter says the best available is 2.3% (Cheshire), and has no indication that fixed rates have been excluded.

Mark Bertinat, Chester


Money: On reflection: Please help us to halt the sites

By Patrick Collinson

Why, readers ask, is the government letting commercial websites prey on the unwary when they renew their passports, apply for a driving licence or even obtain a death certificate? As our story today highlights, thousands upon thousands of people are paying wholly unnecessary fees to access basic services provided by the government.

But demanding action, while understandable, is the wrong approach. The right question is why search engine providers, principally Google, both facilitate and profit from what, most would agree, is a cynical, although sadly legal, exploitation of the public?

Today we launch our "Stop these sites" campaign. The government could, one supposes, draft legislation to protect consumers. But it would be a laborious process, and hardly one that would be high up the legislative agenda.

However, there is a simple solution - and it's one that could be enacted tomorrow. All Google has to do is to switch off its AdWords system when it comes to basic public services. With no promotion, the sites would perish overnight.

If you're unfamiliar with AdWords, it's how Google lets commercial organisations buy words, such as "birth certificate". If you enter that as a search, that company's site comes top of the results, in the yellow box at the top of the page. The official government site, with the official price, comes further down the page.

To be fair to Google, it tells us it monitors these sites and where it discovers abuses it takes action. But this is a classic corporate response which, on examination, doesn't really stand up. It took us milliseconds (yes, Google is admirably speedy at producing search results) to find a site in breach of Google's rules.

Why can't it monitor the sites more proactively, rather than rely on people who have been tricked to write to a newspaper, then for us to pass it on? Perhaps Google is too preoccupied devising ways to reduce its tax bill.

As part of our campaign, we'd like readers to help the multinational giant to do its job. We'd like you to send us stories of your experience using these sites. Were there warnings, prominently and clearly stated, that they were not the official provider?

Was it made explicit that you would be paying charges on top of the official government cost (which in the case of Ehic cards, for example, is zero)?

The websites tell us they are providing a customer service, that they are "third party processors" which help consumers fill in forms and check applications. But this is a real hoot. One colleague who fell foul of one of these sites found that not only had she paid over the odds, it actually introduced errors into the application form before passing it on to the government body.

Some might argue this should be a case of "caveat emptor". Others will dismiss victims as "muppets" or "numpties" (the preferred terms of abuse in below-the-line comments) for falling for this lark. After all, these sites have giveaway clues that tell you, without clicking in, that there's something fishy. For example, the "domain" names they inhabit are of the cheapo .uk, .net or .gb type rather than .gov.

But it's easy to poke fun at the unfortunate. Go ahead, laugh at pensioners who are now worried their summer holiday will have to be cancelled after using one of the passport sites. Laugh at single parent mums, acting in haste, who've squandered their money to line the pockets of these site operators.

How much better it would be if the search engines simply switched off the oxygen supply. I keep mentioning Google, when there are, of course, other search engines. But the reality is that it is by far the dominant player and needs to take the lead.

Last year, under pressure, it did halt sites that were conning people into ringing a premium rate line rather than the real NHS Direct line. Now let's pressure it into halting these sites too.

Tell us your experience at

money@guardian.co.uk


Money: Compensation: Long delays to get redress as consumer gripes hit record levels: Cases brought to financial ombudsman up 92% in year. By Miles Brignall

By Miles Brignall

Consumers taking complaints about financial firms to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) are still facing long waits to have their cases heard.

In its annual review, published on Wednesday, the FOS said it had received more than two million inquiries and grievances from consumers about a range of financial problems - more than 7,000 each working day. It investigated a record 508,881, an increase of 92% compared with the previous year.

However, the long delays that have characterised the most complex cases are continuing. The FOS said that 73% of claims are now dealt with inside six months, but also revealed 11% - more than 50,000 claims - are taking more than a year to be resolved.

Its figures show consumers won compensation as a result of its intervention in fewer than half of cases heard. This is the first time it has dropped below 50%.

The organisation said payment protection insurance (PPI) claims now account for three-quarters of its workload. The FOS said there were signs that banks were fighting more PPI claims than previously. The proportion of such claims settled in favour of consumers by the FOS has fallen to 70%, from 84% last year.

Natalie Ceeney, chief ombudsman, said: "We have seen a much stronger consumer voice in the last year, with people becoming more aware of their rights and less willing to put up with poor customer service. As levels of confidence in financial services have eroded, it is disappointing that we still haven't seen any significant improvement in complaints handling. Too many financial businesses still seem unable to sort out problems themselves."

The big four banks accounted for 62% of all complaints the FOS received, up from 52% last year.


Money: Nationwide helps first-timers with a record low 2.54% rate: Mortgages Lender launches cheap Help to Buy loans, reports Hilary Osborne. But will the scheme spark a new housing bubble?

By Hilary Osborne

Nationwide building society this week launched the lowest-ever mortgage rate for first-time buyers, offering a rate of 2.54% fixed for two years to borrowers with a deposit of just 5%.

But the deal is part of the government's Help to Buy scheme, only available against new-build properties, which, critics have warned, could stoke another round of house price inflation.

The Nationwide deal comes with relatively low arrangement fees totalling pounds 499 (many mortgage fees are now set at pounds 999). You don't even have to be a first-time buyer to apply. The offer is open to home movers as well, although they pay a fee of pounds 900, and if they already have a loan with Nationwide, the rate drops to just 2.44%.

Buyers can use the mortgage to purchase any property from a developer registered with the Homes and Communities Agency, which is running the Help to Buy scheme.

The way it works is that the borrower puts down a deposit of 5%, then the government issues an equity loan equal up to 20% of the value of the property. Nationwide then lends the remaining 75%, which is how it manages to cut the rate.

Critics warn that Help to Buy will spark another housing market bubble, and figures from Nationwide this week suggest that the market is gathering momentum yet again, with prices up 0.4% in May. Even Nationwide's chief executive, Graham Beale, when asked recently about the launch of Help to Buy, suggested it could lead to higher house price inflation.

However, at the launch of the society's Help to Buy loans, its head of mortgages, Tracie Pearce, said the lender was "keen to support the government's efforts in helping the mortgage market to move forward".

The 2.54% two-year fix is just one of three Help to Buy deals on offer from Nationwide. The others are a low-fee deal, where the charges are just pounds 99 rather than pounds 499, but the rate is set at 2.94% (2.84% for existing borrowers); a three-year fixed rate at 2.64%, or 2.54% for existing borrowers. The three-year deal has a fee of pounds 900 for movers or pounds 400 for first-time buyers, plus a pounds 99 booking fee.

The 2.54% rate beats any other available to borrowers with a 5% deposit, according to financial information firm Moneyfacts, and is less than half that charged on conventional 95% loans. On Nationwide's existing Save to Buy deal, where borrowers can get a 95% loan if they save into an account for at least six months, the rate is 5.34%.

What does it mean in terms of monthly repayments? If a Help to Buy borrower takes out the Nationwide 2.54% deal and borrows pounds 120,000 over 25 years, he or she will have to pay just pounds 541 a month, compared to pounds 725 using the society's Save to Buy scheme.

The cheap rate means that many first-time buyers will find it makes sense to buy a new-build rather than rent, although it's hard to see how the equation stacks up in London's super-heated property market.

For example, Miller Homes has a development - Unity Quarter in Salford - where prices start at pounds 120,000 and qualify for Help to Buy.

But in London, affordability is beyond the vast majority of first-time buyers. Taylor Wimpey, for example, allows Help to Buy across all its developments, but prices at its West Hampstead development start at pounds 1.4m while in Camden the starting price is pounds 879,000, both above the maximum pounds 600,000 government limit for Help to Buy, and way beyond the income multiples lenders will allow. But further out in Barking, in London's East End, Taylor Wimpey has Help to Buy one-bed flats starting at pounds 139,000.

The equity loan from the government must be between 10% and 20% of the property's value, and is only repaid when the property is sold. After five years, the loan starts to attract interest.

Will the Nationwide deal be available for long before all the money is snapped up?

Nationwide would not reveal how many loans it would make available at these rates, but a spokeswoman says: "As with all new-build sales, we have limits on the amount of homes we will mortgage; this is assessed on a site-by-site basis and Help to Buy products will be subject to those existing limits."

Several other large lenders already offer Help to Buy loans, including Halifax, NatWest and Barclays through its Woolwich arm. Barclays is offering 3.89% for three years with a pounds 299 fee. NatWest has two fee-free deals at 3.15% and 3.59%; the second of those is a five-year fixed rate.

Halifax is charging 3.19% for two years with a pounds 999 fee, or 3.59% if you want to avoid upfront costs. However, Halifax's deal does come with an offer to pay up to pounds 2,500 in stamp duty for first-time buyers who take out a loan before 7 July.

"Nationwide has come out with a very competitive offering," says Andrew Montlake, director of mortgage brokers Coreco. "Having a big lender like this coming in will help to support the scheme and bring more competition into the market."

As well as Nationwide's Save to Buy, there are other 95% mortgages available outside Help to Buy, but all involve getting parental backing or committing to a period of saving before applying for the loan, and rates are generally above 5%.

Captions:

A good deal? Nationwide is teaming up with the government to offer super-low rates but these could fuel house price rises


Money: Assets: The low-cost ways to buy shares: Most fund managers fail to beat market indices such as the FTSE 100. Patrick Collinson looks at some cheaper, better-performing alternatives

By Patrick Collinson

Fund managers are some of the highest-paid people in the City, regularly raking in pounds 1m-plus salaries, yet fewer than four in 10 "actively managed" funds beat the market index over a 10-year period.

However, there are alternatives that enable you to match the performance of almost any index at a significantly lower cost than giving your money to a Porsche-driving stockpicker. The good news is that it's not just cheaper to invest in index funds, it's easy too. Just follow our 10-point guide to investing on the cheap.

1 What is an index?

The FTSE 100 index is made up of the biggest 100 companies on the UK stock market. The index began in January 1984 at a base level of 1,000, rose to a peak of 6950.6 on 30 December 1999 and this week was trading around 6650. If you invest in an index you are investing a tiny part of your money in each company in the index. There are now thousands of indices covering virtually every market in the world.

2 What is an index fund?

Index tracker funds buy the same shares as an index, in the same proportions, and so mimic its performance. A tracker fund uses computer programmes to do the buying and selling, cutting out pricey fund managers.

There are two ways to invest in an index: either through a conventional unit trust-style tracker fund (the first was launched in the US in 1974), or through exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which began life in 1993. There are pros and cons for both. Most can also be placed in a tax-free Isa wrapper.

3 Why buy an index fund?

One reason: price. A conventional, actively managed fund on average gobbles up 2.5% of your money every year, while an index fund can be found for just 0.2% a year.

On the surface, the fund management industry tells investors they will pay an initial fee (up to 5% of your cash gone straightaway, but often discounted down to zero with a bit of shopping around) plus 1.5% of your

investment a year. Typically, 0.75% goes to the fund manager annually, a further 0.5% to the person who sold it to you, and about 0.25% to the platform that holds and administrates the fund for you.

But in truth it's much worse than that, because fund managers don't disclose turnover fees upfront. This is the cost of actually buying and selling shares in a portfolio, which adds, on average, another 0.9% a year. Throw in auditor and trustee fees and the real cost of buying an active fund is about 2.5% year in, year out.

These charges massively reduce your returns. Research from consumer group Which? shows that if you invested pounds 10,000 in a fund with no charges and it grew by 6% annually for 20 years, you'd get a return of pounds 32,071 - just over pounds 22,000 growth. If you invested in a fund with fees totalling 2.5% a year you'd be paying out pounds 12,000 in charges.

Index funds and ETFs typically charge just a fraction of traditional fund management fees, with the cheapest, such as those from Vanguard and Fidelity, at about 0.2% a year.

However, some index funds are surprisingly pricey. Virgin UK Index Tracking, which has more than pounds 2bn under management, has an annual fee of 1%, and trackers sold by Halifax and M&S are also expensive.

4 How do I buy an index fund or an ETF?

Fund supermarkets are the best place to start. These are platforms on which investors can manage investment Isas, funds and pensions all in one place. Try i.nvest at alliancetrustsavings.co.uk, Hargreaves Lansdown at hl.co.uk, Fidelity's fund supermarket at fidelity.co.uk or Cavendish Online at cavendishonline.co.uk

ETFs are more like individual shares and you buy them through share dealers such as Barclays, Halifax and TD Direct, but many are also available on the fund platforms. Note that you will pay dealing fees and other admin costs.

5 Which index tracker should I choose?

First decide which market you want to be in - the UK, Europe, the US, emerging markets and so on.

Indexing tends to work better in big, developed markets, but can be expensive if you want to track indices in less developed, illiquid markets.

Vanguard is the giant in index investing, offering both funds and ETFs, with Fidelity making a major push into the market.

6 Which is cheapest for tracking the FTSE?

Fees change regularly in what is a very competitive market, but this is a selection of the best:

* Vanguard FTSE 100 ETF Fee: 0.1%. Buy at TDDirectInvesting.co.uk on a standard dealing charge of pounds 15 plus a quarterly admin fee of pounds 15. If you invest more than pounds 15,000 the fees are waived so you only pay the 0.1%.

* SWIP Foundation Growth Tracks the FTSE All-Share. Fee: 0.1%. Only available at Hargreaves Lansdown, which adds a pounds 2 monthly fee. If you are investing less than pounds 15,000 this is a good option.

* HSBC FTSE 100 Index Fund Fee: 0.17%. If you buy at HSBC's Global Investment Centre there is a 0.39% account fee on top. Buy at Cavendish Online for a total of 0.35%.

* Fidelity Moneybuilder UK Index Tracks the FTSE All-Share. Fee: 0.3%. No additional charges if you invest at Fidelity.co.uk.

7 Which is cheapest for tracking global markets?

* To invest across the world, try Vanguard Life Strategy 80%. It is a pack of index funds covering UK, US, emerging markets and bonds, and is one of the best-selling funds on i.nvest. Fee: annual 0.32% plus 0.24% initial.

* To invest in the US, try Fidelity Moneybuilder US Index Tracker. Fee 0.3%. No additional charges if you invest at Fidelity.co.uk.

* For Europe try iShares Euro Stoxx Total Market Value Large ETF. Tracks large companies in European markets. Fee: 0.4%.

8 Which are better - index funds or ETFs?

There's not a lot between them, apart from the fact that ETFs are listed on a stock exchange, like shares, and can be traded any time the market is open. Proponents of ETFs claim they are more transparent, liquid and flexible than traditional funds, and are often cheaper. What is undoubtedly true is that ETFs enable you to track not just equity indices but a wide range of other things, such as commodities.

There are, however, worries about synthetic ETFs which do not physically buy the underlying stocks but use a derivative instead. Critics, such as Terry Smith of fundsmith.co.uk, claim they are full of "unappreciated risks".

9 What if it all goes wrong?

If the stock market falls, bad luck. There is no compensation scheme that protects small investors from shares going down in price. But the Financial Services Compensation Scheme does cover you for the first pounds 50,000 if the firm you invest through defaults.

10 Is a tracker for me?

They make sense as a cheap, core holding for any investor, so long as you follow some basic rules: diversify your investments, hold for the long term and drip-feed in your money through regular savings.

Seeking advice?:

No-obligation investment advice is available from Guardian Investing, provided by Skipton Financial Services. If you have any longer-term financial aspirations but are unsure of how to achieve them, it could pay off to obtain personal financial advice. Visit

guardianinvesting.co.uk

Captions:

Cashing in: City stockpickers are handsomely rewarded, but index funds mean you don't have to add to their swollen coffers


Money: New this week: Mortgages

By Miles Brignall

Tesco bank has announced three new fixed-rate mortgage products over two, three and five years at 60% loan-to-value. Pick of the bunch is the five-year fixed rate at 2.49%. It comes with a product fee of pounds 1,300 and a non-refundable booking charge of pounds 195. The two-year fixed rate deal is offered on the same terms but is charged at 1.74%.

At the same time, rates on its range of tracker mortgages have been reduced. Tesco offers loans at up to 80% LTV.

The bank says customers taking out a mortgage with it will also receive a "thank you" with Tesco Clubcard points as they repay their mortgage, collecting one point for every pounds 4 on their monthly mortgage repayments.


Money: New this week: Buy-to-let

By Patrick Collinson

Leeds building society has cut interest rates on its buy-to-let mortgage range by up to 0.7%. It has sliced 0.59% off its two-year fixed landlord mortgage, reducing the pay rate to 3.4% from 3.99%, while its discounted buy-to-let comes down 0.7% to 3.29% from 3.99%.

The loans are available to landlords able to put down deposits of 25-30%, and both carry fees of pounds 999. At the end of the two-year term the rate reverts to Leeds' buy-to-let standard variable rate, which is currently 5.99%. But long-term tracker deals may be more attractive to landlords, with HSBC offering a best buy 3.49% deal for the term of the mortgage.


Money: New this week: Savings

By Sylvia Waycot

The latest savings offering from the Coventry building society - its three-year fixed rate Isa - is a chart topper at 2.50%.

The Issue 17 tax free saver runs until 31 May 2016. You need to invest your entire annual Isa allowance of pounds 5,760 to open the account and once invested, there is no early access to money except on closure or transfer out.

Those choosing to transfer out before the closing date will be hit with 120 days' loss of interest. Transfers in are restricted to the 2013/14 allowance only.

Elsewhere, the Cheshire is still paying 2.3% on its instant access Isa account. Minimum investment is pounds 1,000.


Money: New this week: Personal loans

By Sylvia Waycot

If you are an existing customer of M&S Bank, you will be able to benefit from reduced rates offered on unsecured personal loans.

At 6.9% for a loan of pounds 5,000 to pounds 7,499; 5.0% to pounds 15,000; and 7.2% APR to pounds 25,000, the rates are some of the most competitive available within the personal loans market.

However, to be approved applicants need to be aged 30 or over, or a homeowner.

Meanwhile, Clydesdale bank and Yorkshire bank have also reduced online unsecured personal loan rates. The most competitively priced tiers are 6.9% for loans of pounds 5,000 to pounds 7,499 and 7.0% for loans of pounds 15,001 to pounds 25,000.


Money: New this week: Retail bonds

By Patrick Collinson

A new retail bond offering a fixed interest rate of 7.5% payable quarterly for the next four years has been launched by Energy Bonds plc to develop solar farms and other renewable projects. But investors should note these bonds are not the same as deposit accounts and are not protected by the pounds 85,000 Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

The investment is unsecured and the ability of the company to return the capital at the end of four years will depend on the success of its projects. Energy Bonds is a subsidiary of CBD Energy, an Australian company that told its shareholders last year had been a "tough one" and that CBD "has found it hard to finance the project opportunities it has found."


Work: Dear Jeremy: Problems at work? Our agony uncle - and you, the readers - have the answers

By Jeremy Bullmore

How can I begin to contribute more and progress at work?

I am 33 and have worked in software development for a government department for the past four years. My previous career, for six years, was as a police officer. Over time I discovered I was not suited to policing - I wanted a break from confrontational behaviour, and a more predictable work-life balance. I returned to university to do an master's in computer science.

Recently I have felt disappointed about still being in a graduate-level job while my peers have moved on to managerial level. However my line manager feels I do not demonstrate key skills, such as working with others, communicating and influencing. I have repeatedly had feedback that I don't show enough initiative, have poor networking skills and don't contribute enough at meetings. Part of the problem, I think, is that I am still thinking in terms of the police working culture: showing deference towards superiors and waiting to receive instructions. How can I change so that I can progress?

Jeremy says

I think it likely that you are at least half way towards an accurate self analysis. Taking instructions, with minimal challenge, must be a necessary part of being an effective police officer.

But I find it interesting that this was not your reason for leaving the police force. You didn't leave because you were denied the opportunity to take initiative; you left for other reasons. And this leads me to believe that the low-key behaviour your line manager has drawn your attention to - and which you seem to accept as fair comment - is the consequence not just of police force conditioning but also of your natural temperament. You have had four years to free yourself from any sense of cultural constraint - and have clearly failed to do so.

I strongly suspect that in neither job has anyone handed you a project you were expected to take ultimate responsibility for. And in your current role you seem never to have put your hand up and shown any interest in any such assignment. It's high time you did.

Rather than suddenly trying to appear generally more dynamic, which wouldn't come naturally to you and might seem odd, I think you should ask your line manager to give you a small but discrete project to manage. Your line manager says you've failed to demonstrate teamwork skills, influencing, communicating and taking initiative. To date, you haven't had to. But once you've agreed to be accountable for the completion of a given task, these become practical, necessary skills - without them you will fail.

My guess is you will rise to the occasion. With a concrete objective firmly in mind you will find yourself behaving quite differently. And when you've brought one small project to a successful conclusion, a path to promotion becomes altogether more likely.

Readers say

* I would observe others and try to gain an insight into what is required. I watch people to see how they operate: do they listen or cut in when people are talking; are they communicating face-to-face, sending email updates out, on conference calls constantly? What can appear to be a person walking round the office chatting can actually be subtle networking - take time out to find out what's happening in their world, while giving face-to-face updates to stakeholders or colleagues. gmoney-1664

* Many managers look to promote only those who work in the same way they do. In fact there are many management styles and they suit different types of environment and staff. If you are not appreciated, it is time to look for a new job where you may fit in better with the culture. Take your experience and move on. RDUK123

My first job has turned into a bit of a disaster - should I admit defeat?

I am struggling in my first job. I have been here three months, with another three months of my probation to go. When I started they said I'd be "learning on the job". Since then I have had two days of formal programming training, which was extremely basic compared to my day-to-day work.

My manager knows nothing about programming. I have asked him for advice, but he says I should talk to other people fulfilling similar duties. I have asked others for help, but few understand the work I am doing. I am frustrated and angry that my first job has become such a nightmare.

I am as qualified as other people in the office, but I feel isolated as my role is unique. I feel unsupported and am regularly made to feel like an idiot. Moreover, my manager has posted two vacancies - one which sounds remarkably similar to my role. Should I cut my losses and leave at the end of my probation, or will I look inadequate? When do I admit I have simply been defeated and move on to a less challenging career?

Jeremy says

Unless you are a sublimely confident person, which clearly you're not, first jobs can be confusing. In your case you are torn between believing you have been given inadequate support and training, and wondering if you've made an ill-advised career choice.

Please don't judge an entire industry on the basis of three months' experience at one company. Nothing you've experienced should convince you that you should "move on to a less challenging career". Yes, you're floundering a bit; that's common enough when starting out. But it's also fairly obvious that your company - and your manager - are out of their depth as well.

But you do need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. A good degree may be a necessary qualification for getting a job; but it's never, of itself, a qualification for doing a job. Do everything you can in the next three months to overcome the problems you describe. At the same time, research other companies that seem more likely to understand the nature of your work.

You'll find this difficult to believe but - looking back, whatever the outcome - this deeply unsatisfactory period will prove to have been invaluable. But not if you chuck in the towel now.

Readers say

* You're probably used to having fairly clear definitions of "correct" and "incorrect", and the time to do things properly. Work is often more about pragmatically muddling through. It isn't necessarily easy, but you may find you become happier if you can adjust your expectations to better suit the environment you are now in. MrCrane

* As a new developer you will make mistakes, especially when learning a new technology. It will largely be up to you to spot these, although if they result in a system that works you may not be able to spend time fixing them. Sometimes we know we produce code that is not optimal but simply do not have time to fix it - the good news is our management often has no idea, as they can't write code. ashvince


Money: Bachelor & Brignall: Consumer champions Lisa Bachelor and Miles Brignall fight for your rights

By Lisa Bachelor and Miles Brignall

Nationwide credit limit turned into a 999 call

I have been a loyal Nationwide credit card customer for more than 15 years, always paying off my pounds 700-pounds 5,000 monthly balance in full. Over the years my credit limit has risen steadily to pounds 12,000. In January, I told Nationwide I was going to Australia for a month. A few days after I had arrived I logged on to the account via the internet to find that my credit limit had been reduced from pounds 12,000 to pounds 600. As there was already pounds 540-worth of transactions I was left with just pounds 60 spending power.

My message asking why this had happened, and asking for my limit to be returned at least until I returned, was met with a "no", although I was told I could appeal.

Fortunately I have good friends in Australia and was able to borrow money, and I had access to another source of funds. When I got home I found a letter from the building society telling me about the cut to my limit. It said it had been made because there was something on my Experian credit record, but would not say what. I duly paid pounds 15 to access my file and found I had a top score of 999 and was rated "excellent".

I have written to Nationwide pointing this out, and to appeal the decision, but it has not bothered to reply. What annoys me is that I have been a customer for 15 years - never once have I missed a full payment - but this apparently counts for nothing. My limit is still a useless pounds 600.

JB, Scarborough

This was a case of poor customer service, and unfortunate timing, to say the least. As soon as we got your letter we suspected this had something to do with a mobile phone company - most of the problems we see with credit files originate there - and so it proved.

It seems that several months earlier someone had taken out an O2 mobile phone contract in your name. You thought the matter had all been resolved, but we now think that this caused a missed payment to appear on your file, which in turn caused Nationwide to take this panicky action.

Normally, this would not have had such an impact, but the fact you had just left for a month abroad turned this into a major drama.

We asked Nationwide for an explanation and it accepts it has not covered itself in glory in handling your case.

"The level of customer service that JB has received on both the original issue and subsequent complaint has fallen below the standards that customers are entitled to expect from Nationwide and, for that, we are sorry. We will be writing to JB and, as a gesture of goodwill, we will be offering him a compensation payment of pounds 250." It has also restored your limit to the pounds 7,000 that you requested.

In the meantime, this is yet another warning not to ignore or under estimate the impact of anything negative appearing on your credit file. The banks seem to have lost the plot when faced with even tiny amounts of missed payments, even though many of them turn out to have been falsely applied - as happened in this case.

The mobile phone companies are so poorly run in this regard - as you can see in another letter below - that these things are happening all the time. Mortgages have been turned down for such things.

If you have any kind of payment problems with a mobile account in your name you need to monitor your credit file closely.

Turbo-charged run-in over warranty claim

Last August I bought a three-year-old Mazda 6 with just under 70,000 miles on the clock from an independent dealer. It had a new MOT and came with a full Mazda service history. I decided to take out an extended warranty and, after shopping around, I opted for a Go Car "Ultimate" warranty. It seemed very comprehensive and I paid pounds 314.

On 1 November my car blew up in a cloud of smoke while on the outside lane of the motorway. After speaking to Go Car it was taken to the nearest Mazda dealer where it was diagnosed as having a turbo failure (the turbo shaft had cracked). The part was sent off to Go Car for assessment, which took 10 working days - 10 days without a car for work. They eventually got back to me and stated that the problem was due to wear and tear. Despite several calls to Go Car's premium rate number they refused to budge. I had no choice but to pay pounds 1,355 to get the car repaired.

I appealed the claim but they are sticking by their decision, claiming wear and tear due to "heat tarnishing" in the bearings and not a "sudden mechanical breakdown". It seems Go Car could use the "wear and tear" excuse to reject any claim - the car is covered unless it has been driven!

The dealer told me that under a Mazda warranty, the turbo would have been replaced without quibble. Several friends working in the motor industry have agreed that this sort of failure is always covered in the extended warranties.

RB, Lancaster

Spend a little time on the internet and it does not take long to find other customers of Go Car and its sister firm AutoProtect (both based in Harlow) who have had a similar experience - claims being turned down and being blamed on wear and tear. It's hard to see how turbo failure can be blamed on such a matter. Had you not serviced the car properly, or it had been suffering oil starvation, these would have been reasonable grounds for a claim to be rejected, but neither was true.

The fact that diesel Mazdas of this age are well known for turbo failure only adds to your case. We asked Go Car to explain and it has had a rethink. It now says an engineer's report found the part had been tarnished due to lack of lubrication.

"On review, RB stated that he had a full manufacturer's service history, which cast doubt on the assessing engineer's opinion. It is our normal practice to settle in favour of the customer where there is a grey area regarding liability," it says. It is now sending you a cheque for the pounds 1,335 repair bills. Any other reader who is having problems getting this firm to pay up can quote that last sentence about favouring the customer in cases where there is a dispute.

It would be very interesting if car warranty firms were forced to reveal what percentage of claims they pay out. In our experience, many consumers who try to claim find that the policy is not worth the paper it was written on. Had Go Car not paid up, RB could have brought his claim against the supplying dealer as the problem occurred within six months of its purchase.

Orange is giving everyone the pip

I am on a gap year in China. As I was not taking my Orange phone I arranged to suspend the contract for six months - at no charge - with effect from January. This agreement was confirmed by Orange in writing.

I left in September, and paid the contract up to December as agreed. In January I was dismayed to find that Orange had debited pounds 97.89 from my bank account, sending me into an unauthorised overdraft.

After attempting unsuccessfully to phone Orange from China, I asked my father to investigate. He spoke to someone who admitted there had been an error, and said the money would be refunded. This did not happen. In March my father again contacted Orange, but this time they refused to speak to him as he was not the account holder.

He forwarded the original letter Orange had sent me, pointing out that they had broken their agreement. There was no response. In April he again phoned Orange and was given a customer services email address. My email to them bounced straight back. Proposed callbacks have not happened and I am still overdrawn.

AL, Foshan, China

We are struck by the number of complaints we are getting about Orange. Whether it's the merger with T-Mobile to form EE, or the result of something else, we're unsure.

Once we became involved the press office swung into immediate action, with a profuse apology and the promise to repay you - with pounds 50 on top to cover your overdraft charges. Astonishingly, however, another month later you are still waiting for your money.

Get on track for the best railcard deal

National Rail offered me a 10% reduction if I ordered my railcard early online. I did so, and found that although my current card expires on 10 June, the new one only runs until 23 May 2014. I have returned it and requested a refund. The only way to save money is to wait until the next train journey after a card has expired, and then buy it. Even so, the price continues to go up much faster than inflation, and faster than the cost of some rail tickets. You might like to warn readers!

TA, Cambridge

Job done.



GUARDIAN SPORT PAGES

pounds 50m: Suarez can go, say Liverpool, but only for more than this

By Andy Hunter

Liverpool will consider selling Luis Suarez but only for a club-record fee of more than pounds 50m. Their leading striker is intent on ending a turbulent two-and-a-half-year career in English football.

Suarez declared yesterday that he wants to leave Liverpool when giving a third interview in two days expressing disillusionment with life in England. He had previously encouraged interest from Real Madrid by stating it would be hard to reject the Spanish club, then suggested it is time for a "change of environment" before taking matters further and announcing his desire to quit the Premier League.

That prompted an emphatic response from Liverpool, who have been unable to rein in the 26-year-old while he is on international duty in his native Uruguay but are determined not to be coerced into a deal with Madrid or any other club. A Liverpool spokesperson said: "Luis Suarez is not for sale. Neither Luis or his representatives have communicated these feelings directly to Liverpool football club. The club remains supportive of Luis and expect him to honour his contract. We will not be making any further comment at this stage."

Suarez will have to submit a written transfer request to challenge Liverpool's position but the club's stance is unlikely to change until they receive an offer greater than the pounds 50m banked from Chelsea for Fernando Torres.

Liverpool are obliged to inform Suarez of any club prepared to activate a clause, believed to be in excess of pounds 40m, that was included in the new four-year contract he signed last August. The clause will trigger negotiations should he wish to speak to that club, but not an automatic sale, and Liverpool would enter any talks insisting the Uruguay international is a better, fitter player than Torres was in January 2011.

Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, conceded last week that Suarez does have his price. He said then: "They [Fenway Sports Group, the club's owner] have been absolutely unequivocal in their resolve in terms of wanting to keep him. Listen, every player has their price but there's certainly no pressure for the club to sell him. We're trying to build that bit of quality, so he's not for sale."

Suarez has repeatedly claimed his reason for wanting to leave is not financial or the lure of Champions League football, with Liverpool failing to qualify for Europe next season, but his treatment by the press. Ahead of Uruguay's friendly against France on 4 June he said: "It is a difficult moment for me. My coach and my colleagues know that they [the media] didn't treat me well. Because of the paparazzi I could not go in my garden, I could not go to the supermarket. My reason for leaving is not the money. It's my family and image. I don't feel comfortable here any more."

Suarez was a target for photographers after he bit the Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April, an act that resulted in a 10-match ban from the FA and, he has now confirmed, prompted him to reconsider his future. "The straw that broke the camel's back was my mistake," he said of his second suspension for biting an opponent. The first was with Ajax in 2010.

The striker claims he has not agreed a deal with Real but Liverpool had feared he would push for a move despite their steadfast support over the Patrice Evra racism controversy and the Ivanovic issue. Those two incidents alone have landed Suarez with suspensions totalling 18 matches.

Jose Reina's future, meanwhile, is uncertain after Victor Valdes announced he could see out the final year of his Barcelona contract, having been expected to leave. Reina is in line to replace Valdes at Barcelona for a fee of around pounds 10m and Liverpool have been considering alternatives.


Agony for Wiggins as knee injury forces him out of Tour

By William Fotheringham

Sir Bradley Wiggins has been ruled out of defending his Tour de France title because of a knee injury which has left him with insufficient time to train properly for the event, which starts on 28 June.

The 33-year-old triple Olympic gold medallist has an inflammation in his left knee dating back several weeks and Dave Brailsford, Team Sky's principal, has confirmed that Wiggins has yet to return to full training.

Wiggins consulted a specialist on Wednesday and was advised to take five days off his bike. That will leave him with insufficient time to be fit for the Tour of Switzerland, which starts on

8 June. That in turn means he would start the Tour de France without sufficient racing in his legs to be competitive. Wiggins pulled out of the Giro d'Italia two weeks ago because of a chest infection.

Brailsford said: "With illness, injury and treatment Brad has gone past the point where he can be ready for the Tour. It's a big loss but, given these circumstances, we won't consider him for selection.

"He hasn't been able to train hard since the Giro and now he needs further rest. Whilst we all know these things happen in sport, it doesn't take away from the fact that this is a huge disappointment for everyone in the team - and above all for Brad. It's incredibly sad to have the reigning champion at Team Sky but not lining up at the Tour. But he's a champion, a formidable athlete and will come back winning as he has before."

It is not unprecedented for a defending champion to be absent from the Tour but most often in recent years this has been due to drugs busts and it is rare for a minor injury to be the cause because most teams bow to the pressures that go with having the previous year's winner in their ranks. The last winner to be ruled out with injury was Stephen Roche in 1988.

Wiggins told Team Sky's website: "It's a huge disappointment not to make the Tour. I desperately wanted to be there, for the team and for all the fans along the way - but it's not going to happen. I can't train the way I need to train and I'm not going to be ready. Once you accept that, it's almost a relief not having to worry about the injury and the race against time."

What now for Wiggins, page 13 ≥⃒


Gatland's men must not hang their heads if early form falls short: Here's for starters: Lions' history shows a bad start in Australia need not be a portent of doom for the Tests, writes Paul Rees

By Paul Rees

1971 Queensland Reds 15 Lions 11

The last time the Lions lost a tour opener

1974 Western Transvaal 13 Lions 69

Two tries apiece for Gareth Edwards and Tommy David in thumping win

1977 Wairarapa/Bush 13 Lions 41

JJ Williams ran in a thrilling try treble

1980 Eastern Province 16 Lions 28 Gareth Davies kicked 11 points in front

of 25,000 fans

1983 Wanganui 15 Lions 47

Jeff Squire ran in a brace and Dusty Hare kicked 21 points

1989 Western Australia 0 Lions 44

Three tries for Brendan Mullin and and two for Rory Underwood

1993 North Auckland 17 Lions 30

All 47 points were scored in the second half

1997 Eastern Province 11 Lions 39 Jeremy Guscott scored twice and Neil Jenkins kicked 14 points

2001 Western Australia 10 Lions 116 Scott Quinnell and Dan Luger both scored hat-tricks in an 18-try romp

2005 Lions 25 Argentina 25

Tour started on home soil before heading for New Zealand. Jonny Wilkinson scored six penalties in a 20-point haul

2009 Royal XV 25 Lions 37

The tourists clawed back a half-time deficit with Ronan O'Gara contributing 17 points with the boot

The opening match of a Lions tour used to be regarded a gentle way of removing cobwebs and dust. The last time they were in Australia, in 2001, their first stop was Perth, then a city that did not host a professional team, and Western Australia were crushed, as they had been in the first-up matches in 1966 and 1989.

The 116-10 scoreline 12 years ago is the biggest victory recorded by the Lions. The low quality of the amateur opposition meant that the head coach Graham Henry drove his players hard in training at their base in Fremantle, overly so, he now admits, beasting the squad when they were still suffering from jet lag.

This year is different. The opening game against the Barbarians should give Warren Gatland an indication of Test candidates and combinations, although not if the invitation club are as hapless and unmotivated as the team who were overwhelmed by young England at Twickenham last Sunday.

"The first two games 12 years ago saw us play weak teams and it effectively shortened our buildup to the first Test," said the 2001 captain, Martin Johnson. "The schedule this time is harder and it means that every player will have the opportunity to prove himself against better quality opposition. A Lions tour is all about the Test series, which is why the games leading up to the opening international are so important for everyone involved."

Gatland was part of the management team in South Africa four years ago. The first match was against a Royal XV in Rustenburg and it was not the expected romp against a scratch side of players from the country's lesser provinces. The Lions were trailing in the final quarter of the match before a 24-point salvo in 14 minutes saved them the indignity of a repeat of 1955 when they Lions had lost to Western Transvaal in the opening match, a defeat regarded as one of the most embarrassing suffered by the tourists.

"If you look at the last couple of tours, it has been hard for the players involved in the first game," said Gatland (in 2005, the Lions drew with Argentina in Cardiff before leaving for New Zealand). "This year we are largely using players who have trained with us for more than two weeks and they have the opportunity to set the tone for the tour: it is going to be tough for the players coming in for the second and third matches because they will have had less time to prepare."

Gatland has said that everyone in the 37-strong squad, injuries allowing, will start at least one of the first three matches: the Lions face Western Force in Perth on Wednesday before taking on the Reds in Brisbane three days later. He and his fellow coaches will then have a firmer idea of their starting lineup for the first Test on 22 June and the selections for the fourth and fifth matches will be revealing.

When the Lions toured Australia in 1989, they also had six games before the first Test. "I played in the opening game in 1989," said the former Scotland centre Scott Hastings. "It was all about hitting the ground running and setting a marker. It is difficult to mould a team out of players from four different countries in such a short space of time and in Perth it was a case of putting our processes in place."

If opening-day defeats are rare for the Lions, they are not a portent of doom. In their 28 tours they have got off to a losing start four times: in 1903 and 1924 in South Africa when the series were lost, in 1955 when they drew the rubber with the Springboks and in 1971 when, after losing to Queensland en route to New Zealand, they became the first Lions to win a series against the All Blacks.

The Queensland coach 42 years ago, Des Connor, was no Nostradamus. He predicted after his side's 15-11 victory, in a match that was played some 58 hours after the tourists had arrived and had just one light training session, that New Zealand would not have seen a worse Lions team. "These Lions are hopeless," he said.

The Lions knew better. "As the New Zealand press prepared its obituaries," wrote the Lions No8 Mervyn Davies, who died last year, in his autobiography, "we knew that jet lag was the root cause of our sluggishness during those two games, not the opposition. We were a group of players full of self-belief, believing that we could become the first touring team to win a series against the All Blacks on their home soil."

The Lions then had 10 matches in New Zealand before the first Test and won them all. Defeat in Hong Kong would put Gatland's men on the back foot but a Lions tour is not shaped by the first match.

"What you invariably see in the first couple of games is someone unexpected putting himself in the frame for the first Test," Hastings said. "That is why everyone who starts against the Barbarians will relish the early opportunity they have been given."

The Lions tour is exclusively live on Sky Sports HD

Captions:

Toby Faletau, the Lions and Newport Gwent Dragons back-row forward, tries to cool down at Hong Kong's Aberdeen Sports Ground David Rogers/Getty


Touring party primed to raise the standard and scale highest peak: Challenge facing class of 2013 in Australia is as daunting as ever: Barbarians v Lions

By Robert Kitson in Hong Kong

The renowned coach Jim Telfer used to compare a Lions tour to attempting to conquer Everest. Given that an octogenarian has just scaled the world's highest peak it may be time for a new metaphor but the challenge stretching ahead of the 2013 Lions remains as daunting as ever. Only once in the past 20 years have Britain and Ireland's finest managed to win a Test series and this latest expedition will once again be a relentless examination of mind, body and spirit.

Even without the almost absurd heat and humidity the squad are encountering on their south-east Asian stop-off - the hottest day of the year is forecast this weekend - there is already a collective sense that sweat-stained mediocrity will not be sufficient. Only the best will be good enough and everyone, from the head coach, Warren Gatland, to the popular kit man Patrick "Rala" O'Reilly, knows it. Touring with the Lions remains a sizeable honour but winning with the Lions is the holy grail.

This breathless pursuit of excellence on the far side of the world is what makes the Lions special. Few players sum up the intensity of motivation better than Jamie Roberts, the Welsh centre who formed an outstanding midfield partnership with Brian O'Driscoll in South Africa four years ago only to finish on the losing side. "It burns in the back of your mind until the next tour," murmured Roberts yesterday. "Ultimately it's not about individual goals, it's about being part of a tour that wins."

Roberts, who among other things over the past four years has qualified as a doctor, recalls in graphic detail the scenes of post-match desolation that followed the Lions' emotionally draining defeat to the Springboks in Pretoria. "The changing room after the second Test was unlike anything I've experienced. I also remember the hospital waiting room after the game. Five of us were in the outpatients department, just sitting there with our heads in our hands."

Such searing memories are clearly also driving Roberts' Welsh colleagues, several of whom may once again prove pivotal figures. The scrum-half Mike Phillips, among the stars of 2009, believes mixing with the best players from four different countries has a uniquely galvanising effect. "You are surrounded by great players which tends to bring out the best in you. You don't want to let anyone down. You know what big occasions they are and what they mean to everyone."

Even someone as experienced as Andy Farrell, the former Great Britain rugby league captain, admits he has been taken aback by what he has seen in training. "They're obviously big and powerful and their contact skills are very good but they can play a wide expansive, counterattacking game as quick as any team I've seen. Whatever way you want to play it, these guys can do it. Their fitness levels, size, strength and power are absolutely phenomenal. Put that together with the skills they possess and it is fantastic to watch on the training field."

The big snag, is the ticking of the clock. Such is the concertina nature of the trip that some individuals may have only a couple of starts in which to stake a claim for a first-Test spot on 22 June. The slight difference on this occasion is the core of nine Welshmen who are in the XV for the opening fixture, all of them intimately acquainted with Gatland's methods. It is the main reason why the management believe these perspiring Lions are better prepared than at this same stage in South Africa.

All they need now is a decent first performance. Roberts reckons they will produce one, unlike in Rustenburg four years ago. "I remember that game well. A lot of us were forcing things and doing things we'd normally do with our international sides or our clubs. On a Lions tour what's important is to play as a team. The ultimate challenge of the Lions is to get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet from the first minute. The standard we set this weekend is going to set the tone for this tour."

By the time they reach Australia on Monday we should certainly be clearer as to whether Owen Farrell has recaptured a little bit of form and have a better idea which bolters are destined to emerge from the shrubbery. In the absence of Sam Warburton, still nursing a sore knee, opportunity knocks for the talented Justin Tipuric on the openside flank while the youngster of the party, Stuart Hogg, should get several chances to display his attacking ability from full-back.

Individual circumstances can change and past achievements are suddenly relative, regardless of age or reputation. "The coaches have hammered that home," Roberts said. "However experienced you are, it's all about playing well for the team on this tour."

If the Lions are to succeed, they definitely need a core of leaders - Warburton, Jonathan Sexton, Adam Jones, O'Driscoll - to remain intact. Either way, who knows what could unfold? Gatland is enjoying a running gag with reporters, pointing to the sky and joking that a plane with Jonny Wilkinson on it is flying overhead. If Toulon add the French championship title this weekend to their Heineken Cup triumph the odds on that happening may slightly increase but, meanwhile, Roberts and co have business to attend to.

"We came so close in 2009. We have a chance to put it right on this tour and all the boys are desperate to recreate what the Lions did in 1997. I feel within the squad that the boys are ready to go."

As they limber up beneath Hong Kong's famous Peak, the 2013 Lions are in Everest-climbing mode.

Venue Hong Kong Stadium Kick-off 12.30pm

Referee S Walsh Aus

15 J Payne Ulster

14 J Rokocoko Bayonne

13 E Daly Wasps

12 C Laulala Munster

11 T Ngwenya Biarritz

10 N Evans Harlequins

9 D Yachvili Biarritz

1 P James Bath

2 S Brits Saracens

3 M Castrogiovani

Leicester

4 M Wentzel Wasps

5 D Mumm Exeter

6 S Manoa North'ton

7 S Jones Wasps

8 S Parisse S Francais

Replacements L Ghiraldini Treviso, D Jones Ospreys,

A Lo Cicero Racing Metro,

J Hamilton Gloucester,

I Harinordoquy Biarritz,

K Fotuali'i Ospreys,

J Hook Perpignan,

M Tindall Gloucester

15 S Hogg Glasgow

14 A Cuthbert Cardiff

13 J Davies Scarlets

12 J Roberts Cardiff

11 S Maitland Glasgow

10 O Farrell Saracens

9 M Phillips Bayonne

1 M Vunipola Saracens

2 R Hibbard Ospreys

3 A Jones Ospreys

4 R Gray Castres

5 P O'Connell Munster

6 D Lydiate Rac Metro

7 J Tipuric Ospreys

8 T Faletau New-Gwent

Replacements T Youngs Leicester, C Healey Leinster, M Stevens Saracens,

A Wyn-Jones Ospreys,

J Heaslip Leinster,

C Murray Munster,

J Sexton Leinster,

G North Ospreys


TV

Today

Football

Real Madrid v Osasuna

Sky Sports 1, 3.55pm

Barcelona v Malaga

Sky Sports 1, 6pm

Bayern Munich v

VfB Stuttgart

ESPN, 7.15pm

Deportivo La Coruna v Real Sociedad

Sky Sports 1, 8pm

Cricket

India v Sri Lanka

Sky Sports 2.250.25am

Worcs v Warks

Sky Sports 3, 1.30pm

Golf

Nordea Masters

Sky Sports 4.302.30pm

Memorial Tournament

Sky Sports 3, 7.30pm

Tennis

French Open

Eurosport, 9.30am; ITV4, 9.30am

Motorcycling

Italian Moto GP qualifying

Eurosport 2.301.30am; BBC1, 1pm

Racing

The Morning Line

Channel 4, 9am

Epsom Derby

Channel 4, 1pm

Speedway

Great Britain Grand Prix

Eurosport 2, 3pm

Tomorrow

Motorcycling

Italian Moto GP

Eurosport 2, 9.45am; BBC2.302.30pm

Cricket

England v

New Zealand

Sky Sports 1.300.30am

Second ODI highlights

Channel 5, 7pm

Golf

Nordea Masters

Sky Sports 2.302.30pm

Memorial Tournament

Sky Sports 2, 5pm;

Sky Sports 1, 7pm

Football

Rep of Ireland v Georgia

Sky Sports 2, 5pm

USA v Germany

ESPN, 7pm

Tennis

French Open

ITV4, 9.30am; Eurosport, 9.30am; Eurosport 2, 3.30pm

French Open highlights

ITV, 11.25pm

Australian rules

Melbourne v St Kilda

ESPN, 7.30am

Triathlon

World Championship

BBC2, 2pm

Motor sport

German Touring Cars

ESPN, 12.30pm

Football

Brazil v England

Chelsea's midfielder Frank Lampard is expected to captain England in their friendly at the Maracana in Rio

ITV, 7.30pm tomorrow

Rugby union

Lions v Barbarians

The Lions stop off in Hong Kong on their way to Australia and will face a side likely to include former Lion James Hook

SS1, midday today


Tour records: Tour itinerary

1 Sat 1 June Barbarians Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong 12.30pm

2 Wed 5 June Western Force Patersons Stadium, Perth 11am

3 Sat 8 June Queensland Reds Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane 10.30am

4 Tue 11 June NSW-Qld Country Hunter Stadium, Newcastle 10.30am

5 Sat 15 June NSW Waratahs Allianz Stadium, Sydney 10.30am

6 Tues 18 June ACT Brumbies Canberra Stadium, Canberra 10.30am

7 Sat 22 June 1st Test Australia Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane 11am

8 Tue 25 June Melbourne AAMI Park, Melbourne 10.30am

9 Sat 29 June 2nd Test Australia Etihad Stadium, Melbourne 11am

10 Sat 6 July 3rd Test Australia ANZ Stadium, Sydney 11am

75%

40%

Captions:

Lions v Australia

tour record

Lions have won six of their eight Australian tours,

an impressive

75% win record

Lions tour record

Lions' overall tour record is lower,

having won 14,

drawn one and lost

20 of the 35 tours

in their history


On the web guardian.co.uk/sport

The best in live minute-by-minute coverage all weekend

Rugby union

Follow the action from the Lions' tour opener against the Barbarians at 12.30pm with Scott Murray

guardian.co.uk/sport

Horse racing

Greg Wood and Chris Cook will be providing Derby day updates from Epsom on our Talking Horses blog

guardian.co.uk/horseracing

Football

Follow England's game against Brazil at the revamped Maracana with Marcus Christenson at 8pm

guardian.co.uk/football


A new experience: for once we are not the underdogs

By Shaun Edwards

The tour starts here. Paul O'Connell leads the British and Irish Lions out at the Hong Kong stadium today - their first game in Asia, but not by a long way the strangest venue in their 125-year history - and the ballyhoo will start in earnest. If former Lions are already surprised at the level of hype surrounding this tour, then I suspect they are in for further surprises. Why? Well, for once the Lions venture abroad as favourites.

In fact, for the first time in the era of professional rugby, when the Lions boarded their plane at Heathrow it was with full expectation of a series win. Set aside all those difficulties that come with bringing together 30-plus players, many of whom only know each other as opponents, and for once there is the prospect of them being top dogs when the tour ends with the third Test at Sydney early in July.

The party looked good on paper and with very few exceptions it's those players whom Warren Gatland will have wanted. In the case of Matt Stevens - a kind of bolter in reverse - it's inspired and if the loss of Dylan Hartley is unfortunate - especially for him - his replacement by Rory Best does little, if anything, to diminish the squad. In fact, considering the casualties that normally come with the business end of a season, the Lions have got off lightly while their opponents are the ones with a few problems. It wasn't always the way, as a bit of research with a few former Lions and a handy new arrival* shows.

Even in 1997 - the first tour of the "open" era - when South Africa were in something close to disarray, the Lions were ranked as outsiders. Nice guys are more likely to win friends than rugby matches, because South Africa were the reigning world champions. The Springboks may have lost their coach and their captain, Francois Pienaar, but the abiding memory was of Lions defeat four years earlier and a history where the glory years were a little way off.

Pessimists back home were even predicting the demise of a tradition which seemed more at home in the amateur age. It was to be a running theme that I knew only too well, only silenced in 1997 when a Jerry Guscott drop goal and some ferocious defending gave the Lions a 2-0 lead in the series.

Australia in 2001 was again against the current world champions and if Rod Macqueen seized the underdog label for his Wallabies, it must be remembered that they were also the holders of the Bledisloe and Tri-Nations trophies.In addition, the 2001 tour had the rare distinction of being regarded as unhappy both on the field and off, with the series revolving around the moment when Nathan Grey's elbow contacted Richard Hill's face. If 2005 in New Zealand was about as definitive as a series defeat gets, then I can remember preparing for 2009 in South Africa with the mindset of someone who was looking for a win while quietly hoping we did not embarrass ourselves. That we lost after going close was truly disappointing, but when we got home there were plenty saying that the tension of that second Test, settled by Morne Steyn's last-gasp penalty from inside his own half, and a record victory in the third Test had banished ongoing doubts about the viability of a side which had not previously won since Brisbane - nine games and eight years earlier.

This time you feel that the Lions are about as strong as they can be and particularly since those two former captains Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell pronounced themselves fit. Between them they have well over 200 Ireland caps and are on a seventh Lions trip, but in addition to all that experience O'Connell will make sure the lineout works while O'Driscoll will be a handy lieutenant for Sam Warburton, not the most vocal of captains.

I also think it's a big plus that the referees controlling the game will be supported by top-notch officials running the line. In big matches you need three good men in control and with acknowledged Test referees holding the flags and in constant radio connection it goes a long way towards avoiding any lack of understanding - for instance, the difference between a rush defence getting their timing perfect, rather than being offside - undermining an otherwise winning performance.

Believe me, it's happened.

*125 years of the British & Irish Lions by Clem and Greg Thomas

Captions:

Paul O'Connell will lead out the Lions in Hong Kong David Rogers/Getty Images


Bargain hunt: How the marketing men joined the scrum for a big slice of history: Today it is big business but the first Lions tour to break even did not come until 1991, writes Owen Gibson

By Owen Gibson

Stuck for gift ideas for the rugby lovers in your life? Look no further than Lions official merchandise . . .

Infants footysuit pounds 19.99

Cotton baby onesie for the little Lions fan in the family, below

Lions gold cufflinks pounds 110

Gold-plated cufflinks engraved with the Lions emblem. 'Subtle sporting style for gents,' apparently

All over player/stripe scarf pounds 150

One side Merino wool, one side Italian silk. Pricey option

Red and gold Lions tie pounds 59

Red tie emblazoned with golden Lions. Surefire hit in rugby club bar

The first precursor to what became the Lions tour, in 1888, was not officially sanctioned by rugby's authorities but was the creation of two commercially savvy cricket enthusiasts. With the template set by the marathon 35-match jaunt around Australia and New Zealand organised by Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury, the rugby authorities were quick to recognise its potential. The entreprenurial, commercial mindset stuck, and has only accelerated since the game went professional.

So when visitors arrived at the hotel where Warren Gatland's squad gathered for the first time, they were greeted by a convoy of Land Rovers, one of the line-up of official Lions sponsors. Outside on the lawn, men in all-in-one lycra outfits chucked a rugby ball around as part of a marketing stunt for one of the many Lions sponsors and partners.

Inside, piles of official Adidas Lions kit were lined up waiting to be collected by the 37-strong squad - the engine of a merchandising machine that has become a huge moneyspinner for the sportswear giant, while the relationship with "principal partner" HSBC, whose logo is emblazoned on those shirts, has endured beyond the financial crash.

Tim Crow, the chief executive of the sponsorship agency Synergy, has worked on behalf of several Lions sponsors down the years including NTL, the cable giant that later became Virgin Media, and Guinness. "The growth of it is unbelievable. We worked with NTL in 2001 on the shirt sponsorship - they paid less than pounds 1m. HSBC are paying seven or eight times that now. In a decade that is pretty incredible," says Crow.

In hindsight, the 1997 tour overseen by Sir Ian McGeechan and led by captain Martin Johnson looks like something of a watershed. The 1991 tour was the first to break even for British and Irish Lions Ltd, the wholly owned subsidiary of the four unions. Before that, the tours of the southern hemisphere had been considered loss leaders. The last one, the narrow loss to South Africa in 2009, generated the most profit of any so far - around pounds 4m.

It was the success of the 1997 vintage, allied to the wider audience attracted by the tour film Living With the Lions and the personalities in a squad breaking new ground as the game found its feet in the professional era, that created an alchemy that marketeers have been keen to tap into ever since. Crow believes that in a saturated sporting landscape, the scarcity of a Lions tour increases its value. "It's the mystique factor. It is unique and has this unique heritage. It is once every four years and it's the best of the best," he said.

The HSBC ad campaign unashamedly taps into that spirit of buccaneering adventure, featuring famous Lions names aboard a ship heading for Australia in a tongue-in-cheek recreation of the first tour 125 years ago. "The sport swells and it draws in people who aren't traditional fans. It lands with the rugby heartland of that affluent audience but also draws in general sports fans," says Crow.

Adidas, for whom shirt sales of the distinctive red jersey rivalled some of its biggest selling football replica in 2009, is expected to launch a marketing campaign playing on 2013 being a year of sporting rivalry with the Australians and cross-promoting its Ashes and Lions relationships. If 2012 was dominated by the Olympics for the company, 2013 has been identified as the summer of the Lions and the Ashes.

But for the Lions to continue working their commercial magic, Crow believes they also need to deliver on the pitch. "1997 is starting to feel like a long time ago. They've got to win the series, if they don't it will be 20 years since they won. They were close in 2009 but Australia is the one that is easiest of the three. If they don't it won't be great for the Lions as a brand."


Big day for ... five players who must shine against Barbarians

By Paul Rees

Sean Maitland

The Scotland wing was one of the few surprises in the squad and will need to make an immediate impact today with George North, who is on the bench, the favourite to play on the left wing in the Tests. He knows Warren Gatland well, having made his Waikato debut when the Lions head coach was in charge of the province

Jonathan Davies

Despite being a fixture in the Wales team and admired by Gatland, he has been seen as the fourth centre after Brian O'Driscoll, Manu Tuilagi and Jamie Roberts, all of whom have been mentioned by the Lions management as potential 12s. Has the potential to be one of the tour surprises

Owen Farrell

Lauded after England's victory over New Zealand last December, he was bagged after the Six Nations thumping in Cardiff and Saracens' meek end to the season. If he is to play in the first Test ahead of Jonathan Sexton, he needs to become more reactive and not a mere executioner of moves

Richie Gray

All three Scotland players are involved in the opening game and Gray, after an uninspiring season for Sale and country, needs to rediscover the impact in the loose and appetite for action that he had last season. He and Mako Vunipola are the tight-five forwards with most to prove

Justin Tipuric

Understudying the tour captain is normally the most thankless task on a Lions tour, but with Sam Warburton nursing a knee injury that may rule him out next Wednesday, the Wales open-side, who was chosen ahead of Warburton during the Six Nations, can increase the already numerous options in the back row


Weather beaten: Humid Hong Kong ideal stage for warm-up game: Drink breaks and ice vests for the interval are planned in Lions opener, writes Robert Kitson

By Robert Kitson in Hong Kong

How the Lions have struggled to acclimatise to the hotter weather

Lions leave London. . .

Tuesday 10 degrees Cloudy, showers, wind

Lions play in Hong Kong. . .

Saturday 31 degrees

Sunshine and cloudy intervals.

Low risk of showers

While some people like it hot, there are limits. When the British & Irish Lions first announced they would be stopping off in the Far East en route to Australia they knew Hong Kong might be steamy, but today's opening fixture against the Barbarians is threatening to give a whole new literal meaning to the term "warm-up game".

With forecast humidity of between 80-90% and temperatures above 31C, conditions could hardly be more extreme for a high-profile game of rugby. The game will be stopped twice in each half for drinks breaks and ice vests will be used to try and cool down players' body temperatures during the interval. Roast Lion is one of the few dishes not regularly found on the lunch menu in these parts, but there could be lots around by the final whistle.

In training some players lost 3-4kg in a single hour's training session, with the heftier tight forwards like Wales's Adam Jones finding the experience particularly uncomfortable. Jones has even been talking about shaving off his trademark shaggy hair and beard but the Lions medical staff are confident that, with proper rehydration, they can limit the players' individual weight loss to a kilo or two apiece.

Even so it will be hard work, with the Wales centre-cum-doctor Jamie Roberts acknowledging conditions would be "alien" to both sides. "I only sat my medical finals two months ago so it doesn't make me an expert but dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and overheating are all potential risks," Roberts said. "It will be very demanding on the body and the boys are very aware it's going to be tough.

"Those water breaks are going to be very important but they host the sevens and plenty of other rugby here every year and all the players get through that all right. There are risks every time you play rugby. These conditions are obviously going to be quite alien but, hopefully, the water breaks will help the players and the spectacle."

Adverse weather is not an entirely new phenomenon on a Lions tour. As England's Peter Wheeler famously wrote on a postcard home from New Zealand in 1977: "It only rained twice last week - once for three days, the other time for four." In such circumstances it can be hard to concentrate on playing rugby but the Lions management have made it clear that they expect their team to hit the ground running, regardless of conditions.

Whether the game amounts to much more than a gentle loosener depends to a large extent on the Barbarians, so disappointing at Twickenham last Sunday, but the Lions assistant coach Andy Farrell wants his team to "keep their foot on the gas and be ruthless" regardless of the scoreboard.

"They aren't thinking about heat, exhaustion - they are thinking about rugby. They are in brilliant nick and the beauty of the week in Wales and the week in Ireland means we have been able to condition them."

He also anticipates that the Barbarians, led by Italy's Sergio Parisse, will not be waving the Lions through. "I've absolutely no doubt with the side that they've picked that they will perform really well on Saturday. They could be somewhere else with their families but they chose to be here to play against us."

Roberts, similarly, does not believe it will be an easy romp. "After the result against England [40-12] it wouldn't surprise me if they played a tighter game with a bit more structure. I worked under Dai Young at the Blues for many years and I know the way he likes his teams to play. He'll have been very hurt by that outcome last weekend and we'll see a reaction. The calibre of Barbarian player is always very high. We're aware of that threat and will have to raise our game."


Wolves turn to Jackett in promotion hunt

By Press Association

Wolverhampton Wanderers have announced the appointment of Kenny Jackett as their head coach. The 51-year-old takes over from Dean Saunders, who was sacked following Wolves' relegation to League One on 7 May - the same day Jackett quit as manager of Millwall.

"I am both proud and delighted to have been appointed head coach at Wolves and am really looking forward to the challenge ahead," Jackett told the club's website. He will be presented at a media conference on Monday.

Jackett was in charge at The Den for almost six years, guiding Millwall to promotion to the Championship in 2010 and keeping them there despite one of the smallest budgets in the division.

He will be hoping to repeat the trick with Wolves, who have suffered back-to-back relegations and will begin next season in the third tier for the first time since 1989.

Jackett, a former Watford midfielder who won 31 caps for Wales, led Millwall to the FA Cup semi-final but their Wembley defeat by Wigan was marred by crowd trouble among his then club's fans.

He has also managed Swansea City, whom he took to promotion from League Two in 2005, and Watford.

Jackett is the fourth full-time Wolves manager of the past 12 months. Terry Connor, under whom the club were relegated from the Premier League, remained in charge until 1 July 2012, since when Stale Solbakken and Dean Saunders have been in charge. Saunders lasted only four months in the job after leaving Doncaster Rovers. Staff and PA

Captions:

Kenny Jackett has been appointed as head coach of Wolves, less than a month after leaving Millwall


'Say something ladies' blunders Blatter

By James Riach

Sepp Blatter blundered his way through the appointment of a woman to Fifa's executive committee for the first time by stating: "Say something ladies, you are always speaking at home, now you can speak here."

The Fifa president's latest gaffe came after the surprise announcement that Lydia Nsekera of Burundi was elected to the committee ahead of the Australian Moya Dodd, whom Blatter described this week as "good and good-looking". Dodd and Sonia Bien-Aime will join the executive as co-opted members for one year.

Despite the move symbolising progression from the world governing body, Nsekera's appointment drew criticism from senior delegates during Fifa's congress in Mauritius.

One delegate said: "Frankly Moya Dodd, who is a practising lawyer, would have been a far better choice, especially with the continuing reform process Fifa has implemented, but Nsekera was personally chosen by president Blatter last year and the status quo has been maintained for obvious reasons."

Another added: "The whole system was flawed from the beginning and I am very disappointed with this decision . . . Everyone is pandering to the African vote."

The 208 Fifa delegates also voted for stricter punishments for racism, which could see a club relegated for serious offences. One member voted against the reforms, which dictate that players or officials guilty of racist abuse during a game will be banned for five matches, less than Uefa's new 10-match suspension rule.

The new rules, which include abuse from spectators, mean a minor offence will be punished by a warning, a fine or with a match having to be played behind closed doors. However, severe or repeat offences may result in points deductions, expulsion from competitions or even relegation. Blatter, who has previously claimed that racist abuse by one player to another could be settled with a post-match handshake, said it was "a strong signal to the racists that their time is up".

Fifa failed to agree new rules that would have created age and term limits for its members. Mark Pieth, the independent Swiss lawyer in charge of the ruling body's reform process, asked Blatter, 77, and other senior executives to reveal their salaries to the conference.

Pieth described transparency over remuneration as "a key remaining issue", adding that in responding positively members would "send a crucial message to their constituencies and to the wider public that they have nothing to hide." Blatter did not accept the request.

Captions:

The Fifa president Sepp Blatter told three female candidates: 'You are always speaking at home, now you can speak here'


Di Canio is quick off the mark in quest to rebuild Sunderland: Italian has already captured four players but overhaul runs deeper than playing staff, writes Louise Taylor

By Louise Taylor

When Ellis Short replaced Martin O'Neill with Paolo Di Canio at the end of March, Sunderland's American owner did more than merely change managers. The Italian's installation was a watershed moment, signalling the ripping up of one blueprint and the importation of a completely new philosophy intended to transform the club from top to bottom.

The speed at which Sunderland have embarked on their transfer dealings this summer, with four players in place to join on 1 July, marks them out. No Premier League side have been so active in the fortnight since the season ended.

Although Short would never say so publicly he had, for some time, been casting envious eyes up the road at Newcastle United where Graham Carr, the talented, well-connected chief scout, kept popping abroad and unearthing gifted bargains.

Concerned that a pounds 30m investment during the last two transfer windows had produced nothing better than another relegation skirmish for Sunderland's largely British and Irish squad, Short began exploring an alternative modus operandi. He established a relationship with Roberto De Fanti, a Fifa-registered agent, and, before a 3-1 defeat at Queens Park Rangers in early March, O'Neill was introduced to a circle of Italian scouts in London as plans to overhaul Sunderland's recruitment procedures were mooted.

Barely three months later, De Fanti is poised for a new career as director of football at the Stadium of Light, where he is due to be joined by Valentino Angeloni, Internazionale's outgoing chief scout who will become technical director.

Angeloni, earlier employed at Udinese, is credited with aiding the development of Alexis Sanchez, David Pizarro, Vincenzo Iaquinta and the former Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan.

Like De Fanti, his influence appears to have begun impacting on Wearside, with Margaret Byrne, Short's chief executive, busy negotiating a flurry of signings scheduled to be formally ratified next month. They include the Basel midfielder Cabral and two imposing defenders in Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge, acquired from Lazio and Maritimo respectively.

All three are available on Bosman transfers and Le Havre midfielder El-Hadji Ba, another in the same position, is believed to have agreed to join Sunderland after touring the north-east.

Having achieved record-breaking top marks in his coaching badges, Di Canio is very much a tracksuit manager who sees his primary role as "a teacher of football", spending every possible moment on the training pitch. Yet although his official title is head coach the former Swindon manager says he has the final say on transfers and believes a minimum of six new faces are required this summer.

Already the dismissal of Bryan "Pop" Robson as chief scout has heralded root-and-branch reform of the talent-spotting network while the removal of Craig Liddle, a key youth coach, signals a new direction at the academy. Only time will tell if Sunderland are now on the right road and whether their band of Bosman imports can adapt successfully to the Premier League, but it is understood that the arrival of Di Canio, his largely Italian backroom staff and plenty of new ideas underscored by strict, European-style discipline have been broadly welcomed by the players. Adam Johnson, especially, has been enthusiastic in his praise for the former Celtic, Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham striker.

Although two players complained to the Professional Footballers' Association after Di Canio imposed numerous fines towards the end of the season, a pair of potential dissenters, Titus Bramble and Matthew Kilgallon, are out of contract and

have already departed. Phil Bardsley, recently pictured lying in a bed of pounds 50 notes in a casino, could be bound for Hull.

Di Canio remains anxious to keep Simon Mignolet but the Belgium goalkeeper is coveted by Arsenal, and Celtic's Fraser Forster has been pencilled in as first-choice replacement.

It remains to be seen how much cash Short will provide to recruit others on a shopping list featuring Fenerbahce's Serbia winger Milos Krasic. Or whether Di Canio will attempt to offload members of the squad's "old guard", most notably the captain Lee Cattermole, as he strives to provide the team with "a definite, attacking, exciting identity".

There is a single certainty: much as a new luxury Hilton hotel to be built on the banks of the Wear alongside the Stadium of Light should transform a once derelict post-industrial riverscape, Di Canio's Sunderland will be virtually unrecognisable from O'Neill's class of 2012-13.

Captions:

The Basel midfielder Cabral is one of four players with deals in place to join Sunderland for next season

Sebastien Feval/Getty Images


Transfer targets Where your club will be spending this summer

By Compiled by Dominic Fifield, Andy Hunter, David Hytner, Jamie Jackson, James Riach and Louise Taylor

Arsenal

Aston Villa

Cardiff City

Chelsea

Crystal Palace

Money to spend?

The oft-touted figure of pounds 70m is really shorthand for whatever Arsene Wenger wants. With lucrative commercial deals secured, the club feel they are equipped to operate at the top level of the market

Who's spending it?

Wenger. The manager has total control over every aspect on the technical side

Ins?

A goalkeeper, a defensive midfielder and a striker. In the likely event that Bacary Sagna leaves, having rejected a contract offer, a right-back, too. QPR's Julio Cesar is a goalkeeping target. The young Auxerre striker Yaya Sanogo will sign but the club will chase a bigger name up front

Outs?

Andrey Arshavin and Sebastien Squillaci will be released DH

Money to spend?

Randy Lerner is still intent on keeping things tight following the spending of previous managers

Who's spending it?

Paul Lambert will call the shots but in accordance with Lerner's budget restrictions, overseen by the chief executive, Paul Faulkner. Expect more talent-spotting from outside the Premier League

Ins?

A priority will be securing a new contract with Andreas Weimann and keeping hold of the much-coveted Christian Benteke but the Ipswich left-back Aaron Cresswell and the Crewe midfielder Luke Murphy are targets

Outs?

Shay Given could be on his way to Hull City, while Darren Bent's departure seems inevitable JR

Money to spend?

Vincent Tan has pledged to spend up to pounds 25m on players during the summer to ensure Cardiff's stay in the Premier League is a permanent one

Who's spending it?

Malky Mackay will be key to any comings and goings although the Malaysian owners spoke of a need to "strategise well" in the transfer window

Ins?

No player scored more than eight goals for Cardiff in the second tier last season so strengthening up front is crucial. Kenwyne Jones and Bafetembi Gomis have both been linked with moves

Outs?

Cardiff may not want to dispose of players who performed so well in gaining promotion, but if anyone is to be replaced it may be their full-backs JR

Money to spend?

Roman Abramovich will presumably seek to supply new manager Jose Mourinho with reinforcements, even though they aspire to comply with financial fair play. That might necessitate a notable sale

Who's spending it?

The technical director, Michael Emenalo, is nominally overseeing the recruitment and scouting department and will liaise with the manager and owner

Ins?

They will seek a central midfielder and a striker as priorities, but additions to defence and a back-up goalkeeper are also required

Outs?

The likes of Florent Malouda and Yossi Benayoun will leave under freedom of contract. The intrigue will come if rivals bid for David Luiz, Ramires or Fernando Torres DF

Money to spend?

The club's four owners have suggested around half of the money generated by promotion will be invested in transfer fees and wages

Who's spending it?

The manager, Ian Holloway, will draw up his wish-list and submit it to the co-chairman, Steve Parish, for discussion

Ins?

The squad will need strengthening throughout, not least because the best player, Wilfried Zaha, has been sold and the top scorer, Glenn Murray, will miss the start of the new season. Six additions may need to be integrated immediately into the first team

Outs?

There will be players who depart under freedom of contract, but Palace are not seeking to sell DF

Money to spend?

David Moyes was still waiting to discover whether a budget believed to be in excess of pounds 10m included wages when the offer from Manchester United changed everything. Whether anyone activates Marouane Fellaini's pounds 24m release fee will have a big say

Who's spending it?

No one, yet. Moyes had total control and his replacement will expect the same

Ins?

There is a need to add strikers plus younger competition for the established goalkeeper and centre-halves. The club has remained in contact with January target Leroy Fer, the FC Twente midfielder

Outs?

Everton cannot afford to streamline their squad any further but John Heitinga can go AH

Money to spend?

Not a huge amount, which explains why Martin Jol has already recruited Derek Boateng and Fernando Amorebieta on free transfers and Sascha Riether for an undisclosed fee

Who's spending it?

Jol pinpoints the players but the level of funding available will be determined by Mohamed Al Fayed

Ins?

They will seek to add another centre-half to the books, with West Bromwich Albion's Jonas Olsson a potential target, and a ball-playing central midfielder

Outs?

Some of the older guard will depart; the likes of Chris Baird, Simon Davies, John Arne Riise and Aaron Hughes are expected to leave among players whose contracts are expiring DF

Money to spend?

Unknown but will not be paying top dollar or taking extravagant gambles. Nick Thompson, the managing director, says they want six signings

Who's spending it?

The Allams, Hull's Egyptian owners, have the final say and Thompson is heavily involved but Hull are reliant primarily on their manager, Steve Bruce

Ins?

Ahmed Elmohamady is close to a pounds 2m switch from Sunderland and George Boyd has joined from Peterborough. Bruce covets Gary Hooper, Charlie Austin, Kasper Schmeichel, Shay Given, Allen McGregor and Phil Bardsley

Outs?

German striker Nick Proschwitz has struggled to adapt so cash could be re-couped by offloading him LT

Money to spend?

Brendan Rodgers has already started spending and more than pounds 70m could be incoming if Luis Suarez and others are sold

Who's spending it?

The manager claims he has the final say but the managing director, Ian Ayre, has stated all targets will be considered by a committee, including the head of recruitment, chief scout and head of analysis,

Ins?

Kolo Toure, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Tiago Ilori, Toby Alderweireld and Lucas Digne are under consideration. The Celta Vigo striker Iago Aspas is almost signed, and a bid is in for Sevilla's Luis Alberto

Outs?

Andy Carroll, Sebastian Coates, possibly Martin Skrtel, Pepe Reina and Stewart Downing, plus fringe players AH

Money to spend?

There would be no surprise if pounds 100m in transfer fees alone

Who's spending it?

Txiki Begiristain, the director of football, is the driver of all football strategy

Ins?

A keeper to provide competition for Joe Hart, perhaps Reading's Alex McCarthy. Two central defenders - Liverpool's Martin Skrtel - and a host of forward operators: Malaga's Isco, Sevilla winger Jesus Navas, and strikers Edinson Cavani, Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina and Luis Suarez

Outs?

Up to a full XI. Kolo Toure should join Liverpool, and Costel Pantilimon, Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz, Scott Sinclair, John Guidetti, Maicon, Edin Dzeko and Wayne Bridge could all leave JJ

Money to spend?

The sense is that if David Moyes wants to land one big name - Gareth Bale, say - the Glazers would sanction a pounds 50m splurge

Who's spending it?

Officially Moyes, but as transfer strategy for the new season has been underway since February, Ed Woodward, the new chief executive, is also a key player

Ins?

Moyes is considering moving for Everton's Marouane Fellaini with Real Madrid's Luka Modric also of interest. He is also sure to keep tabs on Cesc Fabregas. At this point Moyes also hopes to retain the unsettled Wayne Rooney

Outs?

Anders Lindegaard is surplus to requirements and Nani and Anderson could leave JJ

Money to spend?

Unknown. Newcastle are in a healthy financial position and anxious to avoid another relegation skirmish but Mike Ashley does not part with his cash lightly

Who's spending it?

Alan Pardew is involved but chief scout Graham Carr remains hugely influential while Derek Llambias, the managing director, does the deals

Ins?

Pardew would like more experience. Carr is close to the Dutch and Belgian, as well as the French, markets although Will Hughes, the Derby midfielder, is a target. St Etienne's forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and FC Twente's defender Douglas are under consideration

Outs?

Possibly Shola Ameobi and Cheik Tiote LT

Money to spend?

Having already splashed pounds 8.5m on the striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel from Sporting Lisbon, further signings may follow but are unlikely to eclipse that figure

Who's spending it?

Chris Hughton has brought in a number of players since his appointment last summer, mainly from Leeds United

Ins?

Only two Premier League clubs scored fewer goals than Norwich last season so attacking midfielders could be added to the squad

Outs?

The arrival of Van Wolfswinkel could spell the end of Grant Holt's stay, although the club recently turned down an offer from Melbourne Heart as it did not meet their pounds 2m valuation JR

Money to spend?

A large chunk of Liebherr Trust money is likely to be available again this summer following showdown talks between the chairman, Nicola Cortese, and the owners. Last summer Saints spent pounds 33m

Who's spending it?

Cortese holds the cards and will make the calls in consultation with the Argentinian manager, Mauricio Pochettino

Ins?

A new striker and a top-class centre-half. The Italy defender Davide Astori is on the radar although keeping Gaston Ramirez may be difficult with Juventus reportedly keen

Outs?

Pochettino will continue to restructure the squad and could be tempted to sell Billy Sharp and Emmanuel Mayuka who struggled to feature last season JR

Money to spend?

The Coates family will support Mark Hughes with a healthy budget but not to the extent of recent years under Tony Pulis

Who's spending it?

Hughes expects to be joined by his trusted backroom staff of Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki and will make the decisions. His advisor, Kia Joorabchian, has already distanced himself from Hughes' poor signings at QPR

Ins?

Pulis's style cannot be abandoned overnight but Hughes will want to add finesse, with Junior Hoilett a target

Outs?

Peter Crouch and Kenwyne Jones both endured disappointing campaigns last season and Asmir Begovic is on his way out, Jack Butland having already joined from Birmingham AH

Money to spend?

Unknown. Ellis Short, the owner, accepts the team needs restructuring with at least six signings required but hopes for several bargains

Who's spending it?

Paolo Di Canio's formal title is head coach but he retains a final say on signings

Ins?

Cabral is joining from Basel's midfield as are defenders Modibo Diakite and Valentin Roberge from Lazio and Maritimo. Sunderland crave athletic reinforcement in most positions including full-back and, above all, attack. Celtic's goalkeeper Fraser Forster could replace Simon Mignolet

Outs?

Titus Bramble and Matt Kilgallon are leaving and Phil Bardsley will surely follow LT

Money to spend?

Michael Laudrup will hope to convince Huw Jenkins to loosen the purse strings and allow him to strengthen the squad ahead of a European campaign

Who's spending it?

Laudrup will have the final say on all transfers, with the Dane's agent recently saying the manager will remain at Swansea despite rumours to the contrary

Ins?

A striker, to ease the burden on Michu who proved a revelation last season. An ambitious move for Romelu Lukaku has been mooted, as has a return for Scott Sinclair

Outs?

Laudrup will hope to recoup a decent fee if Ashley Williams departs, and keeping hold of goalkeeper Michel Vorm will be a priority JR

Money to spend?

Everything depends on whether Gareth Bale stays or goes. The player's camp have indicated they would consider an offer from Real Madrid, even if Tottenham have resolved not to. Bale's sale could be worth around pounds 50m

Who's spending it?

The manager, Andre Villas-Boas, would like to see the appointment of a technical director to help him and the chairman, Daniel Levy

Ins?

Leandro Damiao of Internacional heads a long list of striker targets. There is also interest in Luke Shaw, James McCarthy and Tom Ince

Outs?

Doubt surrounds the future of the left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto and the midfielders Scott Parker and Tom Huddlestone. Assou-Ekotto has made it plain that he wants to stay DH

Money to spend?

West Brom are often cited within the Premier League as operating an ideal model so expect a sober summer of transfer business

Who's spending it?

On the football side Steve Clarke, the manager; on what can actually be spent Jeremy Peace, the chairman

Ins?

Congo international Dieumerci Mbokani of Anderlecht and Wigan Athletic's Franco Di Santo are interesting Clarke

Outs?

Jerome Thomas, and Gonzalo Jara have been released and there is also surely no future for Peter Odemwingie after his drive down to Queens Park Rangers to desperately try to force a move in the January window JJ

Money to spend?

pounds 15m net. The club continues to cope with large debt

Who's spending it?

The manager, Sam Allardyce, with heavy input from David Sullivan. The co-owner is a keen evaluator of the statistics of a prospective signing

Ins?

More creativity, more quality, particularly up front. They have agreed a fee of pounds 15m with Liverpool for Andy Carroll but it is unclear whether he fancies the move. Massimo Ambrosini, the 36-year-old Milan midfielder, is a target while the club have done a deal for the free-agent left-back Razvan Rat

Outs?

Carlton Cole will be released. The returning loanee Ravel Morrison faces an uncertain future. The club will fight to keep Mohamed Diame DH

Everton

Fulham

Hull City

Liverpool

Man City

Man Utd

Newcastle Utd

Norwich City

Southampton

Stoke City

West Bromwich

Sunderland

Swansea City

Tottenham H

West Ham Utd

Captions:

Milan's veteran midfielder Massimo Ambrosini is wanted by West Ham Luca Bruno/AP

Internacional striker Leandro Damiao remains Tottenham's top target

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Liverpool are tracking the Ajax defender Toby Alderweireld

Peter Dejong/AP


Spotters' guide: Hodgson's men enjoy a lesson in technique from the beach boys: Squad are determined to learn from mistakes in Wembley draw after day spent marvelling at skills on display throughout Rio

By Daniel Taylor Rio de Janeiro

Walking along Copacabana beach, Roy Hodgson's players stopped to watch one of the games on a stretch of sand where there are almost as many goalposts as palm trees. There were boys and girls from the favelas playing beach volley, largely oblivious to the fact they had a group of Premier League footballers in their audience. By the end Theo Walcott was clapping. "Kids six or seven using their shoulders to play beach volley . . . I can't even do that myself."

The next demonstration came up in the hills at Bola Pra Frente, a charity project set up by Jorginho, the 1994 World Cup winner, beside the apartments where he grew up in Guadalupe, one of the city's more impoverished areas.

The guide on the way brought up the sporting rivalry with Argentina at one point. "We hate them. We hate them. They are good people maybe, but only when they are asleep." Then the local kids started showing how good they were on the ball. "You aren't really surprised because when you come to Brazil it's almost what you expect," Jermain Defoe volunteered midway through. "But their technique, their finishing, their talent on the ball - it's unbelievable. One of the girls had a shot and I was: 'Wow, we need to get her on free-kicks.'"

It certainly does not need long in Brazil to realise this is a country where vast swaths of the population live for football. "As soon as you come here you realise just what a football place it is," Walcott said. "It is spectacular just to be out here in Brazil, to experience different parts of the country, and hopefully we can come out here again next year. It wouldn't be right if we weren't here."

It would actually be a Grade A humiliation bearing in mind the whole point of this trip is to acclimatise for the World Cup, take in the surroundings and get a feel for the city where the side that finishes second in Group H of the qualifiers hope to be based next June.

The FA made a donation to Bola Pra Frente to help Sport Relief fund a new training centre, the idea being that Hodgson will bring his players back here next June to see its developments. A pre-World Cup friendly has already been booked in against the United States in Miami and the squad have now had their first look at their proposed training ground for Brazil 2014 at the Urca military base, with its beautifully manicured pitches and sweeping views of the city.

In Krakow, for the European Championship last summer, Hodgson had such a disturbed first night's sleep in their city-centre hotel he wanted the FA to find somewhere else until they managed to persuade a local nightspot to close its outside bar early. This trip is, in part, to make sure there are no such problems at the Windsor Atlantica.

And yet England will fall five points behind Montenegro if the Group H leaders beat Ukraine in Podgorica next Friday. Or a Ukraine win would put them a point behind England and still to play Hodgson's men and Poland in Kiev, and San Marino, home and away.

The FA, of course, has to be prepared. Equally this is a group where only one team qualify automatically and the second-placed finishers go into a play-off. "You always have to be upbeat," Walcott said. "We have to learn from our mistakes but we can't dwell on the past. We know what we need to do, which is get to the World Cup next year. Hopefully we can do that and next year we can see the set-up [in Rio]."

He and his team-mates had been at their hotel when the news filtered through on Thursday that the game might be called off. "It would have been a long way to come for no game but we always believed it was going to be on," Walcott said. "The flight we had, the organisation we had, we always prepared as if the game was going ahead."

The Arsenal player, the leading English scorer in the Premier League last season, would later say he would relish the chance to play in central attack at a time when Danny Welbeck is still not fit, Defoe is suffering from a sore achilles heel and two other strikers, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge, have already pulled out.

Welbeck is still regarded as "touch and go" and, with the possibility of only 14 fully fit outfield players, there is a general acceptance in the England camp that a draw would have to be considered a decent result.

More than anything, there is a desire to show they are a better team than recent publicity suggests, in particular Gary Lineker's observation that playing in a 4-4-2 system was a "step back to the dark ages". That criticism has undoubtedly stung Hodgson, even though he has a policy of not fully responding to derogatory comments.

Instead it fell on Defoe to offer the players' view. "I respect Gary Lineker as a forward and obviously being a Tottenham man," he said. "Everyone has their opinion, that's life. If that's going to hurt you, then you're a weak person. As a group we stick together and try to win football matches.

"Everyone has their opinion. It's just part and parcel of sport."

Pre-match footage of a group of barefoot boys kicking a tennis ball around a favela. All of them will look more skilful than Michael Carrick

A lingering shot of the Christ the Redeemer statue, arms outstretched, on Corcovado mountain. It will look more mobile than Michael Carrick

A montage featuring, in no particular order, a street carnival, a hill-top slum, a football stadium that resembles a building site, a donkey, some women in bikinis on the Copacabana, and that Bobby Moore tackle on Jairzinho

Impossibly attractive women in elaborate plumed sequins, tutti-frutti hats and feathered head-dresses shaking their booties in the pre-match festivities

An interview with Pele in which he makes some preposterous prediction about Rio 2014. 'I think England will reach the final', perhaps

ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley referring to this friendly as an ideal taster for next year's 'samba summer' in Brazil

Captions:

England's Theo Walcott, Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott warm down on the Copacabana beach, where Frank Lampard, far left, poses with a fan and assistant coach Gary Neville, right, speaks to the media. Later the party visited a Sport Relief project in the Rio suburb of Guadalupe, left Michael Regan/FA via Getty Images;

Carl Recine/Action Images


Brazil struggle to get the show on the road with World Cup round the corner: Problems mount on and off pitch before nation's second hosting of tournament, reports Fernando Duarte

By Fernando Duarte in Rio de Janeiro

As distractions go Brazil have encountered the perfect storm at the start of a crucial few weeks on and off the pitch. Instead of talking about the challenges presented by friendlies against England and France as a warmup for the Confederations Cup, the Selecao players and officials have spent the past few days being quizzed about star man Neymar's euros 60m (pounds 51m) departure to Barcelona, a bitter tug-of-war between the Brazilian football federation and Bayern Munich and, last but not least, the furore caused by the injunction filed by the Rio de Janeiro State Prosecution Service that, for a few hours, turned Roy Hodgson's visit to Rio into a literal walk on the beach.

Welcome to the surreal bubble of Brazilian football. With a little more than a year to go to their second hosting of the World Cup (the last one ended in catastrophe when Uruguay triumphed at the Maracana in the final match) a nation is forced to watch the struggle to put on a good show. Delays to stadium construction and problems with the already built arenas have plagued preparations that had already resulted in ugly exchanges between Brazilian authorities and Fifa.

Only last week part of the roof on Salvador's stadium collapsed after a storm and the iconic Maracana, which is expected to host its second World Cup final next year, was temporarily deemed unsafe for the public, having hosted only one test event at less than 50% of its capacity in April before selling out for England's first visit since 1984.

The picture is also daunting for the rest of the infrastructure. Recent media reports have established that less than 20% of promised projects involving improvements in the transport network and airports have started, which led to accusations that the legacy of the event has been overlooked.

"It is a missed opportunity to show people we can deliver projects this big without improvisations or delays," says Carlos Alberto Torres, the captain of Brazil's 1970 World Cup team. "We were awarded the World Cup in 2007 and should have started things much earlier."

That was certainly the intention of the organising committee. However, after winning the one-horse race six years ago Brazil failed to start work promptly owing predominantly to the huge bureaucracy involved in projects using public money. It took more than four years for the changes in legislation imposed by Fifa, and accepted by the authorities when bidding for the World Cup, to be put in place, and that was only after some serious push and shove in the Brazilian congress.

That cascaded into the building works. As of now, only five stadiums are ready, with at least three of the remaining nine venues [Manaus, Cuiaba and Natal] suffering serious delays. A country with continental dimensions, Brazil could have done with fewer host cities but logistics were overruled by politics and much lobbying. Cuiaba, for example, is a city without a single team in Brazil's top two divisions. Even the capital, Brasilia, now with a stadium capable of holding more than 50,000, risks emptiness for most of the year. "There will be white elephants, you can bet on that," says Juca Kfouri, a leading sports commentator in Brazil.

And then there's the team. Lying an unflattering 19th place in the Fifa world rankings, their lowest ever, the Selecao have failed to endear themselves to fans and media. England were the last top-level side, or so they are portrayed, that they managed to beat, 1-0 in November 2009 in Qatar, and their failure to reach even the semi-finals at the 2011 Copa America dented public trust in the squad. After losing the Olympic final to Mexico last summer, the manager Mano Menezes, was a dead man walking and in November the CBF summoned Luiz Felipe Scolari in a move that reeked of populism and desperation.

The man who led Brazil to their fifth World Cup title 11 years ago has so far failed to meet expectations. In his five games in charge Brazil have beaten only Bolivia. The Selecao lost to England and were outplayed by Italy and Fabio Capello's Russia.

Never ones to hold back, Brazilian fans have made their opinion pretty clear by booing the team off the pitch in recent outings. Neymar, the golden boy whose form for the national team has dipped sharply since last year, was targeted during the friendly against Chile.

That Brazil's most heralded players these days are defenders - Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Dante - is revealing. Scolari insisted that Dante join up with the squad for tomorrow's friendly, refusing Bayern Munich's request for the player to stay with them as they bid to secure the treble in the German Cup final against Stuttgart. There was an angry exchange of words, with the Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge accusing Brazil of "psychological terrorism".

It is against this backdrop that Brazil face England as part of their preparations to the Confederations Cup.

They have been drawn in a difficult group, alongside Italy, Mexico and Japan, with possible games against Uruguay and the world and European champions, Spain, looming.

"We need to start with a bang and beat England," Silva says. "Things can get tricky if we don't play better than last time." Many would say that trouble has already come to Rio.

Captions:

Neymar was booed during the friendly against Chile after a sharp dip in form


Building work ongoing at Maracana

By Jonathan Watts Rio de Janeiro

The international debut of the revamped Maracana stadium will go ahead as planned with the friendly between Brazil and England tomorrow after a judicial decision to cancel the match on safety grounds was overturned. However, the exterior of the site remains only partially complete and extensive construction work continues.

The last-minute injunction sparked consternation on Thursday when the England team and fans were already in or on their way to Rio de Janeiro for a game that is expected to draw 74,000 spectators. But within six hours the ruling was revoked and the problem attributed by the authorities to a "bureaucratic mistake" caused by the failure to file the safety report to the relevant authorities. The Rio state government later confirmed that the game has been given the green light following the submission of a report showing the facility complies with regulations for a major sporting event.

Yet inside the outer perimeter of the Maracana complex yesterday ditches remained uncovered, cables were running along the floors and hard-hatted workers laboured with electric saws and other tools. Around them were pieces of pavement and breeze blocks, cement mixers and tractors. "There are about 100 workers to tidy the outside up but the inside is fine and it will be perfect for Sunday," said one of the workers, Antonio Cicero.

Tomorrow's match will be the first test of the stadium at full capacity - and the last before it hosts a series of major sporting events. The Maracana will stage four Confederations Cup matches this month, seven World Cup games in 2014, including the final, and the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies in 2016.

The Fifa secretary general, Jerome Valcke, said news the game will go ahead is a relief. "I was delighted to receive a statement from Rio saying it was a bureaucratic error and there is not, in fact, a problem with security or with the structure," he said in Mauritius. "The Maracana is like a nice car. Now it needs to be driven."

The frantic on-off-on drama followed repeated delays to the re-opening of the stadium after a R1.1 billion dollar (pounds 340m), 30-month refurbishment that was supposed to have been completed last year. The structure, built for the 1950 World Cup, has been strengthened and brought into line with modern Fifa requirements - the addition of new seating, executive boxes and media facilities.

The state government's successful appeal is a relief to the authorities and tens of thousands of fans but the episode has prompted online fury and scepticism. "The Maracana has sucked up R1.1 billion dollar. This is an affront to the citizens of Rio de Janeiro, which has inadequate hospitals, schools, housing and security," tweeted Roberto Silva de Melo.

Captions:

Jerome Valcke said he is relieved the game will be taking place. 'The Maracana is like a nice car. Now it needs to be driven'


Odds: guardian.co.uk /football: Match zone: Previous games in Brazil: Key clashes: The managers: TV and radio

Weather

Partly cloudy. Temperature 25C

Brazil

Subs from

Diego Cavalieri, Jefferson, Rever, Filipe Luis, Dante, Hernanes, Jadson, Jean, Luiz Gustavo, Bernard, Hulk, Leandro Damiao

England

Subs from

Foster, McCarthy, Lescott, Baines, Rodwell, Defoe, Welbeck

Probable teams

Brazil 2 England 0 13 May 1959

England's first game, all five of which have been at the Maracana, was lost and played in front of 160,000 fans

Brazil 5 England 1 30 May 1964

Alf Ramsey's team were humbled by the World Cup holders. Jimmy Greaves equalised but Brazil ran riot

Brazil 2 England 1 12 June 1969

Colin Bell put the World Cup holders ahead but Tostao and Jairzinho turned the game round

Brazil 0 England 0 8 June 1977

Don Revie's third-last match saw his team hold Brazil to a goalless draw in front of a crowd of 77,000

Brazil 0 England 2 10 June 1984

John Barnes scored a wonderful solo goal and Mark Hateley added a second for a famous away win

78

19

Neymar v Glen Johnson

The Brazilian superstar has disappointed in recent performances for the national team but will hope to showcase his skills after signing for Barcelona this week

Oscar, right v

Michael Carrick

Carrick was one of England's better performers against Ireland and will need to be watchful of Brazil's playmaker

Thiago Silva v

Wayne Rooney

Rooney has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, where he would be a team-mate of Brazil's captain

Brazil 8-13

England 9-2

Draw 11-4

Roy Hodgson

Criticised by Gary Lineker for taking England 'back to the dark ages'

Luiz Felipe Scolari

Brazil have won one of five matches since he took over last November

Coverage on ITV1 from 7.30pm

BBC Radio 5 Live and Talksport

Minute-by-minute report

Join Marcus Christenson for our unrivalled live coverage from 7.30pm

Captions:

Tomorrow 8pm Maracana

The capacity for the newly renovated Maracana is 78,000

Brazil's Fifa world ranking, their lowest ever. England are seventh


'Everything was just right in London - my shape was at the top': Olympic 800m champion relives golden moment with James Riach and talks of plans to race Bolt

By James Riach

"Athletes are just normal people," says David Rudisha, the fastest man to have run 800m. His performance in London last summer when the softly spoken Kenyan stunned the world with a breathtaking surge around two laps of the Olympic Stadium, was anything but. "Sometimes you get to the right place," he says. "London was great, I love the city and the people were great, they love sport. Everything was perfect, that's why I did so well."

Rudisha's humility is quite something, considering the scale of his achievement. Not only did he win Olympic gold and make the rest of the field look like they were running through treacle but he cut 0.1sec off his own world record and became the first 800m athlete to run under 1min 41.00sec.

Lord Coe described it as "the most extraordinary piece of running I have probably ever seen" while Steve Cram, usually so eloquent, simply said: "How do you put that into words?"

Rudisha was the only man to break an individual world record on the track at the Games and it was a performance that elevated him from world-record holder to superstar. Wherever he competes the 24-year-old is the main attraction, having to answer questions about whether he can break 1:40.00, or the possibility of a 400m showdown with Usain Bolt. The response is at first a bashful smile, before a glint in the eye and a grin as wide as the Great Rift Valley. "Just for fun, maybe one time we can do it for charity," he says.

Rudisha was denied an unbeaten 2012 by Ethiopia's Mohammed Aman in August but this season he has outclassed opponents at the Diamond League meetings in Doha and New York. "I believe after winning in London I have released some pressure," Rudisha says. "Lord Coe was a fantastic 800m runner, he broke the world record but never won the Olympic title. I was at the same stage - I was the world-record holder and world champion but I didn't have the Olympic title. I remember people told me in 2010 after being awarded athlete of the year that now was the time to win the title and become a complete athlete.

"In London I was attempting around 1:41.00 without a pacemaker, although I knew that no one had ever done that. I had run 1:42.12 comfortably at altitude in Africa so I thought it might be possible. I tried to memorise how I had run at altitude and use the same tactics.

"If you see the way I ran, the last 200m I really pushed hard. That's what I did in Kenya and that's what really helped. I was not really going for the world record. People were really confident that I was going to do something special but my pressure was to win the Olympic title - that was the most important thing.

"People couldn't believe that you could break the world record in the Olympics without a pacesetter. There was a lot of pressure. Also with my family being an Olympic family, I wanted to continue the legacy of my father in 1968. Everything was right that day, my shape was at the top - it was my day."

His father, Daniel, won silver in the 4x400m at the Mexico Games in 1968, something that makes Rudisha beam with pride, even more than his phenomenal world-record performance.

Yet even his Irish trainer, Colm O'Connell, who is normally reflective in victory and defeat, felt it necessary to celebrate the win in Kenya. "Brother Colm was watching from his TV at home," Rudisha says. "I don't know what his reaction was but I think he was emotional. He even left to meet friends and celebrate."

O'Connell's story is remarkable in itself, an Irish missionary who went to Kenya as a geography teacher in 1976 only to end up coaching some of the finest athletes. Based at St Patrick's high school in Iten, Rudisha says that since training with his mentor he has been "improving all the time".

There is, though, huge competition in the country for aspiring athletes."If you walk around at 10am, you will find thousands of people training, even more than that," Rudisha says.

Doping in the east African country is a growing problem - this year Moses Kiptanui, one of the greatest runners in Kenya's history, said certain athletes "want to get money by all means . . . by a genuine way or another way" - and, although an anti-doping centre has been set up in Eldoret, the rewards for a successful career, even if achieved illegally, are ample.

"Now that I have seen that some Kenyans have been caught doping, it's a sad situation," Rudisha says. "It's unfortunate this is what we've been hearing. We have so many talented athletes in Kenya and we have been performing well globally since the 1960s. Some people want to get fame easily without working hard. It's not fair and it is a very sad situation.

"We encourage athletes to exercise fair play and work hard. It's happening not just in athletics and it's not a good thing."

Rudisha will compete in a 1,000m in Ostrava this month, although he was forced to withdraw from today's Diamond League meeting in Eugene, Oregon, because of a knee injury. The next big test, though, will come in Moscow when he has the opportunity to defend his world title. "It's been great after London. I'm very happy, everybody is still talking about that achievement and life is good," he says. "To get to the top is not easy but to maintain your level is even more difficult."

Captions:

David Rudisha, the son of an Olympic silver medallist, was defeated only once in 2012


Guptill's century leaves England red-faced

By Andy Bull Lord's

Red, it is said, is the colour winners wear. This spurious-sounding fact has been verified by four separate academic studies conducted at four different universities. The one thing they could not agree on was why. The team who were behind the original piece of research reckoned that "red boosts the testosterone of the individual wearing it", pointing out that it is the colour we "associate with anger and passion". Which explains, presumably, the preponderance of scarlet-coloured strides at Lord's, as well as England's decision to switch to a crimson kit for one-day cricket this summer. Well, that and the money to be made flogging a fresh set of replica shirts to the faithful fans.

Red, it has to be said, is the colour of embarrassment as well as anger, which is what Jos Buttler must have felt when he let four byes through his legs to bring the scores level. That left New Zealand needing one more run, which was also all Martin Guptill, 99 not out at the time, needed to finish a fine, unbeaten century. He hit the next delivery for four to complete a five-wicket canter of a win.

It could, conceivably, have been a collective testosterone rush to blame for all those rash strokes that left the English batsmen so red-faced. England lost nine wickets on their way to their underwhelming score of 227, a total which contained a lot of loose attacking shots, but not a single six. It was not for a lack of trying. There was a string of ugly dismissals, which owed a lot more bad batting than they did to good bowling. It felt like the top four, at least, struggled to readjust to the tempo of the 50-over game. All of them seemed a little foxed by what Alastair Cook described as the "quickest turnaround" of his career after the Headingley Test.

A pair of niggling little injuries picked up in that same game also ruled out Steve Finn and Stuart Broad, who will be rested from the second match of the series, too, to give them a little more time to recover. So Jade Dernbach, called up as cover, came straight in, and Boyd Rankin, capped 52 times by Ireland, has been added to the squad for tomorrow's game.

Rankin could be about to become the latest man to play international cricket for two countries, following on from the former Australia wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi, who made his debut for New Zealand in this match. An inauspicious one it was too, as he was out for a duck to the third ball he faced. He and Kane Williamson were both dismissed by Jimmy Anderson in the first over of New Zealand's innings. Buttler took Williamson, diving down to his right to take the ball one-handed, and Graeme Swann caught Ronchi, low to his left to leave New Zealand one for two. For England, that was as good as it got.

Ronchi at least started well, catching both the England openers. Cook and Ian Bell both fell during a superb little spell from Tim Southee. He came on as first change and in successive wicket-maidens suckered both batsmen into throwing drives at wide deliveries that nipped away off the pitch. If those shots seemed injudicious at the time, they looked positively conservative in comparison to some of those played later in the innings.

Joe Root and Buttler both got out playing the reverse-sweep. Root, having cruised along to 30 in a stand of 67 with Jonathan Trott, was clean-bowled by Nathan McCullum. Buttler chipped his own effort, off Williamson, straight to point. In between those two, Trott lofted a timid pull straight to deep midwicket, and Eoin Morgan was caught behind off Mitchell McClenaghan, who saw him come skipping down the wicket and so fired down a bouncer. It ballooned up off the top-edge of the bat as Morgan tried to fend it away with a shot that was neither one thing nor the other.

Three wickets fell in 17 balls for nine runs, leaving England listing. In the thick of it all Nathan McCullum was able to get away with bowling 10 overs of ordinary off-spin straight through for just 34 runs, giving up only a single four.

That England made it as far as they did was down to Chris Woakes and Tim Bresnan. Woakes clobbered a four off the first ball of the batting powerplay, a shot that hinted more to come, but in fact turned out to be the only boundary England managed in those five overs. He made a skittish 36, all of which good work was undone in the space of his first three overs with the ball, which cost 33 runs. Swann hit the penultimate ball of the innings for four to take England past 225, the lowest total they have ever successfully defended at this ground, and was then caught off the last ball of the innings.

England's efforts were put into perspective by the batting of Guptill. He put on 119 for the third wicket together with Ross Taylor, who became Anderson's third victim. Guptill, though, went on and on in a way that the English batsmen had been incapable of doing.

Captions:

Martin Guptill hits out on his way to an unbeaten 103 that proved decisive against England Paul Gilham/Getty Images


Surrey's Tremlett shows fitness and form but Rankin gets the call: Derbyshire Surrey 452 35-1

By County Championship Richard Rae Derby

Chris Tremlett was in mid-over when the news that England had called Boyd Rankin, essentially a younger, faster and equally injury-prone version of himself, into the current one-day squad was released. The Surrey fast bowler had just taken his fourth wicket, and duly went on to complete his first 'five-for' of the Division One championship season, but clearly he has much to do to pull himself back up the international pecking order.

As have either of these teams to secure a win after two days on a blameless track. The deliberate manner in which Derbyshire went about building on the wonderful platform laid by Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Wayne Madsen on the truncated first day, at the end of which the home team closed on 232 for two from only 55 overs, suggested the priority was to put themselves in a position from which they could not lose.

It did not help that Chanderpaul, whose strokeplay had exhilarated in going to his century on a gloomy Thursday evening, failed to regain his fluency on a sunny Friday morning before being surprised by a Stuart Meaker bouncer, gloving a catch to Ricky Ponting in the gully.

In fairness to the Surrey bowlers, they were much improved and Madsen, 92 not out overnight, had to be patient before going to his century off 176 balls. The South African accelerated thereafter and was closing in on his 150 when the Surrey captain, Gareth Batty, took the new ball and they began to make inroads.

Wes Durston went before lunch, fencing at a Tremlett delivery that both moved away and bounced more than he expected. Ben Slater, making his championship debut, also got a good one, Tremlett making the ball leave him off the pitch and finding the outside edge.

Meaker's bowling was similarly improved, and though Madsen's attempted drive looked a little tired, the delivery which ripped out his leg stump was both fast and angled back from wide of the crease. Given the weather and a decent crowd, it was unfortunate that David Wainwright and Richard Johnson should then take 29 overs in adding 59 for the seventh wicket before Wainwright pulled Meaker into the hands of long-leg.

Meaker, Tim Linley and Tremlett had to chisel out the Derbyshire tail. That Tremlett's five for 95 came off 30.1 overs was evidence of his improving fitness, but his celebrations were not so much minimal as non-existent. Madsen's good day continued as he ran out Rory Burns to see Surrey close on 35 for one. They will hope Ponting helps them reduce the deficit today.

Captions:

Chris Tremlett had figures of five for 95, but the former Ireland bowler Boyd Rankin has been picked ahead of him by England


Scoreboard

Lord's New Zealand beat England by five wickets and lead three-match series 1-0.

England

*AN Cook c Ronchi b Southee 30

IR Bell c Ronchi b Southee 18

IJL Trott c Taylor b NL McCullum 37

JE Root b NL McCullum 30

EJG Morgan c Ronchi b McClenaghan 6

*JC Buttler c McClenaghan b Williamson 14

CR Woakes c Guptill b Mills 36

TT Bresnan b Southee 25

GP Swann c NL McCullum b McClenaghan 15

JM Anderson not out 5

Extras (lb4, w6, nb1) 11

Total (for 9, 50 overs) 227

Fall 45, 50, 117, 124, 126, 159, 182, 216, 227

Did not bat JW Dernbach.

Bowling McClenaghan 10-0-49-2; Mills 10-0-36-1;

Southee 10-2-37-3; NL McCullum 10-0-34-2;

Franklin 4-0-29-0; Williamson 6-0-38-1.

New Zealand

*L Ronchi c Swann b Anderson 0

MJ Guptill not out 103

KS Williamson c Buttler b Anderson 0

LRPL Taylor c Buttler b Anderson 54

GD Elliott b Swann 27

*BB McCullum c Morgan b Dernbach 5

JEC Franklin not out 16

Extras (b4, lb12, w10) 26

Total (for 5.546.5 overs) 231

Fall 1, 1, 121, 168, 185.

Did not bat NL McCullum, TG Southee, MJ McClenaghan,

KD Mills.

Bowling Anderson 9-0-31-3; Dernbach 10-1-55-1;

Woakes 6-0-45-0; Bresnan 9.5-1-36-0;

Swann 10-0-33-1; Root 2-0-15-0.

Toss New Zealand elected to field.

Umpires Aleem Dar (Pak) and RK Illingworth (Eng).

TV umpire SJ Davis (Aus).


Nadal erupts in anger at 'unfair' schedule

By Tennis Kevin Mitchell Paris

Rafael Nadal continues to experience familiar highs, mildly disconcerting dips and no little irritation in one of sport's great comebacks. On one good leg he has won six titles in three months and much respect from rivals who will remain forever wary of him. However, his tennis has looked flickeringly vulnerable, even here in Paris, his kingdom, and yesterday his frustrations erupted when he complained the rain-hit schedule has done him no favours.

It seems odd to cast doubt on the progress of a man reaching for his eighth French Open title. But, while he remains capable of reaching into the past for some wondrous shots, he has stuttered, even on clay. Yesterday he won his 38th match in 40 for 2013, a grinding, occasionally uncomfortable four-setter against the determined Martin Klizan under grey skies on Court Suzanne Lenglen, but he dropped his 14th set of the year - against only 16 in all his 55 matches at Roland Garros since 2005.

So the Spaniard goes into the third round disgruntled and underdone against Fabio Fognini, who took just four games off him in Rome last month, but who, on his day, is better than his world ranking of 29. "Even if I didn't play fantastic, I played the way I had to play, with intensity, with passion," Nadal said, before complaining that not only has he been deprived of ample time to practise but that Fognini had the benefit of a day's rest because his second-round match was put on earlier on Thursday, while his own was held over until yesterday. "That is not right," the defending champion said firmly.

At least the unpredictable Italian did Nadal the favour this week of eliminating his nightmare opponent from last year's Wimbledon, Lukas Rosol; that is a rematch the Spaniard probably would welcome in a less stressful environment.

Most of those who have grabbed a set from Nadal in the past three months have genuine pedigree - Ernests Gulbis and Juan Martin del Potro in Indian Wells, Grigor Dimitrov and Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo, David Ferrer in Madrid, Ferrer and Gulbis in Rome. But, while Horacio Zeballos did well to catch him cold in Vina del Mar in his first final of 2013, Nadal is not accustomed to giving anything at all to Tour strugglers. When Daniel Brands took the first set in their first-round match here before losing competitively, Nadal's rivals sat up. Could this be the year he cracks on clay?

Klizan, briefly, gave them hope. He was junior champion here in 2006 and has endured the usual trials of youth since, losing to Dan Evans in five sets in the Davis Cup last year, but he rose to the occasion in a rousing first set and again at the end.

The Slovakian is No35 in the world, 264 places better than Evans, but he shares with the erratic young shot-maker from the Midlands the ability to shock. He played with fire to win the first set, his booming serve unsettling the champion and thrilling the crowd, but he could not handle the inevitable riposte in the second, or the deep ground strokes. Although a tumble in mid-shot at4-1 down took the steam out of him, he broke back before Nadal served out to love at 6-4 - and the tournament organisers breathed a little easier.

Thereafter, Nadal steadily imposed his will on Klizan and won 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 but not before they exchanged breaks at the end. Good players are capable of great moments; great players take those moments for granted and make them count, as Klizan observed afterwards.

"I had so many chances in the third and fourth sets and I just didn't use them," he said. "That's why I lost, because he had one chance; he used one. I had three chances; I didn't use even one."

On the other side of the draw and on the other side of the complex, Court Philippe Chatrier, Roger Federer had a comparatively easy time of it against Julien Benneteau, who took him five sets at Wimbledon last year and beat him in Rotterdam this year. Among the Frenchman's memorable contributions in an entertaining match was a behind-the-back shot early in the third set that so surprised Federer he blasted the volley into the net.

Benneteau apologised, redundantly. Federer accepted and went on to win 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 in 91 minutes, another routine assignment in what has been an easy tournament for him so far.

Captions:

Rafael Nadal has dropped a set in both of his matches at the French Open


Sharapova and Williams cruise through with a minimum of fuss

By Kevin Mitchell Roland Garros

Minor discord rippled through the men's draw on day six of the French Open but all was sweetness and predictability for the women, with Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams moving without fuss into the third round.

While Rafael Nadal was raging against the elements and the schedule - and reserving a dig for the "girls" and their three-set jaunts - the two best players in the women's game did little to undermine the notion that their tournament has yet to begin properly.

Sharapova had slightly the harder time of it, returning in the morning after rain interrupted her on Thursday night, to see off the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4 in an hour and a half. Williams put the 26th seed, Sorana Cirstea, to the sword 6-0, 6-2.

There was also a one-sided 6-0, 6-4 win for the rising Italian Sara Errani over the German Sabine Lisicki in just over an hour and the promising young Australian Ashleigh Barty succumbed in 58 minutes, taking only four games off the 12th seed, Maria Kirilenko.

In contrast to Nadal's lament about the weather disrupting his tournament, Sharapova said: "It was a pretty long day [on Thursday]. We left here pretty late and then had an early morning. But it's what we all know to expect. We all knew the weather wasn't going to be really good. I was happy to play part of the match and get myself in a good position to come out today and finish the match."

She plays China's Zheng Jie, who had a day off after beating the American Melanie Oudin fairly easily the previous day.

On the other side of the draw Williams, still the overwhelming favourite, embarrassed Cirstea with her power and iron-eyed focus, later accepting victory as if it were in the natural order of things.

"So far it's OK," she said - and she would not concede that this opponent and many others are psyched out before they step on court.

"No, not at all," she said. "I think everyone, when they step out to play me, they really bring their A game. I just have to get really pumped up for everything." Her match lasted 61 minutes.

Captions:

Serena Williams beat the No26 seed Sorana Cirstea 6-0, 6-2 in 61 minutes


Chess

By Leonard Barden

There was widespread scepticism when Fide, the global chess body, announced its Grand Prix of six elite tournaments, qualifying two winners for the 2014 world title candidates. Several events in the previous GP had to be staged in obscure former Eastern bloc venues, so Fide's belief that the new series would be based in major Western Europe centres looked too optimistic.

But the fourth of the six Grand Prix legs reaches its closing rounds this weekend and Fide can claim a qualified success. Recession-hit Lisbon and Madrid have been replaced by Zug in Switzerland and Thessaloniki in Greece and the opening event was in London at Simpsons in the Strand. The previous Grand Prix was marred by high-profile withdrawals led by the world No1, Magnus Carlsen, and England No1, Michael Adams, whereas in the new cycle Western GMs are among the front runners.

Even better, Thessaloniki has sparked miniatures of 17, 21 and 22 moves, a sharp contrast to the complex middle games and dour endings which are trademarks of the Carlsen era in chess. It was no surprise that Vasily Ivanchuk lost two of the brevities. In the London candidates the brittle Ukrainian beat both winners, Carlsen and Vlad Kramnik, but lost five games on time.

Below, Ivanchuk erred by 17. . .Qc5? (Nxe6! 18 Qa4+ Kf8 is fine for Black). He expected 18 exf7+ Kxf7 19 f4 Rhd8 but Topalov's 18 e7! was a killer which left the black army in tatters and soon won decisive material.

Veselin Topalov v Vasily Ivanchuk

1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 d6 4 O-O Bd7 5 Re1 Nf6 6 c3 a6 7 Bf1 Bg4 8 h3 Bh5 9 d4 Bxf3 10 gxf3 cxd4 11 cxd4 d5 12 Nc3 e6 13 Bg5 Be7 14 Bxf6 Bxf6 15 exd5 Nxd4 16 Re4 Qb6 17 dxe6 Qc5? 18 e7! h5 19 Rc1 Rh6 20 Kh1 Rg6 21 Ne2 1-0

3308

Gata Kamsky v Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Linares 1991. Queen v rook is reckoned hard to win, so how did White (to play) score very quickly here?

3308 1 Kc5+! If now Kc7/e7 2 Qg7+ or Ke8 2 Qe3+ wins the rook. If Kc8 (best) 2 Qg4+ and now if Kb7/c7 3 Qg7+ or Kd8 3 Qg5+ or Kb8 3 Qf4+ winning the rook in every case.


Results and cricket scoreboard

Football

UNDER-21 FRIENDLY INTERNATIONAL

Denmark 0 Rep of Ireland 0

Cricket

ONE-DAY INTERNATIONAL

Amstelveen South Africa 341-3 (JP Duminy 150no, CA Ingram 82, F du Plessis 62no); Netherlands 257-9 (ES Szwarczynski 98, P W Borren 48; RJ Peterson 4-67). South Africa beat Netherlands by 84 runs.

LV COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP

Division One (final day of four)

Somerset v Yorkshire

Taunton Somerset (7pts) drew with Yorkshire (11).

Yorkshire First innings 450-5 dec (A Lyth 105,

AU Rashid 103no, AW Gale 75, AJ Hodd 68no).

Somerset First innings (overnight 232-6)

JC Hildreth b Ashraf 115

CAJ Meschede c Pyrah b Patterson 32

GH Dockrell b Ashraf 14

SP Kirby c Ballance b Ashraf 5

GM Hussain not out 2

Extras (b2, lb2, nb2) 6

Total (104.3 overs) 310

Fall cont 272, 298, 303.

Bowling Sidebottom 23-7-49-1; Patterson 24-6-65-3; Rashid 28-4-72-0; Ashraf 15.3-3-60-3; Pyrah 11-3-45-1; Lyth 3-0-15-2.

Yorkshire Second innings

A Lyth not out 57

JJ Sayers c Trescothick b Kirby 1

PA Jaques lbw b Kirby 0

*AW Gale lbw b Trego 4

GS Ballance c Kirby b Dockrell 31

AU Rashid not out 5

Extras (lb4, nb2) 6

Total (for 4, 42 overs) 104

Fall 14, 14, 21, 91. Did not bat *AJ Hodd, RM Pyrah, RJ Sidebottom, SA Patterson, MA Ashraf.

Bowling Trego 8-3-22-1; Kirby 8-2-19-2; Dockrell 13-4-21-1; Hussain 8-2-19-0; Meschede 5-0-19-0.

Toss Yorkshire elected to bat.

Umpires NGB Cook and MJ Saggers.

(second day of four)

Derbyshire v Surrey

Derby Surrey (2pts) trail Derbyshire (4) by 417 runs with nine first-innings wickets remaining.

Derbyshire First innings (overnight 232-2)

*WL Madsen b Meaker 152

S Chanderpaul c Ponting b Meaker 129

WJ Durston c Davies b Tremlett 6

BT Slater c Davies b Tremlett 7

*RM Johnson c Wilson b Tremlett 72

DJ Wainwright c sub b Meaker 21

TD Groenewald b Linley 3

ML Turner b Tremlett 8

MHA Footitt not out 8

Extras (b21, lb4, nb4) 29

Total (132.1 overs) 452

Fall cont 294, 320, 336, 336, 395, 404, 415.

Score at 110 overs 378-6.

Bowling Tremlett 30.1-5-95-5; Linley 32-7-99-2; Meaker 25-6-98-3; Batty 26-5-86-0;

De Bruyn 19-1-49-0.

Surrey First innings

RJ Burns run out 4

A Harinath not out 13

VS Solanki not out 10

Extras (b4, nb4) 8

Total (for 1, 16 overs) 35

Fall 4.

To bat RT Ponting, Z de Bruyn, *SM Davies, *GJ Batty, GC Wilson, SC Meaker, TE Linley, CT Tremlett.

Bowling Groenewald 5-3-8-0; Footitt 5-1-16-0; Turner 3-1-6-0; Wainwright 3-2-1-0.

Toss Derbyshire elected to bat.

Umpires NL Bainton and NGC Cowley.

(first day of four)

Sussex v Nottinghamshire

Hove Nottinghamshire (2pts) lead Sussex (2) by 282 runs with three first-innings wickets remaining.

Nottinghamshire First innings

AD Hales b Jordan 2

EJM Cowan lbw b Jordan 27

MJ Lumb c Jordan b Magoffin 10

JWA Taylor c Brown b Jordan 11

SR Patel not out 143

SJ Mullaney c Brown b Magoffin 5

**CMW Read c Brown b Jordan 18

PJ Franks b Anyon 36

A Shahzad not out 14

Extras (b4, lb5, nb7) 16

Total (for 7.285.2 overs) 282

Fall 3, 22, 50, 53, 72, 112, 204.

To bat LJ Fletcher, HF Gurney.

Bowling Magoffin 18.2-2-69-2; Jordan 19-5-66-4; Anyon 19-0-70-1; Wright 8-3-18-0;

Panesar 16-2-40-0; Nash 5-0-11-0.

Sussex CD Nash, LWP Wells, MH Yardy, *EC Joyce,

RJ Hamilton-Brown, LJ Wright, *BC Brown, CJ Jordan, SJ Magoffin, JE Anyon, MS Panesar.

Toss Sussex elected to field.

Umpires DJ Millns and P Willey.

Division Two (final day of four)

Worcestershire v Essex

New Road Worcestershire (10pts) drew with Essex (6).

Essex First innings 215 (T Westley 90, SI Mahmood 54; JD Shantry 7-69).

Worcestershire First innings (overnight 0-0)

*DKH Mitchell b Masters 156

MG Pardoe c Foakes b Westley 17

MM Ali c Pettini b Napier 54

TT Samaraweera not out 70

AN Kervezee b Masters 7

GM Andrew lbw b Napier 5

ND Pinner c Foster b Masters 7

*MA Johnson not out 0

Extras (b6, lb9, nb20) 35

Total (for 6.594.5 overs) 351

Fall 62, 189, 296, 324, 335, 344.

Did not bat JD Shantry, A Richardson, CJ Russell.

Bowling Masters 22-4-70-3; Topley 17-3-76-0; Mahmood 10-0-60-0; Westley 3-0-7-1;

Napier 20-5-39-2; Browne 16.5-4-59-0;

Ten Doeschate 6-0-25-0.

Toss Worcestershire elected to field.

Umpires GD Lloyd and JW Lloyds.

(third day of four)

Kent v Leicestershire

Tunbridge Wells Kent (3pts) trail Leicestershire (0) by 27 runs with nine first-innings wickets remaining.

Leicestershire First innings (overnight 74-4)

SJ Thakor c Harmison b Stevens 30

MAG Boyce b Haggett 17

*JJ Cobb lbw b Stevens 2

JKH Naik c Coles b Shreck 23

OH Freckingham c Bell-Drummond b Shreck 15

NL Buck not out 16

REM Williams c Coles b Stevens 12

Extras (b1, lb5, w1) 7

Total (62.3 overs) 186

Fall cont 111, 117, 123, 155, 160.

Bowling Shreck 19-4-54-3; Coles 11-0-48-0; Haggett 13-2-39-2; Stevens 19.3-4-39-5.

Kent First innings

DJ Bell-Drummond lbw b Freckingham 8

RWT Key not out 81

BP Nash not out 65

Extras (b1, nb4) 5

Total (for 1, 54 overs) 159

Fall 14.

To bat MJ Powell, BW Harmison, DI Stevens, MT Coles, **GO Jones, CJ Haggett, AEN Riley, CE Shreck.

Bowling Freckingham 13-4-37-1; Williams 11-3-26-0; Buck 9-1-35-0; Naik 13-4-36-0; Thakor 8-1-24-0.

Toss Leicestershire elected to bat.

Umpires SC Gale and PJ Hartley.

Lancashire v Gloucestershire

Liverpool Lancashire (6pts) lead Gloucestershire (4) by 327 runs with three second-innings wickets remaining.

Lancashire First innings 310 (SM Katich 96,

SJ Croft 62; CN Miles 6-88).

Gloucestershire First innings (overnight 143-4)

APR Gidman c White b Kerrigan 110

BAC Howell c Brown b Kerrigan 39

*GH Roderick b Kerrigan 0

CM Miles c Prince b Chapple 9

GJ McCarter c Croft b Kerrigan 5

LC Norwell lbw b Kerrigan 0

EGC Young not out 0

Extras (lb4, nb2) 6

Total (77.2 overs) 222

Fall cont 155, 155, 166, 195, 195.

Bowling Chapple 24-5-58-3; Hogg 20-2-51-1; White 9-2-41-1; Kerrigan 24.2-2-68-5.

Lancashire Second innings

AP Agathangelou c Dent b Miles 0

SC Moore c Miles b McCarter 34

KR Brown b Norwell 6

AG Prince c Norwell b Howell 64

SM Katich c Roderick b McCarter 0

SJ Croft c Roderick b Norwell 5

*GD Cross c Sub b Norwell 64

WA White not out 52

KW Hogg not out 8

Extras (lb2, w2, nb2) 6

Total (for 7, 66 overs) 239

Fall 0, 25, 47, 47, 62, 147, 214.

To bat *G Chapple, SC Kerrigan.

Bowling Miles 15-5-47-1; McCarter 19-2-79-2; Norwell 17-3-80-3; Howell 15-5-31-1.

Toss Lancashire elected to bat.

Umpires I Dawood and NA Mallender.

Northamptonshire v Hampshire

Northampton Northants (3pts) trail Hampshire (2) by 47 runs with five first-innings wickets remaining.

Hampshire First innings (overnight 149-5)

LA Dawson c Sales b Hall 76

MDT Roberts lbw b Azharullah 12

CP Wood c Hall b Azharullah 7

DJ Balcombe c Sales b Azharullah 0

DR Briggs b Willey 10

JA Tomlinson not out 4

Extras (lb7, w1, pen5) 13

Total (88 overs) 206

Fall cont 179, 179, 180, 199.

Bowling Willey 22-4-47-2; Copeland 37-19-56-4; Hall 10-4-32-1; Azharullah 19-4-59-3.

Northamptonshire First innings

KJ Coetzer c Wheater b Briggs 59

MNW Spriegel lbw b Tomlinson 3

DJG Sales c Wheater b Ervine 15

*AG Wakely c Ervine b Vince 7

RI Newton c Briggs b Wood 21

AJ Hall not out 29

JD Middlebrook not out 8

Extras (b9, lb8) 17

Total (for 5, 69 overs) 159

Fall 21, 59, 80, 108, 132

To bat DJ Willey, *D Murphy, TA Copeland, M Azharullah.

Bowling Tomlinson 11-3-30-1; Balcombe 14-6-28-0; Ervine 9-5-20-1; Wood 13-2-37-1; Vince 4-1-5-1; Briggs 15-5-20-1; Dawson 3-1-2-0.

Toss Northamptonshire elected to field.

Umpires MR Benson and SA Garratt.

Golf

MEMORIAL TOURNAMENT (Dublin, Ohio)

Leading first-round scores (US unless stated)

65 C Schwartzel (SA). 66 S Piercy. 67 C Wi (Kor);

K Stanley; R Henley; J Teater. 68 B Haas; M Kuchar.

69 R Karlsson (Swe); C Stroud; M Thompson; M Jones (Aus). 70 S Stallings; G Woodland; S Cink; G Coetzee (SA); G Delaet (Can); J Driscoll; F Couples; D Ernst;

J Leonard; T Immelman (SA); J Rose (Eng); B Jobe;

B Horschel; R Moore. 71 B Cauley; T Woods; J Senden (Aus); D Hearn (Can); B Watson; K Chappell; K Streelman; K Bradley; M Laird (Sco); R Castro; C Pettersson (Swe); T Gainey; C Tringale; H Stenson (Swe).

NORDEA MASTERS (Stockholm, Sweden)

Early leading second-round scores (GB/Ire unless stated) 131 M Manassero (It) 66 65. 133 M Ilonen (Fin) 70 63. 134 P Whiteford 71 63. 136 A Noren (Swe) 67 69; J Blixt (Swe) 70 66. 137 F Molinari (It) 70 67; T Bjorn (Den) 70 67; J Donaldson 67 70; R Karlberg (Swe) 69 68. 138 P Hanson (Swe) 69 69; RS Johnson (Swe) 72 66. 139 R Kakko (Fin) 71 68; D Drysdale 71 68; L Jensen (Den) 71 68; R Fisher 72 67; MA Jimenez (Sp) 72 67; F Andersson Hed (Swe) 67 72; A Quiros (Sp) 71 68.

Tennis

FRENCH OPEN (Roland Garros, Paris)

Men: Second round: R Gasquet (Fr) bt M Przysiezny (Pol) 6-3 6-3 6-0; N Davydenko (Rus) bt D Istomin (Uzb) 6-4 7-5 6-2; J Janowicz (Pol) bt R Haase (Neth) 6-4 4-6 6-4 6-3; M Youzhny (Rus) bt F del Bonis (Arg) 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 6-4; R Nadal (Sp) bt M Klizan (Svk) 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-3; T Haas (Ger) bt J Sock (US) 7-6 (7-3) 6-2 7-5; J Isner (US) bt R Harrison (US) 5-7 6-7 (7-9) 6-3 6-1 8-6; S Wawrinka (Swi) bt H Zeballos (Arg) 6-2 7-6 (7-2) 6-4; J Tipsarevic (Ser) bt F Verdasco (Sp) 7-6 (7-3) 6-1 3-6 5-7 8-6.

Third round: D Ferrer (Sp) bt F Lopez (Sp) 6-1 7-5 6-4; R Federer (Swi) bt J Benneteau (Fr) 6-3 6-4 7-5; V Troicki (Ser) bt M Cilic (Cro) 7-6 (14-12) 6-4 7-5;

K Anderson (SA) bt M Raonic (Can) 7-5 6-6 (7-4) 6-3; T Robredo (Sp) bt G Monfils (Fr) 2-6 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 7-6 (7-3) 6-2; J-W Tsonga (Fr) bt J Chardy (Fr) 6-1 6-2 7-5; G Simon (Fr) bt S Querrey (US) 2-6 6-3 2-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-2.

Women: Second round: M Kirilenko (Rus) bt A Barty (Aus) 6-3 6-1; M Sharapova (Rus) bt E Bouchard (Can) 6-2 6-4; M Bartoli (Fr) bt M Duque Marino (Col) 7-6 (7-5) 7-5; F Schiavone (It) bt K Flipkens (Bel) 6-1 4-6 6-3; S Vogele (Swi) bt K Kanepi (Est) 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 8-6.

Third round: S Williams (US) bt S Cirstea (Rom) 6-0 6-2; S Errani (It) bt S Lisicki (Ger) 6-0 6-4; A Ivanovic (Ser) bt V Razzano (Fr) 6-3 6-2; C Suarez-Navarro (Sp) bt M Puig (Pue) 6-4 7-5; A Kerber (Ger) bt V Lepchenko (US) 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 6-4.

Fixtures

(3pm unless stated)

TODAY

Football

EUROPEAN U-21 CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFYING

Group Two Bulgaria v Andorra (5pm)

Rugby union

TOUR MATCH

Barbarians v British & Irish Lions (12.30pm)

Rugby league

SUPER LEAGUE

London Broncos v Castleford

KINGSTONE PRESS CHAMPIONSHIP

Leigh v Featherstone (1pm)

Cricket

YORKSHIRE BANK 40

Group A

New Road Worcestershire v Warwickshire (1.45pm)

TOMORROW

Football

INTERNATIONAL FRIENDLIES

Brazil v England (8pm); Rep of Ire v Georgia (5.30pm); USA v Germany (7.30pm); Ukraine v Cameroon (7pm)

Rugby union

TOUR MATCH

Consur XV v England (7.30pm)

Rugby league

SUPER LEAGUE

Hull KR v Bradford; Wakefield v Wigan (3.30pm); Warrington v Salford; Widnes v Catalan Dragons

KINGSTONE PRESS CHAMPIONSHIP

Barrow v Sheffield; Batley v Dewsbury (2pm); Swinton v Halifax; Whitehaven v Hunslet; York v Doncaster

Cricket

SECOND ONE-DAY INTERNATIONAL

Rose Bowl England v New Zealand (10.45am)

YORKSHIRE BANK 40

Group A

Tunbridge Wells Kent v Northamptonshire (1.45pm)

Group B

Riverside Durham v Lancashire (1.45pm)

Chelmsford Essex v Scotland (1.45pm)

Group C

Grace Road Leicestershire v Middlesex (1.45pm)

Taunton Somerset v Glamorgan (1.45pm)

Headingley Yorkshire v Gloucestershire (1.45pm)


EPO is old hat for new generation of doping cheats

By Drug developments threaten sport's bid to clean up, writes Richard Williams

When Danilo Di Luca got himself thrown off the Giro d'Italia a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like a gust of stale air blowing in from a half-forgotten past. Traces of erythropoietin had been found in a urine sample given by the 37-year-old Italian rider a few days before the start of the race. Di Luca had form, and plenty of it: his most recent ban had come after tests during the 2009 Giro - a race he had won two years previously - revealed the presence of Cera, a sophisticated form of EPO.

The cycling world was furious with him for reviving the spectre of its tainted history. But perhaps they should be less worried about veteran recidivists indulging in old doping habits than in the possibility of future scandals involving a new generation of drugs.

Over the past six months a number of riders have tested positive for GW1516, a synthetic substance which works on a muscle-building gene. It persuades the body to send more oxygen to the muscles by using up fat rather than carbohydrate or protein, which thus remain available to build muscle tissue. Athletes can employ it to train harder and increase their endurance, the classic job of a performance-enhancing drug.

It was first synthesised by GlaxoSmithKline, which saw the hugely lucrative potential for marketing it to people wanting to lose weight. But when the company's scientists tested it on rodents, they didn't like what they found. In large doses it induced cancers in various organs of the body. In 2006, without going any further, GSK dropped it. Yet this is the substance recently revealed to have been detected in samples taken during the Tour of Costa Rica last December from four local professionals - Paulo Vargas Barrantes, Pablo Mudarra Segura and Allan Morales Castillo, all of the BCR Pizza Hut team, and Steven Villalobos Azofeifa of the Coronado team - and from a Colombian rider Marlon Perez, of the Colombia-Claro team.

Those results were announced in April, which happened to be the month in which out-of-competition tests in Europe exposed the use of GW1516 by Valery Kaykov, a Russian rider with the RusVelo team, and Miguel Ubeto, a Venezuelan with Lampre-Merida.

Despite GSK's decision to end their efforts to clear the drug for medical use, others are manufacturing it without medical clearance. A single click reveals GW1516 to be the third highest-selling product on one internet site, at 119 dollars for a 150-mg bottle.

On 21 March, shortly before the GW1516 positives were revealed, the World Anti-Doping Agency issued a warning against its use. "Clinical approval has not and will not be given for this substance," it said. "The side-effect . . . is so serious that Wada is taking the rare step of warning 'cheats' to ensure that there is complete awareness of the possible health risks to athletes who succumb to the temptation of using (it) for performance enhancement."

Clear enough. But GW1516 has a little friend. This one is called Aicar, pronounced "ay-car", and it does a similar job through different means. It is available on the same website, at 98 dollars for 100mg, and the possible side-effects have yet to be publicised. But as Michael Stow, the head of science and medicine at UK Anti-Doping, told me yesterday: "We know that dangers exist, predominantly related to its effects on the heart and to levels of lactic and uric acid, which can result in conditions such as gout and arthritis."

Where GW1516 functions on a gene, Aicar sends its message through metabolic pathways, and there is evidence to suggest that some athletes combine the two in a cocktail that enhances the effects of both. And neither has been medically approved.

So is there a real cause for concern? "Yes," Andy Parkinson, UK Anti-Doping's chief executive, said. "We're concerned about athletes using any substances that haven't passed trials with the pharmaceutical companies, and the potential use of gene-doping has got to be a worry."

It is 18 months since Wada and the major pharmaceutical companies signed a joint memorandum of understanding, under which the industry supplies advance information about their new products to the anti-doping authorities, helping them to devise methods of recognising those falling outside the boundaries of acceptable use in sport.

"The pharma business is a highly competitive one and information on new drugs is commercially sensitive," Parkinson said, "so that was a big step forward." That co-operation led to a detectable "marker" being placed in Cera during the manufacturing process. None of that, however, can regulate what he calls illicit and copycat manufacturing. "We're seeing these things sold on the internet by people who have no regulator. The athletes who buy these products have no idea what they're receiving and putting into their bodies."

Given recent history, it is natural that cycling should come under the spotlight. "But other sports aren't immune," Parkinson said. Although he would not elaborate, it can be assumed that any endurance sport might contain athletes vulnerable to these new temptations.

As with previous generations of performance-enhancing drugs, the testers are running to catch up with the cheats. Once the use of EPO had been detected, it took several years to devise adequate tests for a substance that occurs naturally in the human body. GW1516, which is entirely artificial, can now be spotted with certainty. Identifying the exogenous use of naturally occurring Aicar involves the constant monitoring required by the bio-passport, where unusual fluctuations in the level of its presence within an individual athlete's body can be logged.

The threat posed to cheats by anti-doping measures is reinforced by a significant improvement in retesting. "We've got bigger freezers," Parkinson said, "and there's a statute of limitations allowing us to keep them for retesting for up to eight years." A new substance that is hard to spot today might be easy to detect the day after tomorrow.

The cyclists so far found to have used these rogue products are not famous. They are not even the sort of riders to be found at the back of the Tour de France peloton later this month. They might not be the cleverest users of doping products. Nor are they from a single team, or a single country, or even a single continent. Plenty of room for concern, then, that while the vast majority of cyclists battle to restore their sport's reputation, a delinquent minority is proving hard to budge.

Captions:

Danilo Di Luca was thrown off the Giro d'Italia for using EPO


Wiggins withdrawal raises questions over his future: Briton will miss Tour and may no longer be seen as top dog by Team Sky, says William Fotheringham

By William Fotheringham

It is rare for a Tour de France to start without the previous year's winner, and it is rarer still for a relatively innocuous knee injury to rule out a rider of the calibre of Sir Bradley Wiggins, who won the race in such dominant style in 2012. But it has happened.

The injury is not related to Wiggins's crash on stage seven of the Giro d'Italia, when he fell on a descent en route to Pescara, and was seen afterwards treating apparent bruising on his right knee with ice. However, the Londoner did begin complaining of the knee problem on the rest day of the Giro, 36 hours after the race's first long time trial, and the day after a rainy and cold stage through Tuscany.

Time had clearly run out for him to return to training before the great race started on 28 June. Allowing a week to freshen up before the Tour, he only had three weeks to get to peak fitness. Sky have admitted time had run out for him.

There was an obvious rationale to his withdrawal from the event, given the strength in depth within Team Sky, and his uneasy relationship with their probable leader at the race, Chris Froome. Given that Wiggins was riding his bike this week, for up to four hours at a time, the knee injury could perhaps have been overcome in time for him to start the Tour, but the statements from Sky on Friday announcing Wiggins' withdrawal suggested otherwise.

Any haphazard plan to have got Wiggins fit in time for the Tour would have involved compromise, and compromise is not part of the philosophy of Sir Dave Brailsford. He did not lead teams to a string of gold medals in three Olympic games, and direct Sky to that Tour win in 2012, by starting major events with key athletes who are not 100% fit. The mantra since 2004 within the British Olympic cycling team has been "medal or nothing"; that applies to the Tour de France as well, and it ended up being nothing for Wiggins.

Putting Wiggins in the Tour at - let us conjecture - 85 or 90% of peak fitness might have been understandable, given the emotional significance that attaches to the previous year's winner, the coverage and exposure for the sponsor's logo and name that Wiggins would earn given his profile within British sport. There would also have been the view that, it could be argued, Brailsford "owes" the 2012 winner a chance to return to the event as defending champion.

Emotion, however, is not a criterion Brailsford brings to his decisions, or at least, he does so as rarely as possible. The British Cycling way is based on the philosophy developed by the psychiatrist Steve Peters: logic, not emotion. And it is logic that dictates that Wiggins stays at home and Froome gets his chance unhindered. The form book does not lie: Froome has won three major stage races since last year; Wiggins has not won since

August 2012.

Taking Wiggins to the Tour if he were not completely fit would have been a huge, crazy gamble. The risks were manifest: to start with, Brailsford would not wish his leader to endure a second experience like the Londoner had to go through at the Giro, where he withdrew after stage 12 with a chest infection. If Wiggins were to struggle at the Tour, he would do so in the full glare of a media spotlight that is merciless, with daily speculation over his condition and its impact on Froome's chances.

In 2010, Sky had to live through a Tour with Wiggins below his best and in the eye of the media storm, and it was clearly a nightmarish experience. That at least would be avoided, so too the prospect that Wiggins might leave his entire season behind on the roads of France. If he were to have struggled at the Tour as he did at the Giro, what would be the chances of getting him back in the saddle to take on the Vuelta and the world championship? If he had started in the race, struggled and abandoned, that would have left them a rider short if, as hoped for, Froome makes a serious push for the overall win.

Sky made it clear this season, as the controversy over whether or not they would go to the Tour with two leaders reached its height, that a single-leader strategy would be preferable. That single leader might - just might - have been Wiggins if he were fit and had finished on the podium of the Giro, or if Froome had lost his best form, but if the pair were to turn up at the Tour with Froome at his best, and Wiggins below par, could the team realistically have asked Wiggins to ride like a pure domestique?

That was unlikely, and it would not have been respectful either to the 2012 winner, or to the race he won.

Wiggins now faces a key period in his career in the next month or two. If Froome performs in the Tour, will Sky want to return to the race in 2014 with Wiggins as their leader? He not only faces competition for No1 status at the British squad from Froome, but, behind him, Ritchie Porte, the Colombian Sergio Henao and perhaps Geraint Thomas are all emerging stage race talents.

And if Wiggins is no longer the undisputed kingpin of the British squad, what is his status and what can he hope to achieve? He will need to bounce back quickly, or his entire sporting future may be in question.

Captions:

Sir Bradley Wiggins has had a tough time this year and pulled out of the Giro d'Italia after stage 12 Gian Mattia D'Alberto/AP


Wheels of fortune Ten turbulent months

After a 2012 to remember Sir Bradley Wiggins is having a 2013 to forget

2012 July Wins Tour de France; Britain's first champion of cycling's foremost race

August Claims gold medal for Team GB in Olympic road time-trial

November Taken to hospital after a collision with a car near his home

December Wins BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Awarded a knighthood

2013 April Says he is capable of a Giro d'Italia and Tour double, creating friction with Chris Froome

May 17 Withdraws from Giro with a chest infection

May 31 Withdraws from the Tour due to the effects of his chest infection and a knee injury


'I'm a little bit afraid but I'm very positive and I have a clear head': Dettori dashes back in time for long-awaited return but has day to forget on the track, writes Greg Wood at Epsom

By Greg Wood at Epsom

Frankie Dettori was forced to run down the last three furlongs of the track here yesterday to keep his appointment with his first ride for six months and although Beatrice Aurore finished last in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes, Dettori said afterwards that the effort had been worth it.

"I got here and I think that took all the worries away," the former champion, who has recently completed a six-month ban for using cocaine, said afterwards. "The next moment it was helmet on and straight out. I didn't have time to get nervous."

Dettori travelled to Epsom by car for three booked rides after he was forced to abandon a plan to arrive by helicopter.

"You want it to go smoothly but it was foggy in Newmarket," Dettori said. "I planned a helicopter to pick me up to try to make my life easier today but it couldn't take off because of the fog so at the last minute we drove here and then I got stuck in traffic.

"I thought I was going to miss my first ride for six months, so at the three-furlong marker I hopped out of the car. I ran to the rail and a couple of security stopped me because I didn't have a badge. I ran across and leaped over the rail and I didn't care if they chased me or not because I definitely wasn't going to miss it."

Dettori never looked likely to record a success on his first day back in the saddle. After finishing last behind Thistle Bird in the opening race, he was fifth on Fattsota behind the Neil Callan-ridden Resurge in a 10-furlong handicap and then last of seven on the 11-2 chance Sri Putra in the Diomed Stakes, won by the favourite, Gregorian.

Despite missing out on a winner, however, Dettori said that it is a relief to return to race-riding.

"I've missed the buzz of the racing and I was pleased to leave the house this morning," he said. "It's been a very long six months. The first three was a bit of a novelty to be able to eat and chill out with the family, but as soon as the World Cup got started in Dubai, it was really hard. So I'm very pleased to be back here today and I'm surprised how well I've done today with my fitness. I've been [keeping] pretty fit, even if I've still got a bit of a J-Lo bum which I need to shed.

"I'm freelance now so it's a new challenge for me. I worked for one firm [Godolphin] for 18 years and I'm most grateful to Sheikh Mohammed [Godolphin's founder] for all the opportunities he gave me for so many years. Now I'm embarking on a new challenge and I'm a little bit afraid of the future, which is natural, but I'm very positive and I've got a good clear head."

Dettori had been expected to just ride Beatrice Aurore and Fattsota but he picked up the ride on Sri Putra yesterday morning when Callan, Sri Putra's partner in his last 13 starts, was "jocked off" in favour of the Italian.

Callan's Twitter timeline later retweeted a number of comments about the decision to replace him, including two which described it as "strange" and "shameful" while another read "Wow, no loyalty, the bloke cheated and gets treated like a hero".

Dettori was unable to renew his licence in time to ride in today's Derby, but he will be at Chantilly tomorrow when his rides will include First Cornerstone in the Prix de Jockey Club [French Derby].

"The deadline was too close to get a Derby ride," Dettori said, "and it would have been unfair for owners and trainers to [get] a Derby ride that close [to the race] after not being able to ride for so long.

"The next step will be Chantilly, but in the near future it will be [Royal] Ascot [in mid-June]. I've been riding out a lot for numerous trainers - I'm really keen and so is my agent [Ray Cochrane]."

Ralph Beckett won the Oaks here yesterday for the second time in six years, but the result was disappointing for punters as Talent, a 20-1 chance ridden by Richard Hughes, came with a strong late run to beat her stablemate Secret Gesture, at 3-1, by nearly four lengths.

Hughes, the current champion jockey, rode his first English Classic winner when Sky Lantern took the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May and has now doubled his total at the next attempt, while the victory was the second in three Classics so far this season for Talent's sire, New Approach.

His son, Dawn Approach, meanwhile, will start a hot favourite to win the Derby at Epsom today.

Captions:

Frankie Dettori was the centre of attention at Epsom where he made his return from a drug ban

Luke MacGregor/Reuters

Neil Callan, who was replaced by Frankie Dettori on one ride, retweeted some negative comments

about the Italian


Today's Epsom Derby card with TV form guide

1.35 Investec Out Of The Ordinary Handicap (Class 2) 3YO 1m 2f pounds 31,125CH4

1 (11) 34-221 Space Ship (24,D) J Gosden 9.7 W Buick 87

2 (4) 02-155 Fehaydi (36,BF) W Haggas 9.6 DOUBTFUL 88

3 (2) 1250-4 Makafeh (27) L Cumani 9.3 J P Spencer★ 89

4 (5) 626-34 London Citizen (29,BF) Mrs K Burke 9.2 J Crowley 86

5 (3) 2-2131 High Troja (14,D) E Dunlop 9.1 R L Moore 90

6 (12) 00-214 Salutation (8,D) M Johnston 8.13 F M Berry 85

7 (7) 150-43 Pasaka Boy (21) J Portman 8.12 R Kingscote 84

8 (6) 51-523 Greeleys Love (11) M Johnston 8.11 S De Sousa★ 83

9 (10) 321-0 Mundahesh (17,BF) W Haggas 8.10 R Hughes★ 85

10 (8) 01-0 St Paul De Vence (40) P Cole 8.8 N Callan 84

11 (9) 00-1 Forging The Path (21) R Fahey 8.7 F Tylicki 87

12 (1) 003-10 King Muro (24) A Balding 8.2 Hayley Turner★ 83

Betting 7-2 Space Ship, 5-1 High Troja, 13-2 Makafeh, 7-1 Mundahesh, 8-1 Forging The Path, 10-1 London Citizen, Greeleys Love, 12-1 others.

Form High Troja fought off a well-regarded colt in Hillstar to land the always-competitive London Gold Cup at Newbury and a 4lb rise may be underestimating the quality of his performance. Space Ship tackled some decent maidens before breaking through at the sixth attempt at Chester, after which his mark was elevated from 80 to 93, although that may not be unduly harsh because the runner-up scored by nine lengths at Lingfield on Thursday.

2.05 Investec Woodcote Stakes (Listed) (Class 1) 2YO 6f pounds 17,013CH4

1 (7) 1 Cool Bahamian (21) Eve J-Houghton 9.0 John Fahy 86

2 (2) 3215 Far Gaze (31) J S Moore 9.0 L Jones 84

3 (3) 06 Flying Author (16) P McEntee 9.0 A Kirby★ 72

4 (4) 13 Haikbidiac (17) W Haggas 9.0 R L Moore 85

5 (11) 51 Ifwecan (21) M Johnston 9.0 S De Sousa 89

6 (5) 21 Money Team (8) W G M Turner 9.0 J Crowley 85

7 (9) 01 Neighbother (21) R Fahey 9.0 F Tylicki 88

8 (6) 1 Riverboat Springs (17,D) M Channon 9.0 W Buick 87

9 (10) Soul Of Motion Miss G Kelleway 9.0 P C Boudot -

10 (1) 11 Thunder Strike (12) R Hannon 9.0 R Hughes 89

11 (8) 61 Zalzilah (26) J Tate 9.0 N Callan 84

Betting 11-4 Thunder Strike, 7-2 Haikbidiac, 6-1 Riverboat Springs, Ifwecan, 8-1 Neighbother, 10-1 Cool Bahamian, 12-1 Zalzilah, Money Team.

Form Neighbother made great headway between his first couple of starts to beat a subsequent winner at Warwick and today's extra furlong is expected to see him in an even better light. Thunder Strike made it two from two with a defeat of a good yardstick in Split Rock at Windsor, and the runner-up's trainer Mark Johnston this times relies on Ifwecan, who left a disappointing introduction behind when winning at Ascot.

2.40 Investec Coronation Cup (Group 1) (Class 1) 1m 4f pounds 198,485CH4

1 (1) 61114- Chamonix (230,D,BF) A P O'Brien IRE 4 9.0

J A Heffernan85

2 (4) 016-63 Chapter Seven (42) S C Williams 4 9.0 H Bentley 82

3 (5) 105-43 Dunaden (34,D) M Delzangles FR 7 9.0 J P Spencer 88

4 (2) 1310-6 Joshua Tree (15,D) E Dunlop 6 9.0 R L Moore 87

5 (3) 3303-1 St Nicholas Abbey (63,CD) A P O'Brien IRE 6 9.0

J P O'Brien90

Betting 2-5 St Nicholas Abbey, 3-1 Dunaden, 10-1 Joshua Tree, 25-1 Chamonix, 100-1 Chapter Seven.

Form St Nicholas Abbey can become the first triple winner of the Coronation Cup because he has beaten stronger fields than this in the past two runnings, and looked as well as, if not better, than ever when slamming Japanese starlet Gentildonna in the Sheema Classic. Dunaden was almost five lengths behind him in Dubai, after which he ran a creditable third in the Prix Ganay over an inadequate 10 furlongs.

3.15 Investec Specialist Bank 'Dash' (Heritage Handicap)

(Class 2) 5f pounds 62,250CH4

1 (14) 13640- Ballesteros (207,D) B Meehan 4 9.10 W Buick 83

2 (12) 0-6420 Humidor (20,D) G Baker 6 9.10 J Doyle 82

3 (11) -00546 Confessional (24,D) T Easterby 6 9.5 S De Sousa★ 84

4 (2) 10303- Jiroft (ITY,273,D) R Cowell 6 9.5 S W Kelly 81

5 (5) 5310-0 Dinkum Diamond (16,D) H Candy 5 9.5

Cathy Gannon85

6 (9) 5353-1 Ajjaadd (38,CD) T Powell 7 9.2 K O'Neill 89

7 (3) 006-30 Judge 'N Jury (7,D11) R Harris 9 9.2

Thomas Brown (5)86

8 (4) 230-05 Taajub (43,D) P Crate 6 9.1 I Mongan 83

9 (19) 65-015 Duke Of Firenze (7,D,BF) Sir M Stoute 4 9.0

R L Moore88

10 (15) 00052- Stone Of Folca (255,CD) J Best 5 8.13 S Drowne★ 88

11 (1) 0-1231 Smoothtalkinrascal (16,D) D O'Meara 3 8.13 (4lb ex) D Tudhope86

12 (18) 0020-2 Captain Dunne (24,CD) T Easterby 8 8.12 D Allan 87

13 (16) 04132- Long Awaited (245,CD) T D Barron 5 8.12

R Hughes★85

14 (7) 00-160 Mister Manannan (16,D) D Nicholls 6 8.8 F Tylicki 82

15 (6) 0456-2 La Fortunata (38,D) Mike Murphy 6 8.7

M J Murphy (5)85

16 (13) 6200-3 Fair Value (28,CD) S Dow 5 8.7 Hayley Turner 82

17 (8) 006456 Swiss Cross (27,C) P McEntee 6 8.6

Racheal Kneller (5)81

18 (10) 516-50 Doctor Parkes (14,D) S C Williams 7 8.5 H Bentley 84

19 (20) 000-40 Top Cop (14) A Balding 4 8.5 J Haynes (7)★ 90

20 (17) 01-001 Church Music (10,D) M Scudamore 4 8.4 (4lb ex)

D E Egan (3)★87

Betting 13-2 Duke Of Firenze, 8-1 Captain Dunne, Long Awaited, 10-1 Ajjaadd, Smoothtalkinrascal, 12-1 Mister Manannan, Humidor, Stone Of Folca.

Form Top Cop has failed to fulfil his early promise, but he showed up for a long way over 6f at Newbury a fortnight ago and his plum draw against the rail means he can hit the ground running. Joey Haynes' mount was only two lengths behind Duke Of Firenze at Goodwood at the start of the month and is now 5lb better off - even before taking into account his young rider's 7lb claim. Duke Of Firenze has also benefited from a favourably high draw. He struck trouble at York last week but his hold-up style of racing means that he does need good fortune, and there are invariably hard-luck stories in this race.

4.00 Investec Derby (Group 1) (Class 1)

3YO 1m 4f pounds 782,314CH4

1 (9) 111-11 Battle Of Marengo (20) A P O'Brien IRE 9.0

J P O'Brien 87

2 (4) 21-1 Chopin (41) A Wohler GER 9.0 J P Spencer 88

3 (7) 1111-1 Dawn Approach (28) J S Bolger IRE 9.0 K J Manning 89

4 (2) 51-3 Festive Cheer (20,BF) A P O'Brien IRE 9.0

J A Heffernan 85

5 (8) 120-06 Flying The Flag (7) A P O'Brien IRE 9.0 C O'Donoghue 82

6 (11) 15-3 Galileo Rock (36) D Wachman IRE 9.0 W M Lordan 85

7 (5) 141 Libertarian (16) Mrs K Burke 9.0 W Buick 86

8 (12) 1-6 Mars (28) A P O'Brien IRE 9.0 R Hughes 88

9 (6) 5130-1 Mirsaale (38,C) J Tate 9.0 N Callan 84

10 (3) 64-000 Ocean Applause (38) J Ryan 9.0 D J O'Donohoe 78

11 (1) 1-11 Ocovango (28) A Fabre FR 9.0 P C Boudot 90

12 (10) 11 Ruler Of The World (23,D) A P O'Brien IRE 9.0

R L Moore 88

Betting 10-11 Dawn Approach, 9-2 Battle Of Marengo, 7-1 Ocovango, 8-1 Chopin, 10-1 Ruler Of The World, 12-1 Mars, 14-1 Libertarian, 33-1 Galileo Rock, 50-1 others.

Form Ocovango has followed an identical route to the one Andre Fabre took so successfully with 2011 Derby hero Pour Moi, winning the Prix Greffulhe at Saint-Cloud before getting an all-important taste of Epsom with a spin during the Breakfast With The Stars morning. He is described by his trainer as "more of a galloper" than Pour Moi, which may be beneficial because the Aidan O'Brien batallion will surely try and expose any weakness in the stamina of hot favourite Dawn Approach. Jim Bolger did not bother entering the favourite for this Classic when it was in his wife's ownership, and Godolphin supplemented him before he annihilated his 2,000 Guineas rivals with a devastating turn of foot.

4.50 Investec Zebra Handicap (Class 2)

1m 4f pounds 15,562

1 (1) 363323 Tepmokea (21,D) Mrs K Burke 7 9.7 S W Kelly 86

2 (6) 05-430 Scatter Dice (21,D,BF) M Johnston 4 9.7 F M Berry 85

3 (11) 335-12 Sheikhzayedroad (21) D M Simcock 4 9.7 M Lane 87

4 (4) 6-0401 Sirvino (7,D) T D Barron 8 9.5 R L Moore 88

5 (3) 210-60 Party Line (14,D) M Johnston 4 9.5 S De Sousa 90

6 (12) 1-4412 Duke Of Clarence (12) R Hannon 4 9.3 R Hughes 89

7 (8) 3-0P05 John Biscuit (17,C) A Balding 5 9.0 Hayley Turner 83

8 (5) 203-04 First Avenue (J78) Mrs L Mongan 8 8.11

Charlotte Jenner (7) 86

9 (9) 133240 Aquilonius (21) S C Williams 4 8.11 J P Spencer★ 84

10 (2) 12-542 Cayuga (15) B Johnson 4 8.10 R Tart (5) 85

11 (7) 05-404 Right Step (9,C) A Jarvis 6 8.10 M J Murphy (5) 84

12 (10) 2014-0 Colinca's Lad (13,CD) P Charalambous 11 8.5

Rosie Jessop (5) 82

Betting 7-2 Duke Of Clarence, 5-1 Sirvino, 6-1 Sheikhzayedroad, 7-1 Tepmokea, 8-1 Cayuga, 12-1 Right Step, Scatter Dice.

5.25 Voyage By Investec Handicap

(Class 2) 6f pounds 15,562

1 (7) 05-000 Pabusar (100,D) J Osborne 5 9.7 Hayley Turner 82

2 (13) 360111 Dr Red Eye (7,C) S Dixon 5 9.2 B Cray (3) 86

3 (17) -33114 Gandalak (22,D) D O'Meara 4 9.2 D Tudhope 87

4 (4) 200100 Thunderball (40,D) S Dixon 7 9.1 I Mongan 84

5 (2) 014-60 Compton (17,D) R Cowell 4 9.0

Thomas Brown (5) 88

6 (1) 34-413 Seeking Magic (14,D) C Cox 5 9.0 A Kirby★ 89

7 (16) -12110 Khawatim (14,D,BF) N Quinlan 5 8.13 J P Spencer 84

8 (9) 030-61 Charlotte Rosina (26,D) R Teal 4 8.10 S Sanders★ 90

9 (15) 011064 Forest Edge (7,D) P Evans 4 8.10 J F Egan★ 83

10 (12) 11023 Crew Cut (22,D) J Gask 5 8.7 S De Sousa★ 85

11 (14) 13300 Al's Memory (14,D) P Evans 4 8.6 Cathy Gannon 82

12 (8) -65011 Gabbiano (21,D) J Gask 4 8.3 R Tart (5) 89

13 (3) 30-042 Titus Gent (22,D10) J Gask 8 8.3 John Fahy 86

14 (6) 124026 Blue Jack (16,D,BF) S C Williams 8 8.3 N Mackay 83

15 (10) 20-040 Arctic Feeling (17) R Fahey 5 8.2 J Quinn 82

16 (11) 456-00 Another Try (7,D7) A Jarvis 8 8.2 M Lane 87

17 (5) 100-00 Baby Strange (14,D) D Shaw 9 8.2 D E Egan (3) 81

Betting 6-1 Dr Red Eye, 7-1 Gabbiano, 15-2 Khawatim, 8-1 Seeking Magic, Gandalak, Crew Cut, Charlotte Rosina, 10-1 Blue Jack, Titus Gent.


Chris Cook's selections

Epsom

1.35 High Troja

2.05 Riverboat Springs

2.40 St Nicholas Abbey

3.15 Fair Value (nb)

4.00 Battle Of Marengo

4.50 Sheikhzayedroad

5.25 Titus Gent

Doncaster

2.00 Swinging Sultan

2.35 Terhaab

3.10 Remote

3.45 Tartiflette

4.45 Sea Meets Sky

5.20 La Boccoutteuse

5.50 Ian's Dream

Hexham

1.40 Kaolak

2.15 Bygones Of Brid

2.45 Oscar Leney

3.20 Overpriced

4.20 Akdam

4.55 Kai Broon

5.30 Mister Jones

Lingfield Park

5.55 Blhadawa

6.25 Princess Cammie

6.55 Saloomy

7.25 Gregori

7.55 Nafa

8.25 Soul Intent

8.55 City Ground

Musselburgh

1.50 Llaregyb

2.20 Justice Day

2.55 Bin Singspiel

3.30 Van Percy (nap)

4.30 Tax Free

5.05 Spes Nostra

3.50 Chookie Royale

Newcastle

6.10 Classy Lassy

6.40 Keep It Dark

7.10 Qawaafy

7.40 Border Bandit

8.10 Jeu Du Roseau

8.40 Different

9.10 Cross The Boss

Worcester

1.55 Accessallareas

2.25 Connectivity

3.00 Coole River

3.35 Billfromthebar

4.35 High Stratos

5.10 Moscow In April

5.40 Saint Roque

6.15 Garryleigh


Battle Of Marengo stamina to break Dawn

By Today's TV tips Chris Cook

Dawn Approach is the horse around which today's Derby revolves and there is no forming a view about what to back without taking a decision about his stamina. Unbeaten in seven races and the only Group One winner in the field, he has achieved a lot more than any of his rivals and would be long odds-on if this were a mile race.

The extra four furlongs provide the puzzle. It is tempting to suggest that Jim Bolger's flashy chestnut seems so full of ability that he might even scramble home without properly staying this far but that kind of reasoning is usually dangerous.

His strength at the finish of last month's 2,000 Guineas gives hope that he will handle the longer distance and, if the ground were on the fast side, as it usually is here in June, his chances would appear excellent. But the recent rain resulted in quite a few horses failing for want of stamina here yesterday, including Moth, whose running-on effort in the 1,000 Guineas made her favourite for the Oaks.

Dawn Approach's will be tested and, while there is no writing off such a talented colt, odds of 11-8 do not properly compensate for the risk that he will fall short. Though his sire, New Approach, overcame stamina doubts to win the 2008 Derby, he was available at three times that price and beat a moderate field.

Of course this may not turn out to be a great Derby but there are grounds for believing Battle Of Marengo (4.00) could be very useful, for all that his efforts have looked workmanlike. He was not hard pressed to hold off the previously unbeaten Loch Garman, a Group One winner, in Leopardstown's Derby Trial last time and the Bolger-trained runner-up is a serious contender for tomorrow's French Derby.

Battle Of Marengo, on his seasonal reappearance, comfortably disposed of Sugar Boy, winner of his previous three runs and a winner again since, in Sandown's Classic Trial. A strong pace and an extra quarter-mile ought to play to Battle Of Marengo's strengths, while exposing Dawn Approach's vulnerabilities, if any exist. It is up to Aidan O'Brien's other runners to ensure a strong pace, which his team failed to do in this race four years ago, when Fame And Glory versus Sea The Stars offered a similar match-up.

Chopin is probably being unfairly overlooked by the betting market, as many German raiders are when they race in Britain, while Libertarian may be running on well to give patriotic punters a thrill, he being the only domestic entrant with an evident chance. Still more tempting for each-way purposes is the 40-1 Galileo Rock, so impressive on his debut last year and likely to be sharper than when a close third in the Sandown trial.

1.35 Epsom Newbury's London Gold Cup sometimes throws up a horse worth following and High Troja showed battling qualities to win it a fortnight ago, when the ground was really faster than he would have liked. Ed Dunlop's runner can follow up from 4lb higher.

2.05 Epsom Thunder Strike is the likely favourite, given that there has been Royal Ascot talk for him, but his Windsor win over two rivals last time was not terribly compelling. Riverboat Springs, a half-brother to a successful Australian sprinter, was stylish at Bath on his debut and the second has since scored.

2.40 Epsom There is simply no getting away from St Nicholas Abbey, seeking a hat-trick in this race which would take his career earnings close to pounds 5m.

3.15 Epsom The locally trained Fair Value has run well on both starts here and returned with a promising effort at Goodwood last month.

Captions:

Battle Of Marengo is the leading Derby candidate from Aidan O'Brien's stable


Sheikh desperate for Derby victory to put drugs scandal behind him

By Greg Wood

Like any racehorse owner, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and founder of Godolphin, must have imagined at times over the last 30 years how it would feel to realise his greatest ambition, and see his colours carried to victory in the Derby at Epsom.

As little as 12 months ago, his daydream would have run something like this. There would have been the acclaim from tens of thousands of spectators as the Sheikh led his colt towards the famous circular winner's enclosure below the Queen's Stand. A grateful handshake with Saeed bin Suroor, the winning trainer, or perhaps Mahmood al-Zarooni, the new man on his team with two Classic wins to his name already. And the growing anticipation as Frankie Dettori, the Sheikh's loyal jockey for two decades, prepared to perform his famous flying dismount.

One sacking and one doping scandal later, the Queen's Stand and the winner's enclosure are the only parts of the fantasy that Sheikh Mohammed might recognise if Dawn Approach, the hot favourite, becomes the first horse to win the Derby in Godolphin's royal blue colours this afternoon.

Dettori's contract as Godolphin's No1 jockey was not renewed after he agreed to ride Camelot for John Magnier, the Sheikh's bitter rival, in last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. But at least he is back in the game after serving a six-month drugs suspension, unlike Zarooni, who is banned from every racecourse on the planet for the next eight years after he admitted doping horses at his Godolphin-owned yard in Newmarket with anabolic steroids.

Suroor will be a spectator at Epsom too. Many hundreds of Classically bred colts have passed through his hands during his 18 years with Godolphin, yet it is Jim Bolger, who trains in County Carlow, and Kevin Manning, his son-in-law and stable jockey, who bear the burden of the Sheikh's hope and expectation today. Dawn Approach is the first Godolphin-owned horse that Bolger has trained, and could well prove to be the most important.

Sheikh Mohammed arrives at Epsom bruised and wounded. A few days ago, he issued an edict banning the use of anabolic steroids on all sport horses in Dubai, which included a promise that soon Godolphin "will go from strength to strength and lead, once again, adherence to the highest standards in that gracious sport". Yet Zarooni's extensive and systematic doping was uncovered only in mid-April. No one can be certain that such a renaissance is even possible. The Godolphin brand may have been damaged beyond repair.

Even without the shadow cast by the dopings, the Sheikh's failure to see his colours win the Derby despite ploughing billions into his effort would be a source of fascination. He has been second and third and seen favourites beaten, including the brilliant Dubai Millennium, whose flop at Epsom was his only defeat in an outstanding 10-race career.

But the Sheikh is hardly the first rich and powerful man before whom the Derby has refused to yield, nor the first to face a decisive moment on Epsom Downs. Fortunes and careers have been made and ruined here for more than two centuries, while political and personal rivalries have been played out through the medium of three-year-old thoroughbreds.

It is a century since the most dramatic Derby of all, when the suffragette Emily Davison died in a collision with the King's horse, Anmer, and the favourite Craganour was disqualified from first place.

Bower Ismay, Craganour's owner, was from the family that had built and launched the Titanic a little over a year beforehand, and though Ismay had little time for business, his name alone tainted him by association with Bruce, his brother and the chairman of the White Star Line, who found his way to a lifeboat while women and children drowned. Nor did it help in the stewards' inquiry that Ismay was conducting a very public affair with the sister-in-law of the chairman of the panel.

Hermit's Derby in 1867 made an estimated pounds 100,000 for his owner, Henry Chaplin, and carried the 4th Marquess of Hastings to the brink of ruin, which added considerably to Chaplin's satisfaction as his financee had ditched him to marry Hastings just three years earlier.

Michael Tanner, whose recent book The Suffragette Derby analyses the 1913 race in great detail, offers another example of a man who was driven to distraction by the Derby.

"William Waldorf, the 2nd Viscount Astor, won every Classic bar the Derby," Tanner says. "He was a rich and powerful man, and everything else fell before him, but in the Derby he had the second horse five times in seven years, in 1918, 1919, 1921, 1922 and 1924, three of which were from the same broodmare.

"Funnily enough, while he was enduring such terrible luck in the Derby, he was scooping the Oaks [the Epsom Classic for fillies] almost at will. He had five winners of that between 1917 and 1929."

Sheikh Mohammed too has won every Classic bar the Derby, and like others before him too, he is a man in the midst of a crisis, in urgent need of a result. Victory for Dawn Approach would hint that his fortunes are on the turn, while a warm reception from the crowd would imply that Godolphin's reputation, and by extension his own, have not been damaged beyond repair.

The betting says that it is little more than a coin toss. Dawn Approach was brilliant in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket last month but the Derby is over another half-mile and the favourite will now be racing against colts that have been bred for just this test. He will set off at around 5-4, not too far off a 50-50 chance in the race his owner wants and needs to win like no other.

And when the stalls open at Epsom this afternoon, all Sheikh Mohammed's wealth, influence and billion-pound investment in bloodstock will count for nothing. He will be at the mercy of the world's most famous Flat race, and for two-and-a-half minutes he will be just like the rest of us.

Hoping to get lucky.

Captions:

Dawn Approach is a hot favourite to break Sheikh Mohammed's Derby duck


Barney Ronay: Why are some people so slow to appreciate the talents of Trott?

By Barney Ronay

It has been a week to worry, just a bit, about England's top order as the fall-out from the Great Slowness Incident during the victorious Headingley Test grudgingly recedes. This is something of a shame, if only because opening batsmen in particular deserve a little more slack.

It is one of the more distinct and perilous positions in any sport, a role that requires not just bravery and skill, but also a certain kind of quiet theatricality. If a batting order - which is essentially a journey through the familiar human stages of hope and decay - can be broken down into its component parts then the openers represent a kind of coming out into the world, pristine and untainted like prim and virginal daughters, or perhaps bashfully stern in the mould of Alastair Cook, for whom every innings is like the emergence into stately young adulthood of a beautiful royal bride.

The middle order, on the other hand, represents something more muddied, the dawning gravity of adult life: out they come, these middle-order CEOs, swaggeringly entitled, smug as young parents.

After which things start to loosen up. No6 is a handsome bachelor, appearing at the wicket ideally as though just rushing back from the track or the roulette wheel. By the time we get to No7 we're into rakish middle age. Matt Prior's batting still brings to mind at times a raucous fourth marriage, all gin and tonics, swinging long weekends, the occasional heart attack. Whereas the lower order carries with it an agreeable sense of liver-spotted regret.

Graeme Swann's batting is the novel you never did end up writing. Stuart Broad's offside waft feels a bit like a final doomed attempt to understand the internet. Jimmy Anderson's reverse sweep is the last erection you'll ever have.

With this in mind it is easy to feel protective in particular towards Nick Compton, if only because it is impossible not to feel fondly supportive of any opening batsman. At the same time it is perhaps the perfect moment to reconsider a little the wider perception of Jonathan Trott, whose batting at Headingley touched a level of slowness that to some seemed almost wilfully provocative.

For all his success, Trott remains a surprisingly divisive figure. Perhaps it even takes a Compton - a batsman who is strategically slow, self-consciously pursuing the slow lifestyle - to emphasise Trott's own unchanging merits. And perhaps with England's monkish No3 more pivotal than ever in a depleted batting lineup, it is even time not just to value Trott's runs, but to learn to love him a little.

The slowness issue can be put to one side at the start. When it comes to batting it seems some are born slow, some have slowness thrust upon them, while others simply pretend to be slow with uncomfortable results.

No doubt Compton, with his pointless biceps, his Porsche-in-the-garage range of attacking stokes - I have seen him hit consecutive sixes over cover - will allow his talent to breathe in time. But with Trott there has never been any sense of constriction. He is instead beautifully, naturally slow. The periods of passivity are simply an extension of his basic technique, that unflinching self-containment that demands the bowler come to him, straying ever closer to Trott's counter-punching orbit, and opening up that range of minimalist drives, clips and nudges, the beautiful tension-free glide through covers, the surprisingly severe leg-side force.

And for all his slight dip in the last year Trott remains the still, quiet centre of this successful England batting lineup. It is like having something muted and quietly vast batting at No3: an AGA, or the colour blue, or the wheat fields of Ukraine.

This is why the occasional talk of selfishness is so wide of the mark. Trott's personal statistics are unarguably fine: he is the only England batsman ever to average 50 in Tests and ODIs. But beyond this his team stats are also outstanding. Of his nine Test hundreds five have set up an England win, two have saved a match while one fell stoically short in defeat. And at his best it feels as though every innings is just a continuation of that 2009 Ashes-rescuing first hundred at The Oval, infused with a simple conviction that if he just keeps on batting, England will win. It works, too. If Trott succeeds against Australia, England will succeed.

And while it is in Trott's nature not to notice how harshly his style (as much as his tempo: he's not actually that slow) is judged beyond the boundary, perhaps it is time finally to funnel a little galvanising collective affection his way.

I'm already awaiting his gradual ascent into national-treasure status. He already has a wry, crinkly, likeable face. Wandering around in his endearingly baggy whites he resembles at times a very clever badger in a waistcoat who knows how to grow tomatoes.

I look forward to his increasingly eccentric and crankish late 30s, when perhaps he will dig out once again the devastatingly suave neckerchief he briefly took to batting in in Sri Lanka. I even feel a sense of affection for his digging and scratching at the crease, an endearing mini-phenomenon that deserves to be marked and celebrated and perhaps even granted its own statistical entry in the sport's records. If Trott re-marks his guard every 30 runs in Test cricket, and takes a minute and half on average doing it, that adds up so far to nearly three hours of combined scratching about, scuffing his foot, glancing around the field and generally infuriating bowlers of all shades.

And to linger on slowness, Trott's or otherwise, is to miss the point. Even within the slow there is purposeful variation: the feistily slow; slow that contains the lingering threat of fast, and slow that adds up in Trott's case not just to a strike rate that is only marginally lower than average, but to a concerted sense of high-grade endeavour.

This is not just the essence of Trott, it is the essence of cricket, which remains one of the last redoubts of the glacial, the unhurried, the meandering, and all the other familiar aspects of the batting-order-as-life dynamic. Never mind the demands for more and faster. Forget the gripes about his early life in South Africa (he came to county cricket a British passport holder). Trott will be missed when he goes. Until that happens long may he continue to straggle.

twitter.com/barneyronay



GUARDIAN COOK

Cook: The 10 best: TOMATO RECIPES: This week's recipes cover the full spectrum of varieties and tastes, including tiny explosive tomberries, tart and chunky green slices, and sweet and chewy sun-dried specimens

1 TOMATO PARTY

(ON THE COVER)

The purpose of this salad is to use as many types of tomato as you possibly can. Some are cooked, others raw, to maximise the tomatoey effect with diverse flavours and textures.

Serves 4

125g couscous

Olive oil

150ml boiling water

150g fregola (giant couscous)

300g medium vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered

3/4 tsp brown sugar

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

150g yellow cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tbsp oregano, roughly chopped

2 tbsp tarragon, roughly chopped

3 tbsp mint, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 small green tomato, cut into thin wedges

100g tomberries or halved cherry tomatoes

Salt and black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Put the couscous in a bowl with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of oil. Pour over the boiling water, stir and cover with clingfilm. Set aside for 12 minutes, then remove the clingfilm, separate grains with a fork and leave to cool.

2 Place the fregola in a pan of boiling, salted water and simmer for 18 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold, running water. Leave to dry completely.

3 Meanwhile, spread the quartered vine tomatoes over half a large baking tray and sprinkle with the sugar and some salt and pepper. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar and some oil over the top. Place in the oven.

4 After about 20 minutes, remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Spread the yellow cherry tomatoes over the empty side of the baking tray, season with salt and pepper and drizzle over some oil. Roast for 12 minutes. Remove the tomatoes and allow to cool.

5 Mix together the couscous and fregola in a large bowl. Add the herbs, garlic, cooked tomatoes with all their juices, green tomato and tomberries. Very gently mix together using your hands and taste for seasoning: you might need to add salt, pepper and some olive oil.

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ebury Press). To order a copy for pounds 20 (RRP pounds 25), visit guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846

2 PLUM TOMATO AND BASIL GALETTE

This is one of those inspired, simple ideas on the menu at the Ivy in London and published in its book, The Ivy, the Restaurant and Its Recipes, by AA Gill, with recipes by Mark Hix.

Makes 8

8 x 16cm rounds of puff pastry, 3-4mm thick

240g sun-dried tomatoes

2 tsp tomato puree

8 large, or 12 medium, ripe plum or well-flavoured tomatoes, cored, peeled and sliced

Salt and black pepper

For the basil dressing

120g basil

150ml extra virgin olive oil

1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Prick the pastry bases with a fork, lay them on a flat, oiled baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, turning after 5 minutes to ensure the pastry doesn't rise. Turn up the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.

2 Drain most of the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes, then process them with the tomato puree to make a fine paste. Transfer to a bowl. Rinse out the blender and wipe it dry.

3 Process the basil with the olive oil, adding a little more oil if the dressing seems too thick.

4 To assemble the galettes, spread a thin layer of the sun-dried tomato puree on the pastry bases. Lay the sliced tomatoes in a circle on top, overlapping slightly. Season with black pepper and bake for 10 minutes.

5 Serve on a warm plate. Drizzle the basil dressing generously over the tomatoes and sprinkle with a crumble of sea salt flakes.

The Big Red Book of Tomatoes by Lindsey Bareham (Grub Street)

3 PAIN PERDU AUX DEUX TOMATES

This savoury version of the traditionally sweet pain perdu is ideal for a brunch or light evening meal in the summer, when tomatoes are fragrant and most plentiful. Serve with a salad of mixed greens. You can substitute strips of dry-cured ham for the sun-dried tomatoes.

Serves 4

300g day-old bread, cut into 1cm-thick slices

4 large eggs

120ml milk

1 1/2 tsp dried oregano

1 1/2 tsp herbes de Provence

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

6 medium Roma tomatoes, about 700g

12 sun-dried tomatoes, drained

Extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

60g parmesan, freshly grated

1 Cut the bread into 5cm-wide pieces. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, herbs, half the salt, and the pepper. Add the bread, toss to coat and let stand for 10 minutes, occasionally stirring gently to ensure an even coating. Leave some mixture for later.

2 Core the tomatoes and slice horizontally in 1cm slices. Let them stand in a colander to drain for 5 minutes. Cut the semi-dried tomato into bite-size pieces.

3 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and grease a large baking dish with olive oil. Arrange the tomato slices over the bottom of the dish, reserving nine of the most attractive for the top. Sprinkle with the remaining salt, drizzle with a little oil and top with the garlic and sun-dried tomatoes.

4 Arrange the bread over the tomatoes, pour the remaining egg mixture over the dish, top with the reserved tomato slices and sprinkle with parmesan.

5 Bake for 20-25 minutes, until heated through, then switch on the grill for 5 minutes until the cheese is golden and the bread is crisp around the edges.

Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier (Marion Boyars)

4 TOMATES PROVENCALES

This is the height of simplicity - with good ingredients, not much more needs doing.

Serves 4

8-10 large, ripe tomatoes

Salt and black pepper

4-5 garlic cloves, crushed

A handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Olive oil

1 Cut the tomatoes in half. Make several diagonal incisions in the pulp of the tomatoes, and rub in the salt, pepper and garlic.

2 Spread each tomato half with parsley, pressing it well in.

3 Pour a few drops of olive oil on each and cook cut-side up under the grill, or in a hot oven, 200C/400F/gas mark 6, for about 30 minutes, until slightly blackened on the cut surface.

Edited excerpt from Elizabeth David on Vegetables, by Elizabeth David; recipes compiled by Jill Norman (Quadrille)

5 SWEET GREEN TOMATO PRESERVE

Loligi mourapa is an Armenian classic. Use small green tomatoes, no more than 2 1/2 cm in diameter.

Makes at least 1.2kg

900g small, green tomatoes, washed and drained

1.2kg sugar

450ml water

1 tbsp lemon juice

5 cloves

5cm stick of cinnamon

Seeds from 3 cardamom pods

1 Bring some water to the boil in a large saucepan. Drop in the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain them and leave to cool.

2 Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by placing the sugar, water and lemon juice in a large saucepan and bringing to the boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Drop the cooled tomatoes into the syrup, remove from the heat and set aside for 2 hours.

3 Place the cloves, cinnamon and cardamom seeds in a small muslin bag, tie tightly and hang by a piece of string in the syrup. Return to the heat and simmer very gently for 30 minutes, then set aside for 2 hours.

4 Repeat the simmering process once more, setting aside for a further 2 hours.

5 Cook over a low heat until the syrup is thick. Remove from the heat and set aside until cool. Discard the spice bag. Carefully drop the tomatoes into sterilised jars with a slotted spoon. Pour the syrup over the tomatoes until the jars are filled to the top. Seal tightly and store in a cool place.

Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East by Arto der Haroutunian (Grub Street)

6 BAKED SAFFRON YOGHURT PUDDING WITH TOMATO COMPOTE

This unusual partnership of tomato and yoghurt works really well. You'll make more ginger paste than you need, but it keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Serves 4

For the ginger paste

100g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

125ml water

For the compote

4 ripe tomatoes, chopped

220g sugar

For the pudding

250g plain yoghurt

160g sweetened condensed milk

60ml double cream

2 threads of saffron, infused in 1 tsp milk

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 Preheat the oven to 160C/320F/gas mark 3. Process the ginger in a food processor with the water to form a smooth paste. Set aside.

2 Mix together the tomato, 1 tsp of the ginger paste and the sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over a medium heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the tomato has softened. Spread out over the base of a 25cm x 12cm ovenproof dish.

3 Mix together the yoghurt, condensed milk, cream, saffron infusion and egg in a medium bowl.

4 Pour the yoghurt mixture over the tomatoes and bake in the oven for 20-35 minutes, or until the pudding is just set.

5 Allow to cool completely then chill in the fridge for 1 hour. Serve in dessert glasses.

Spice Kitchen by Ragini Dey (Hardie Grant)

7 ROASTED TOMATO KETCHUP

If you've never made ketchup before, you'll be surprised at how simple it is. Star anise and balsamic vinegar add interesting flavours, but you can leave these out if you're a purist.

Makes about 500ml

10 medium tomatoes (about 1kg)

Coconut oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

A pinch of chilli flakes

3 star anise

3 bay leaves

1 tsp ground coriander

30ml balsamic vinegar

Apple cider vinegar to taste

Salt and black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Wash the tomatoes then cut them in half and place on a lined baking sheet. Lightly drizzle with coconut oil and a pinch of salt. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes or so, until the tomatoes are caramelised and fragrant.

2 While the tomatoes are cooking, heat some oil in a large pan and add the onions, a pinch of salt, black pepper, garlic, chilli flakes, star anise, bay leaves, and coriander. Cook until the onions soften slightly - about 5 minutes. When the bottom of the pan gets dry, pour in the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan.

3 Once cool, remove the star anise and bay leaves and set aside for later. Place the tomatoes and cooked onions in a food processor and blend to form a puree. Using the back of a wooden spoon or spatula, press the puree through a mesh sieve back into the pan. (You can save the fibrous leftovers for a tomato-based soup or stew.)

4 Return the star anise and bay leaves to the pan, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until thickened (5-10 minutes). Season to taste. If it is not tangy enough, add 2-3 tsp of apple cider vinegar.

5 Once the ketchup has slightly cooled, pour into a clean glass container and store in the fridge for a week. It also freezes well.

Recipe supplied by Sarah Britton,

mynewroots.org

8 FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

With their tart, brisk flavour and apple-like crunch, green tomatoes are especially delectable sliced and deep-fried. Their tangy flesh is a perfect foil for a rich, toasty crust. If you can't find green tomatoes, use supermarket red tomatoes, which most months of the year are so firm they might as well be green: sprinkle each slice with a pinch of salt and a squirt of lemon juice before dredging it to coax out more tomato flavour.

Serves 6

For the tomatoes

3 large eggs, beaten

190ml whole milk

750ml peanut oil

1.3kg green tomatoes, stem ends cut out and sliced in 1/2 cm slices

Sea salt, if needed

Lemon juice, if needed

Fresh spinach and fresh rocket, to serve

For dredging

325g flour

9 tbsp cornmeal

6 tsp salt

Black pepper

For the dressing

185ml buttermilk

5 tbsp fresh lime juice

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp honey

A small handful fresh basil, finely chopped

2 spring onions, finely chopped

A small handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1/2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste

1 Whisk the eggs and milk together in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Cover tightly and keep in the fridge until the tomatoes are ready to be served.

2 Pour the oil into a 30cm skillet and set on a medium-high heat. Heat the oven to 110C/225F/gas mark 1/4 - very low - and place a wire cooling rack on a baking tray on the top shelf.

3 In a bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper together twice. Stir and turn out on to a large plate or tray. Taste the tomatoes: they should have a bright tartness like citrus fruit. If they don't, sprinkle the slices with salt and lemon juice. Then press one tomato slice into the dredging flour, once on each side, shaking any excess loose. Dunk in the egg mixture, then dredge the slice on both sides again. Shake off any excess and place the slice on a clean plate. Repeat with more slices until you've dredged enough for a batch (3-4 slices). With a spatula, transfer the first batch of slices to the oil.

4 As the first batch cooks, dredge the second batch of tomatoes, but keep a watchful eye on the first. Once the slices have fried to a rich golden brown on one side - about 2 minutes - flip them carefully and fry for 2 minutes more, or until golden brown. Transfer the fried tomatoes to a plate lined with a double thickness of kitchen paper and leave them to drain for one minute.

5 Transfer the slices to the wire cooling rack in the oven, arranging them in a single layer, so they remain warm and crisp. Repeat with the remaining slices until all the green tomatoes have been fried.

6 Serve right away on a bed of fresh spinach and rocket, drizzled with the dressing.

The Lee Brothers' Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners by Matt Lee and Ted Lee (WW Norton & Company). To order a copy for pounds 20 (RRP pounds 25), visit guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846

9 RAW TOMATO SOUP WITH BASIL OIL

The fastest soup ever, this depends on the use of really well-flavoured tomatoes - cherry tomatoes are often best - and an effective blender. The bright green, homemade basil oil is the perfect garnish.

Serves 4

For the soup

600g cherry tomatoes

15g chopped onion

1 garlic clove

2 tsp olive oil

1/4 - 1/2 tsp paprika

Salt and black pepper

For the basil oil

14g basil leaves

4 tbsp olive oil

1 Put the tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, and 1/4 tsp of paprika into a blender and blend at top speed until completely smooth. Season with salt, pepper and more paprika to taste.

2 For the basil oil, either pound the basil leaves to a paste using a pestle and mortar and stir in the oil or blend the leaves and oil in a mini food processor. Either way, press the bright green oil through a sieve (the basil puree left in the sieve is gorgeous mixed with hot pasta).

3 Ladle the soup into a bowl, swirl some basil oil over the top and serve. This is best eaten as soon as it is made: cool, but not icy cold.

Recipe supplied by Rose Elliot; The Best of Rose Elliot will be published by Hamlyn on June 3 (roseelliot.com)

10 SPICY TOMATO JAM

Caramelised onions, cinnamon and a dash of maple syrup are used to make this sticky, sweet jam.

Makes 400ml

1.5kg medium-ripe tomatoes

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp ghee or butter

2 large red onions, finely diced

1 tsp dried thyme or oregano

3 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp sea salt

1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Halve the tomatoes then lie them flat on a tray and roast for around 40 minutes, until sticky.

2 Meanwhile dry-fry the spices in a large pan for a few minutes until fragrant and toasted. Remove from the pan.

3 Fry the onions in the ghee or butter, with the thyme or oregano for 20 minutes, until caramelised. Then add the spices and fry for one more minute. Add the garlic and fry for a further few minutes.

4 Add the vinegar, maple syrup and sea salt and stir for a further minute.

5 Pour in the roasted tomatoes and their juices and break them up using a wooden spatula. Simmer for 30 minutes until the mixture reduces to a thick and jammy consistency.

6 Sterilise two 200ml jars or 1 large jar and fill with jam while still hot. Allow to cool, cover tightly with a lid and store in the fridge.

Recipe supplied by Melissa Hemsley and Jasmine Hemsley, hemsleyandhemsley.com


Cook: Dan Lepard: The ripple effect: A baking marvel and a seasonal showstopper - line your pud with a bramley and raspberry sauce and don't skimp on the ice-cream

By Dan Lepard

Look out for British raspberries soon, and combine them with bramley apples to ripple through this meringue and ice-cream spectacular. Forget the tradition of flaming your alaska with brandy; the reality of eating burnt meringue isn't good. Instead just toast it in the oven and serve with your brandy in a glass on the side for the best flavour. A few tips: if you let the cake stick to the side of the tin it won't drop so much as it cools. Also, use a very firm, premium ice-cream, as it will hold its shape better.

RASPBERRY RIPPLE BAKED ALASKA

Serves 6

For the sponge

5 medium eggs

175g caster sugar

50g unsalted butter, melted

175g sponge flour, or plain flour plus 1 tsp baking powder

For the meringue

5 medium egg whites

150g caster sugar

To assemble

Whisky or sherry (optional)

One batch of ice-cold raspberry bramley sauce (see right) or one 500ml tub of raspberry sorbet

500ml premium vanilla ice-cream

1 Line the base of a 23cm-diameter springform cake tin with a disc of nonstick baking paper. If you're using a stand mixer, whisk the whole eggs until frothy, gradually adding the sugar, and continue beating for 8-10 minutes until thick. If you're using a hand mixer, separate the eggs and whisk the whites, incorporating half the sugar gradually once they are frothy, until a meringue is formed. Beat the yolks separately, slowly adding the rest of the sugar until pale and creamy, then fold the yolks gently though the whites until smooth.

2 In a small bowl, mix the melted butter evenly with 5-6 tbsp of the beaten egg, then pour this back into the rest of the egg and sift the flour directly on to the mixture. Quickly and gently fold everything together until smooth.

3 Scrape the mixture into the tin and bake for about 30 minutes at 180C/160C fan/350F/gas mark 4 or until it feels set and slightly firm in the centre. Leave to cool in the tin then run a knife around the inside edge to free it from the sides, undo the clasp and release the cake. Cut the cake into three horizontal slices. Lay one in the base of a deep, 2 1/2 -litre bowl lined with clingfilm.

4 Cut strips from the second layer and run these around the edge of the sponge to form a higher "wall". Sprinkle the cake with whisky or sherry then spread three-quarters of the raspberry bramley sauce (or sorbet) around to coat the inside. Scoop in balls of ice-cream, with "ripples" of the rest of the sauce.

5 Fold the edges of the cake in, press the last layer of cake on top, then wrap the entire cake in clingfilm and freeze until firm. It will keep for several weeks frozen. When you're ready to serve, let the cake soften very slightly in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (you can check the texture with a skewer), then turn it out, either on to an ovenproof dish or a tray lined with nonstick paper, so you can easily transfer it to a serving dish when baked.

6 To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually add the sugar and beat to a thick meringue. Spread this over the cake and bake at 200C/180C fan/390F/gas mark 6 for 10 minutes, until beginning to brown, then serve immediately.

NOW TRY THIS . . .

RASPBERRY BRAMLEY SAUCE

If you can't find a bramley or similar cooking apple, replace it with a tart sort, such as granny smith, peeled, cored and grated.

Juice of 1/2 lemon

400g bramley apples, diced

50g caster sugar

250g fresh or frozen raspberries

1 Put the lemon juice in a saucepan with the apples and cook with a lid until they soften.

2 Remove the lid and cook until thick and slightly dry. Add about 50g caster sugar (keep it slightly over-sweet as freezing dulls it) and the raspberries, then cook again until the fruit has almost completely broken up.

3 Remove from the heat, cool then chill before using. Keeps well in the fridge for a week, or frozen.


Cook: Get-togethers: A feast for the eyes: Cressida Bell hosts a birthday spread for old friends infused with the aesthetic sensibilities of her Bloomsbury-set heritage

By Cressida Bell

What was the occasion?

It was my 54th birthday, and I was celebrating it with a gang of old friends. Cooking is something I love - and cake decoration in particular, which is why I ended up writing a book about it. I inherited my love of decoration from my father. Being a son of Bloomsbury (his mother was the artist Vanessa Bell), he had a love of beauty and a fantastical imagination. He'd decorate everything in the house, including the Christmas cake. It was always very loud and gaudy with lots of glace cherries and silver balls and wild patterns.

At some point, decoration became my job. I have a large plan-chest drawer full of decorations. I use everything from liquorice allsorts to fresh fruit . . . Oddly enough I'm not a big cake eater - it's the look of it that matters to me. Actually, that's probably why I don't mind spending so much time working on each design, because I'm not eager to eat it! That said, I don't mind when it is finally eaten - it's an ephemeral art, and one to be enjoyed.

What did you have to eat?

We had canape starters: rolled bresaola with lemon, rocket and olive oil; cooked beetroot with mint, goat's cheese and a roasted pecan, served on a toothpick; and quail's eggs. For the main I made a Moroccan chicken pie, and a beetroot, greens and feta filo pie for my vegetarian guest, served with a big melange of vegetables. For dessert I decorated a rich fruitcake with a dahlia design. A couple of my guests kept scouring the house to find it. It was quite a moment when I finally brought it out - I'd hidden it in the coal hole.

What did you have to drink?

We started off with champagne and then moved on to red wine and rose, with coffee at the end.

What did you talk about?

Politics, education, art, gossip . . . We're all of an age to have experienced Thatcherism first-hand, so we talked about Margaret Thatcher's recent death. I don't think she had a single fan in the room.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN PIE

This recipe is adapted from two versions I have by Claudia Roden. It is slightly easier than hers and a bit more highly spiced. You will need large sheets of filo for this dish.

Serves 12

1.75kg skinless, boneless chicken thighs

4 tsp olive oil, plus more for brushing

2 tsp ground ginger

4 tsp ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting

4 tsp ground turmeric

3 large onions, finely chopped

500ml water

A very large bunch of coriander

12 medium eggs

100g flaked almonds

12 large filo pastry sheets

Icing sugar

Salt and pepper

1 Add the chicken thighs to a large pan with the olive oil and gently brown the meat before adding the ground ginger, 2 tsp cinnamon, turmeric, salt and pepper to taste and the onions. Cook for a further minute, then cover with 500ml water and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and stew gently for about an hour, until the chicken is very tender.

2 Remove the chicken from the pan with a slotted spoon and leave to cool. Chop the fresh coriander roughly and add it to the pan. Bring the mixture to the boil and reduce until you have quite a thick sauce.

3 Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull it apart into bite-size pieces.

4 Break the 12 eggs into the reduced sauce and stir the mixture well. Put the pan on a low heat and stir until scrambled and thick. Mix in the chicken pieces.

5 Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. To assemble the pie, first fry the flaked almonds in a little oil until golden brown. Brush a large circular pie dish (about 30cm wide, 5cm deep) with oil and layer with 5-6 sheets of filo, brushing them with a little oil between each layer. Rotate the dish between each layer so the filo is equally distributed around the dish.

6 Pile in the filling, pushing it to the edges. Lay a folded sheet of filo on top and sprinkle over the remaining cinnamon and toasted almond flakes.

7 Pull up the bottom pastry layers to wrap the pie and then top with 5 more sheets, tucking them in around the edges as you go.

8 Bake the pie for around 1 hour or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and dust the top with icing sugar and cinnamon.

DAHLIA CAKE

Layers of angelica, candied citrus peel and cherries are piled up to make a delicious edible flower decoration. The cake sitting beneath is a Rose Prince recipe - a fruity, juicy delight, cooked very slowly in a well-insulated tin to keep it soft and moist.

Makes a 23cm cake

For the cake

250g unsalted butter

250g soft light brown sugar

200g plain flour, sifted

50g ground almonds

4 eggs

1 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp ground mixed spice

1 dessert apple, grated

1 tbsp molasses

Zest of 1 orange

50g whole almonds

100g currants

100g sultanas

100g dried figs, sliced

150g large raisins

100g pitted prunes, chopped

100g dried apricots, chopped

For the glaze

4 tbsp marmalade

2 tbsp water

For the decoration

Pale green and yellow icing

Angelica

Candied orange and lemon peel

Yellow glace cherries

White mimosa balls

White candy sticks

Orange and green sugar balls

Edible glue

1 Butter the inside of a 23cm-cake tin, then line the base with a circle of baking parchment. Cut a long piece of baking paper (enough to go around the tin once) about 20cm in width. Fold in half and secure it inside the tin to form a cylinder of paper. It should stick to the buttered sides of the tin. Butter the inside again, then dust with plain flour. Cut a second piece that goes twice around the tin and wrap this around the outside, to the same height as the inner strip, this time securing by tying it with a piece of string. Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/gas mark 1.

2 Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl - an electric mixer will help - and beat until the mixture is pale in colour. With the beater running, add 4 eggs, one at a time, each followed by a dessertspoonful of the flour and ground almonds. Fold in the rest of the flour and almonds with the allspice and mixed spice.

3 Stir in the apple and molasses, then add the orange zest. Finally, add the almonds and stir in all the dried fruit. Spoon the mixture into the tin.

4 Bake for 4-5 hours. Test by inserting a skewer - if it comes out clean, the cake is ready. Cool in the tin for about 45 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely.

5 For the glaze, simmer the marmalade with the water, then pass through a sieve. Cover the cake's entire surface.

6 Roll out the pale green icing and drape it over the entire cake, trimming off the excess neatly around the base.

7 Roll out the yellow icing and let it dry a little before cutting out your petal shapes. Set aside to firm up further while you cut the angelica into thin, pointed leaf shapes. Place the petals around the cake, radiating from the centre. Wet the base of each petal with a brush to stick them down, alternating with the green angelica leaves.

8 Slice the candied peel into long thin strips, the lemon pieces a third shorter than the orange strips, and place in a starburst fashion on top of the petals, first the orange layer, then the lemon.

9 Delineate the central rose shape with halved glace cherries, alternating with short slim pieces of white candy stick as stamens. Inside the cherry circle, paint the base with edible glue then stick down white mimosa balls and orange sugar balls, piling them into a mound. Lastly, glue down a green sugar ball on either side of the pointy end of your angelica leaves.

10 Transfer to a cake board or platter and serve.

To order Cressida Bell's Cake Designs: Fifty Fabulous Cakes (Double-Barrelled Books) for pounds 17.99 (RRP pounds 25), visit guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846;

cressidabell.com


Cook: Drinks: Cordially yours: The superfruit that saved Britain makes a healthy drink to rival branded alternatives: By Henry Dimbleby

By Henry Dimbleby

T his is a recipe to cut out and stick on the fridge for when the first blackcurrants emerge. Between now and then you can ask around to find someone who will stock them.

This should be much easier than it is. We have been cultivating these sharp little vitamin C bombs in this country since the 17th century. Blackcurrants are the only fruit that grow well in our miserable climate and provide abundant quantities of the scurvy-stopping vitamin.

During the second world war - when other sources of vitamin C were scarce - almost the entire crop was sequestered by the government, turned into cordial and delivered free to Britain's children.

British blackcurrant growers now grow 5,000 acres of blackcurrants. That is 4,000 football pitches-worth, according to the Blackcurrant Foundation. Let's just call it an area the size of Wales - it usually is.

These fields produce up to 30,000 tonnes of blackcurrants. That's enough to fill about a million baths. Or 40,000 minis, once you have taken the elephants out. Anyway, it is a lot.

But 95% of that crop goes towards making a certain well-known blackcurrant cordial, which is one reason you don't often find fresh blackcurrants for sale in the shops. Some pick-your-own farms sell them, and it's worth the trip. Failing that, you can often buy frozen ones at the supermarket.

This recipe - a firm favourite on the Leon menu for years - has a fresher taste than most blackcurrant cordials.

Drink it diluted or add a little bit to a tall glass of fizz (champagne, prosecco or cava) to create the perfect kir royale.

MAKE YOUR OWN BLACKCURRANT CORDIAL

500g blackcurrants

275g sugar

250ml water

1/2 tsp citric acid

1 In a heavy-based pan, simmer the sugar, blackcurrants and water gently for 5 minutes.

2 Using a potato masher, break up the fruit to release as much juice as possible.

3 Add the citric acid and simmer for another 2 minutes.

4 Strain the mix through muslin and pour the extracted liquid into a sterilised bottle and keep in the fridge.

Henry Dimbleby is co-founder of the healthy fast-food restaurant chain Leon (@henry-leon)


Cook: Meet the producer: 'I was raised under glass' Love My Chillies has sated the nation's newfound craving for fiery flavours, says Salvatore Genovese

By Salvatore Genovese

Mum and Dad were from Agrigento in Sicily - an area famous for its temples - where they grew oranges and peaches. When they immigrated to England, they discovered an old disused nursery in Blunham, a picturesque village within the Greensands ridge in Bedfordshire. So they bought it and got it running. That was also the year I was born - I was raised under glass.

We weren't sure what we should grow. We tried everything from chrysanthemums to courgettes. But we specialised in cucumbers. Cues, cues, and more cues. But then cucumber prices fell, and we needed to grow something different. I wanted to grow chillies, but my dad said it was risky. It wasn't just my dad - we also employed a crop consultant, who said: "Don't even think about it. You won't be able to sell them."

He was wrong. We now grow and pre-pack more than 12m chillies a year. We supply four supermarkets, and I've seen a 200-300% increase in sales since we started. Blunham is now the chilli capital of the UK. Incidentally, we still employ the crop consultant . . . we just don't get him involved with the marketing!

My wife and I have two girls - they're two and four. They love guessing the varieties of chillies in the glasshouse: naga, serenade, jalapeno, finger, scotch bonnet. They take them into school for harvest festival. Valentina's favourite colour is purple, so we've now got a purple chilli called Valentina. I've got to find one for Flavia now. Her favourite colour is yellow.

The weather in the UK is perfect for chillies. We do get reasonable sun in this country. The glasshouse is 15-20 degrees during the majority of the year, and in the summer it can even get too hot. We have to cool the plants down at night. All our varieties are grown without artificial lighting, which means Love My Chillies are only available between spring and Christmas.

A change in the traditional British palate has led to a dramatic rise in sales. Chillies are everywhere and they've become quite trendy. We were just there at the right time, and produced chillies in the right scale. There's a real macho trend for hot chillies. People ask "what's your hottest?", not "what tastes best?" We are responsible for the "Bedfordshire Super Naga". It's hot. But we're also about to submit another of our chillies to the Guinness Book of World Records. It's been laboratory tested and it's way higher than the present world record. Fingers crossed.

lovemychillies.co.uk

CHILLI CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

This is my partner's recipe: she has a sweet tooth, I have a chilli tooth, so this is our compromise. The chilli-kick complements the bittersweet brownies perfectly. Serve with a large, cold dollop of creme fraiche or warm chocolate sauce for added decadence.

Serves 4

150g plain chocolate, chopped

100g chilli plain chocolate, chopped

150g unsalted butter, softened

175g golden caster sugar

3 large eggs

75g plain white flour

1/2 red chilli, very finely chopped

75g whole blanched almonds, roughly chopped

1 Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3. Grease and line a 20cm-square cake tin.

2 Place 100g plain chocolate and all of the chilli chocolate in a bowl with the butter. Set the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Heat, stirring gently until melted. Remove the bowl from the pan and cool slightly.

3 Beat the sugar into the chocolate mixture using an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, until are combined. Sift in the flour and beat until the mixture is smooth. Add the chilli, remaining plain chocolate and almonds.

4 Pour the mix into the tin and bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the brownie comes out clean.

5 Allow to cool. Cut into squares and serve.


Cook: Readers' recipe swap: This week: Sustainable: Felicity Cloake samples your recipes made from ingredients in ready supply

By Felicity Cloake

A lovely crop of spring-like recipes this week, using everything from young nettles (and who doesn't want to get rid of them?) to more welcome members of the vegetable patch, such as rhubarb, new potatoes and asparagus.

My favourite, however, was Jess Baum's vivid pink beetroot hummus, which has made me look at that root in a different way. I've always thought of it as a winter vegetable, but British beetroot is actually at its sweetest in warmer months, and this makes a colourful accompaniment to cold drinks in the garden.

There's still a couple of weeks to make Rachel Demuth's wild garlic soup too, but hurry - those wonderfully pungent banks of white flowers won't last forever.

THE WINNING RECIPE

SPICED BEETROOT HUMMUS

This spiced, lemony beetroot hummus is super-quick to make, especially if you have a food processor. Beetroot is cheap as chips and environmentally friendly to boot. It's best suited to northern European climates - so is perfectly sustainable for British soil - and rarely needs treatment with pesticides. This red orb can do no wrong.

Jess Baum, Bristol, themotherinlawskitchen.com

Makes 1 large bowl

250g raw beetroot or ready-cooked beetroot (not pickled)

1 x 400g can chickpeas, skins removed

3 tbsp tahini

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tsp ground coriander

3 large garlic cloves, crushed

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 If using raw beetroot, wash but don't peel, and place in a saucepan. Cover with cold water, bring to the boil and then simmer until tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly before peeling: the skin should just come off under cold running water.

2 While the beetroot cooks, remove the outer husks from the chickpeas to give a much smoother, less grainy result.

3 Once the beetroot is peeled and cooled, roughly chop and place in the food processor with the tahini, drained chickpeas, lemon juice, coriander and crushed garlic. Blend to your preferred consistency.

4 Heat the olive oil in a large heavy frying pan and fry the sesame and cumin seeds, stirring continuously, for no more than 2 minutes, making sure they don't catch and burn. Add about two-thirds of this to the food processor, along with some seasoning, and briefly blend.

5 Spoon the hummus into a dish and pour the last third of the spice mix on the top.

NETTLE BRANDADE

This is inspired by salt cod brandade. Serve it with slices of grilled country bread or with steamed vegetables.

Betty Bee, via guardian.co.uk/witness

Serves 4

100g green lentils

1 onion, peeled and quartered

3 bay leaves

200g nettle leaves

2 large floury potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

100ml olive oil

1 Cook the lentils in boiling water with the onion and bay leaves. When cooked, drain and discard the onion and bay leaves.

2 Blanch the nettle leaves in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Drain and, when cool, chop finely.

3 Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling water until tender. Drain and return to the pan with the nettles and lentils. Mash until smooth.

4 Add the garlic and then gradually incorporate the oil into the mixture. Season and serve.

WILD GARLIC SOUP

Raw wild garlic is very pungent, but it has a delicate flavour that can easily be lost when cooked, so be generous and only add it to the soup towards the end of the cooking. It's best very young, so pick small tender leaves: the moment the garlic begins to flower, the leaves become too strong, but pick a few flower buds to decorate the soup.

Rachel Demuth, Bath,

racheldemuth.co.uk/blog

Serves 4

1 onion, chopped

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

250g new potatoes, scrubbed and cubed

1 litre vegetable stock

125g wild garlic leaves, washed and roughly chopped

A squeeze of lemon juice

1 Saute the onion in the rapeseed oil in a large saucepan for about 10 minutes, until soft, then add the cubed potatoes and quickly stir-fry.

2 Add the stock and simmer until the potatoes are just soft, which will take about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cubes.

3 Add the wild garlic, cover and simmer for a couple of minutes until wilted, but still vibrant green, then liquidise if you prefer a smooth consistency.

4 Add a squirt of lemon juice, salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Decorate with garlic flower buds to serve.

RHUBARB AND GINGER YOGHURT

Although my back garden is only napkin-size, it's stuffed with rhubarb, so this is almost completely sustainable . . . and you could always grow the ginger instead of buying it.

Vicki Johnson, Exmouth

Serves 4

500ml milk

1 tsp plain organic yoghurt

6 stems of rhubarb, chopped

Syrup from a 350g jar of stem ginger

1 ball of stem ginger, chopped

1 orange, sliced

1 Boil the milk with a milk watcher (the best pounds 1 you will ever spend!) if you have one, until reduced to 400ml. Leave it to cool to exactly 40C.

2 Whisk in the yoghurt, pour into a thermos flask and leave overnight.

3 Put the rhubarb in a baking dish with the stem ginger syrup and some slices of orange and bake at 200C/400F/gas mark 6 until tender. Cool.

4 Combine in layers in glasses with the chopped ginger on top.

ASPARAGUS LASAGNE

During the snow in April I made a promise to myself - no more strawberries in February, no more brussels sprouts in June - in the hope that the great She-Ra might send out even so much as a glimpse of sunshine. It hasn't worked so far but I persevere.

Asparagus really only tastes amazing at this time of year, when it hasn't travelled any great distance and that surely is reason enough for a brief gluttony. Making the sauce with stock rather than milk gives it a delicacy that matches the flavour of the asparagus perfectly.

Bronwyn Wolfe, London

Serves 4

1kg asparagus, woody ends snapped off (save to make a light stock)

3 tbsp olive oil

60g unsalted butter

2 tbsp plain flour

500ml chicken or vegetable stock

200g rocchetta or other soft spring cheese, crumbled

1 tbsp lemon zest

100g parmesan, finely grated

12 dried egg lasagne sheets

200ml double cream

1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Cut off the tips of the asparagus and reserve, then spread the spears out on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil, tossing to coat. Roast for 5-6 minutes until they are just crisp and tender. Season with a little coarse salt and allow to cool a bit before cutting into 2cm lengths. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

2 Melt the butter in a medium pan, whisk in the flour and cook over a gentle heat for about 3 minutes, until the flour has taken on some colour and smells biscuity. Whisk in the stock and simmer gently for about 5 minutes. Stir in the crumbled soft cheese and lemon zest and season to taste. Keep whisking until silky smooth.

3 Coat the bottom of a 20cm-square baking dish with a little of the sauce and add a layer of pasta, then sauce, followed by asparagus and then grated parmesan. Repeat until all the ingredients except a little parmesan are used, finishing with a layer of pasta.

4 Scatter the asparagus tips over the top of the pasta. Put the cream and a pinch of salt into a small bowl and whisk until it holds soft peaks. Pour over the top of the asparagus tips. Sprinkle the last bit of parmesan over the top then bake for about 30 minutes, until golden.

5 Let it sit for 10 minutes before serving in generous portions with a little green salad and some crusty bread on the side. It will make it seem as though the sun is shining.

For your chance to be crowned Guardian home cook of the year, send us your BARBECUED recipes.

Recipes will appear on 15 June.

Email your recipe suggestions to recipes@guardian.co.uk by noon on Wednesday 5 June. Please include your name, address and phone number (conditions apply: see guardian.co.uk/recipe-swap/terms-and-conditions)


Cook: Ask Sonya: What to feed hungry guests before dinner

By Sonya Kidney

Besides olives and Doritos, what can I serve my guests before a meal when the food is running late and everyone's getting a bit peckish?

Matilda Keating, Orkney

A reasonable selection of interesting nibbles can take the place of a starter and, if you give just a little thought to what you will serve, much of the work can be done in advance. Here's a selection of nibbles you'll be proud to serve your peckish guests . . .

Thinly slice an aubergine lengthways and sprinkle with salt. Leave to drain in a colander for at least an hour, pat dry and then bake in the oven in a little olive oil until soft and golden, being careful not to let them go crisp. Meanwhile, soften some goat's cheese in a bowl with a little lemon oil, a few capers and some fresh herbs. Once the aubergine strips have cooled, spread on the goat's cheese and roll into neat cylinders.

Old favourites such as cheese straws - the perfect foil to pre-dinner drinks - are easy to make and can be prepared in advance. Use ready-rolled puff, a decent parmesan and don't forget the cayenne.

To keep the smoked salmon lovers happy, hard-boil some quail's eggs, wash and blanch some large spinach leaves and have some thin strips of smoked salmon and a jar of creamed horseradish handy. Spread a little of the horseradish on the salmon, place the egg on the end and roll up, making sure it is not too bulky. Wrap each bundle with the blanched spinach to create what looks like a plate of leafy green eggs.

For everyday cooking advice and inspiration, email your questions to our resident chef, Sonya Kidney: asksonya@guardian.co.uk


Cook: The Flavour Thesaurus: Pineapple: When fully ripe, this fruit combines an array of tangy flavours with a spicy, boozy, confectionery quality

By Niki Segnit

Pineapple and chilli

Buying a ripe pineapple is a bit of a lottery. Leaves that come away on tugging as an indicator of ripeness is an old wives' tale. Sniffing its bottom isn't: the juice in this part of the fruit tends to be sweeter, and when ripe its perfume will penetrate the armoured peel. If it smells as if it's been in the pub all afternoon, avoid it.

I've found medium-size fruits tend to be sweeter and more flavourful than the larger varieties; and you're generally safer, in the UK at least, buying them in winter and spring. If you do end up with a sour pineapple, try dipping pieces in chilli and salt, as they do with green mangoes in south-east Asia and Mexico. Sweet pineapple is good mixed with fresh red chillies too, especially in a salsa to accompany fish, or chopped up very finely and served with a mango sorbet.

Pineapple and chocolate

The Quebecois chef and Japanese-food enthusiast David Biron serves a chocolate club sandwich with "fries" made of pineapple.Strawberry and basil replace tomato and lettuce.

Pineapple and cinnamon

Pineapple combines with sugar and cinnamon to create a flavour not unlike candyfloss. A similarly lovely caramelised effect can be achieved in a cinnamon and pineapple tarte tatin.

Pineapple and coriander

Author Leanne Kitchen notes pineapple's affinity for Asian dishes and ingredients, such as curries and coriander leaf. Pineapple and coriander leaf are a common pairing in Mexico, where they're both grown.

Try this striking black-bean soup when you have some gammon stock. Soak 250g black beans in water overnight, drain and rinse, then bring them to the boil in a litre of ham stock. Cover and simmer for 45 mins to an hour, by which time the beans should be soft. Remove about a quarter of the contents, blend and add back to the soup to thicken it. Before serving, stir in some coriander leaves and shredded fresh pineapple (cut a peeled, cored pineapple lengthways into 8 spears and then chop along the grain for short shreds). You can also add shredded ham, and if you don't have good ham stock, soften an onion and some smoked bacon in the pot before adding the beans and a litre of water.

Pineapple and sage

Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is used to flavour drinks or fruit salads. Dolf de Rovira Sr writes that it tastes like pineapple or pina colada. Imagine dancing to Wham's Club Tropicana in white stilettos with a bunch of pineapple sage in one hand. George would have loved it; Andrew would have thought you were weird.

Pineapple and strawberry

On the basis of its acidity, strawberry is one of the fruits that food writer Richard Olney singles out as particularly good with pineapple, along with raspberries and orange juice. Some even believe the best strawberries have a hint of pineapple about them. If you want to grow your own pineappley strawberries, look out for the Burr's New Pine and Cleveland varieties described in Edward James Hooper's Western Fruit Book.

Pineapple and vanilla

Pineapple growers Dole published the recipe for pineapple upside-down cake as part of a marketing campaign in the 1920s. It was an instant success, and rightly so - toffeeish, slightly caramelised pineapple on creamy vanilla sponge is delicious. Other upside-down cakes have come in its wake (cranberry and peach, maple and pear, orange and cardamom), but none match the magical fragrance of the original.

This is an edited book extract from The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. To order a copy for pounds 12.99 with free UK p&p (saving pounds 6), go to guardianbookshop.co.uk


Cook: Good for you: Peas: Right now, there's only one way to eat this squeaky staple: freshly podded and by the handful

By Joanna Blythman Recipe by Rosie Sykes

Processed food companies have a well-rehearsed sales script aimed at convincing us that frozen peas are better than fresh. Nice try, but on taste grounds they can't beat the freshly grown seasonal article.

True, peas are one of the few vegetables that freeze well, making them a stalwart standby for every kitchen, but because they are blanched as a prelude to the big chill, this alters their texture. Result? Frozen peas are more watery and their skins become more perceptible, almost "squeaky" in the mouth. The first fresh peas, on the other hand, are a different proposition entirely - a life-enhancing seasonal highlight of early summer. Their sweet, green juiciness, and opulently velvety texture when cooked, can brighten a dish immeasurably. Later in the season, as the peas become bigger and starchier, use them in summer stews and other slow-cook recipes.

Why are peas good for me?

Green peas are a great source of bone-building vitamin K and manganese. They will boost your levels of folate - a micronutrient that is crucial for heart health and foetal development - and their significant store of vitamin C supports your immune system. Relatively high protein levels mean that peas have much more of a satisfying "fullness factor" than most vegetables, so they won't leave you hungry and eyeing up the first unhealthy snack that comes into view.

Where to buy and what to pay

A trip to a PYO farm to pick fresh peas makes a very pleasant summer expedition. Failing that, farmers' markets, greengrocers and supermarkets all do the job. Guide price: pounds 2-2.50 a kilo. And don't bin the shelled pods. Use them to make a smooth blended soup, sieving out the stringy coarse fibres before serving.

Joanna Blythman is the author of What To Eat (Fourth Estate, pounds 9.99). To order a copy for pounds 7.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk

BRAISED PEAS AND LETTUCE This all-in-one dish goes wonderfully with roast duck, chicken or lamb, or a thick slice of hot ham. I make this dish year-round with frozen peas (my top freezer resource) but at this time of year, with fresh peas in season, it is even better.

Serves 4

1 tbsp flavourless oil

200g smoked streaky bacon, derinded and cut into 1cm pieces

3 little gem lettuce, trimmed, rough outer leaves removed, cut in half lengthways

30g butter

2 small leeks, trimmed, washed and sliced

550g fresh peas, podded

3 sprigs of mint

250ml stock (preferably chicken)

320g jersey royals, cooked in salted water

A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 In a heavy-based pan, heat the oil and add the bacon. Cook until it starts to crisp and has let out its fat.

2 Lift out the bacon with a slotted spoon and put the lettuce in the pan, cut-side down, to brown a little.

3 Lift them out, then add the butter to the pan and the leeks. Stir about until well coated. Let them cook down for several minutes until soft and sweet, then add the peas and whole mint and return the bacon and lettuce to the pan, along with the stock.

4 Simmer gently for 5 minutes until the peas start to soften, then season and add the potatoes. Heat through for a few minutes then stir in the parsley.

Rosie Sykes is head chef of Fitzbillies (fitzbillies.com) and co-author of The Kitchen Revolution (Ebury Press, pounds 25). To order a copy for pounds 19.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk



GUARDIAN REVIEW PAGES

Review: Buried treasure: Mes Aynak, a magnificent Buddhist city on the Silk Road, is the most important archeological discovery in a generation. But it is sitting on a vast copper deposit and is about to be destroyed. William Dalrymple reports from Afghanistan: ≥⃒ There is a growing conviction in Afghanistan that China could end up the ultimate winner

In the spring of 1963, a French geologist set out from Kabul to carry out a survey in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan. His destination was the large outcrop of copper-bearing strata in the mountains above the village of Mes Aynak. But in the course of boring for samples, the geologist stumbled on something much more exciting: an entire buried Buddhist city dating from the early centuries AD. The site was clearly very large - he estimated that it covered six sq km - and, although long forgotten, he correctly guessed that it must once have been a huge and wealthy terminus on the Silk Road.

Archaeologists in Kabul did a preliminary survey of the site, mapping it and digging test trenches, but before they could gather the enormous resources needed for a full-scale excavation, first the 1978 Marxist coup then the 1979 Saur Communist revolution and the Soviet invasion intervened. In the chaos of conflict that followed, the Soviets visited Mes Aynak to dig test tunnels into the hillside and investigate the feasibility of extracting its copper. Later, during the Taliban era, one of the abandoned Soviet tunnels became an al-Qaida hideout, while the remote valley became a training camp: the 9/11 hijackers stopped off here en route to New York. During the American onslaught of December 2001, US special forces attacked the tunnel: an unexploded rocket lodged in the roof and burn marks at the cave mouth still bear witness to the attack.

By the time French archaeologists returned in 2004, they found that the secret of the buried city was out. As had happened in many other sites in the country, a large and highly organised team of professional art looters, probably from Pakistan, had systematically plundered the mounds at Mes Aynak and, judging by the detritus they left, had found large quantities of hugely valuable Gandharan Buddha images: the remains of many painted stucco figures deemed too fragile or too damaged to sell were left lying around the looting trenches which now crisscrossed the site. Beside them, the archaeologists found empty tubes of glue and bags of fine plaster - evidence of attempts at restoration and conservation.

Things did not begin well. The first set of guards placed on the site in 2004 ended up shooting each other in a gun-battle; indicating, presumably, that profitable looting was continuing long after the site had passed into Afghan government control. But it was now beyond dispute that Mes Aynak was a discovery of major significance. In the months that followed, the excavators uncovered 19 separate archaeological sites in the valley. These ranged from four fortified monasteries, a Zoroastrian fire temple and several Buddhist stupas (commemorative monuments), through ancient copper working, smelting workshops, miners habitations and a mint, as well as two small forts and a citadel. They also found a hoard of Kushan, Sassanian and Indo-Parthian coins, more than 1,000 statues, and several perfectly preserved frescoes showing donor portraits and scenes from the life of the Buddha.

As more data slowly emerged from the ground, it became clear that the site was a major Buddhist settlement, occupied from the first century BC and to the 10th century AD, at a time when South Asian culture in the form of the Buddhist religion and Sanskrit literature were spreading up the Silk Route into China, and when Chinese scholars and pilgrims were heading southwards to the Buddhist holy places of the Gangetic plain: Sarnath and Bodh Gaya, and the Buddhist university and library of Nalanda, the greatest centre of learning east of Alexandria. Mes Aynak was clearly an important stopping-off point for monks heading in either direction.

Then, in 2008, the Chinese returned, this time not as pilgrims or scholars but instead as businessmen. A Chinese mining consortium - Chinese Metallurgical Group and Jiangxi Copper Co - bought a 30-year lease on the entire site for 3 billion dollars (pounds 2bn); they estimated that the valley contained potentially 100 billion dollars worth of copper, possibly the largest such deposit in the world, and potentially worth around five times the estimated value of Afghanistan's entire economy. Afghan president Hamid Karzai's government hailed the mine as a key component in bringing about a national economic resurgence that would not be dependent on aid and military spending - which, between them, currently make up 97% of the legal economy - or, indeed, the profits of the illegal opium trade. Some observers estimated that the project could bring in 300 million dollars a year by 2016 and provide about 40 billion dollars in total royalties to the Afghan government.

Copper had created the site and probably drew the Buddhist monks to the valley in the first place, but now it would imminently lead to its complete destruction. In order to retrieve what they could before the site was levelled, the archaeologists of the French Archaeological Mission in Afghanistan (Dafa) began a major rescue dig to which the Chinese contributed 2 million dollars, the US 1 million dollar and the World Bank 8 million dollars: by providing the cash, everyone hoped the mine would not be halted by protests - the press had already begun comparing the destruction of the major Buddhist site at Mes Aynak to the dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in the summer of 2001.

As well as 200 armed guards, there is currently an international team of 67 archaeologists on site, a mixed group of French, English, Afghans and Tajiks. Serious technology is being deployed to record the remains: ground penetrating radar, georectified photography and aerial 3D images are being brought together to produce a comprehensive digital map of the ruins. This effort is being backed up by more traditional techniques: the sweat of about 550 pick-axe wielding Logari labourers. This summer that number is due to increase to 650. This will make Mes Aynak the largest rescue dig anywhere in the world.

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To get to Mes Aynak you must make a mildly risky two-hour trip from Kabul. Logar is still the Taliban's principal route into Afghanistan from their Pakistani safehavens and the highway is frequently subject to IED attacks aimed at the Nato-led Isaf convoys.

I was driven to the site by Philippe Marquis, the ebullient director of Dafa, who is famed in Afghanistan not just for his bravery and archaeological prowess, but also for keeping the best table and the best wine cellar in Kabul. Marquis has masterminded the Mes Aynak project since its inception, and drives back and forth two or three times a week in his beret and dapper corduroy waistcoat, supervising both the digging on site and the fundraising and administration that takes place at the Dafa office in Kabul.

On a bright, cloudless spring day we drove together through the Kabul valley, past fortified mudbrick compounds surrounded by fields green with ripening barley and divided up with windbreaks of poplar. Eventually, we turned off the main road on to a bumpy track leading into the hills, in April still etched with drifts of snow. As we drew close, we found ourselves surrounded by the camouflaged and flak-jacket wearing guards of the Afghan army: an entire regiment armed to the teeth with heavy machine guns is at work in this remote valley to keep this lucrative Chinese investment safe.

Driving uphill past a succession of checkpoints, the small camp for the diggers and the huge Chinese mining compound with its conning towers, drilling pylons and lines of identical blue-roofed barrack blocks, we arrived at length in a high-altitude valley of stark magnificence. Here, the dark ruins stand out against the thick snowfields of the Koh Baba Wali rising behind. Barren grey-clay walls and mudbrick structures rose out of the ground, their original form eroded by 2,000 years of winter winds, so that from a distance all that seemed to remain, amid the diggers, wheelbarrows and string mapping grids, was a maze of brick walls. But Marquis could see order where I could not, and instantly identified the different sites and speculated on what they were once used for.

With Marquis in the lead, striding forward holding a ski stick, we marched up the hill. Handles of ancient amphorae, painted fragments of geometric decoration lay strewn around our feet like autumn leaves - hundreds of broken shards poking out of the mud. At the top we dived into a succession of monastic complexes where lines of sitting Buddha statues faced onto small slate stupas with classical columns covered with plastic sheeting. On the walls, sometimes almost invisible, at other times startlingly vivid, were the outlines of delicate wall paintings on plaster. Some showed lines of standing Buddha figures holding lotus flowers; the images were arranged four on each wall, 16 in total for each chapel. Others showed the seated Buddha surrounded by a body halo and nimbus, the Bodhisattva Maitreya in a cape or the evil child-devouring yaksha Atavika who the Buddha miraculously converted to his dharma. Several images showed the magnificently booted Kushan noblemen in red and white robes who originally paid for the complex.

The valley, emphasised Marquis, was an important centre of copper mining in antiquity. In one place he pointed out an ancient centre of crushing, refining and smelting, where the diggers had found a blanket of fused copper slag 12m (40ft) high. Marquis believes the copper workings to be central to understanding the ruins. Given the unusual grandeur of the Buddhist temples and palaces in the settlement, Mes Aynak might once have been a theocracy like Tibet, with the monks exploiting the copper reserves as a source of power and profit, not unlike the Cistercian monks who dominated the pre-industrial economy in many parts of medieval France and England.

Mes Aynak seems to have remained a wealthy centre until a period of slow decline began in the eighth century; the settlement was finally abandoned 200 years later. The archaeologists have found a layer of ash and charcoal and smashed statues, which seems to have coincided with the slow rise of the Islamic Ghurid dynasty in the area. Already, stories of Afghanistan's former wealth had entered folklore. When the medieval physician Abu Ubaid al-Jizani was writing in the early 11th century, it was widely known that Afghanistan's former rulers "have been famous and celebrated from the most remote ages for the abudance of their riches, the vastness of their treasures, the number of their mines, and their buried wealth. For that country is littered with mines of gold, silver, rubies and crystal, as well as lapis and garnets and other precious things."

However, 500 years earlier, when Mes Aynak was at the peak of its prosperity between the fifth and seventh century AD, Buddhism was spreading over the Hindu Kush and the region was the meeting place for the ideas and peoples of the civilisations surrounding Central Asia. Its mountains and valleys were a major intellectual crossroads where the Hellenistic, Persian, Central Asian, Tibetan, Indian and Chinese worlds met and fused. Today, of course, part of what is so fascinating about the civilisation of the cities of the Silk Route is the sheer remoteness of these exotic-sounding places. Yet what most distinguished Mes Aynak in the early first millennium AD was the opposite: the fabulously wealthy and cosmopolitan nature of the society that thrived there.

At this period, Afghanistan was the epicentre of classical globalisation: midway on the trade route from Rome to China, traders came to Afghanistan from all over the world, bringing painted glass from Antioch, inlaid gold vessels from Byzantium, porphyry from Upper Egypt, ivories from South India, carpets from Persia, horses from Mongolia and Siberia, and lacquers and silk from the China coast. It was through these now-remote valleys that ideas of art, decorum, dress, religion and court culture passed backwards and forwards, east to west and back again, mixing and melding to create the most unexpected conjuctions. The slowly decaying remains of the culture that emerged from this extraordinary clash and fusion of civilisations still litters much of Afghanistan and northern Pakistan.

One of the centres of this process was the region of Gandhara, whose centre lay around Peshawar in the North-West Frontier province of Pakistan. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323BC the Greek garrisons of India and Afghanistan found themselves cut off from their Mediterranean homeland, and had no choice but to stay on, intermingling with the local peoples, and leavening Indian learning with classical philosophy. The Bactrian Greeks survived for 1,000 years, long after Greek civilisation had disappeared in Europe. Kings with names such as Diomedes of the Punjab, Menander of Kabul and Heliochles of Balkh, ruled over a remarkable Indo-Hellenistic civilisation that grew up in what is now the Taliban heartlands of the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (Fata) and eastern Afghanistan. This civilisation was later cross-fertilised by new influences brought by the Kushans who succeeded the Bactrian Greeks as rulers of Afghanistan, while adopting much of their culture.

Kushan Gandhara was Buddhist in religion but worshipped a pantheon of Greek, Roman, Iranian, Hindu and Buddhist deities. It left behind it a legacy of finely constructed and richly designed Buddhist monasteries such as Mes Aynak. In the area between Kabul and Peshawar, one fifth-century Chinese traveller counted no fewer than 2,400 such shrines - as well as a scattering of well-planned classical cities, acropoli, amphitheatres and stupas. Gandharan art used motifs borrowed from classical Roman art, with its vine scrolls, cherubs and centaurs, but its principal icon was a handsome, languid, meditating Buddha, dressed in a Greek toga.

The Hellenistic influence of Gandhara is immediately apparent at Mes Aynak - in the Corinthian capitals that support the plinths on which the Buddha meditates; in the bearded tritons who seem to have wandered off some Mediterranean sarcophagus; and in the terracotta figures of ascetics that closely resemble those found at the Bactrian Greek site of Ai-Khanoum with their pointed goatee beards and intense wide-eyed stares. There is much Indian influence too. Several black-schist figures have been dug up showing the Buddha standing, meditating, preaching and fasting. In one image, now in the Kabul Museum and known as The Pensive Bodhisattva, the young Prince Siddhartha is shown sitting under a Pipal tree, clad in dhoti, turban and necklaces. His muscles ripple beneath the diaphanous folds of the toga. The saviour's hair is oiled and groomed. His face is full, round and classical: the nose small and straight; the lips firm and proud. Art historians believe the sculpture came from a workshop located at Bagram, under the US airbase whose notorious prison was recently handed over to the Afghans under pressure from Karzai.

Yet as time went on, Indian and western classical motifs increasingly give way to an ever-greater eastern influence, as the T'ang Chinese army moved along the sides of the Taklamakan desert and the Tarim basin to take over Xinjiang to the immediate north-west of Afghanistan. One of the most exquisite finds at Mes Aynak is a gilt Buddha head, with eyes half closed, poised on the threshold of enlightenment; it feels more Burmese than Central Asian. Fabulous frescoes reveal the increasing influence of both Uyghur and Chinese mural techniques: the compositions look increasingly like the work uncovered by the great turn-of-the-century Silk Road archaeologist Aurel Stein at the Cave of a Thousand Buddhas in Dunhuang. The delicacy of the silks, the elongated eyes, and the lightness of the brushstrokes depicting white iris-like flowers show the growing influence of T'ang Chinese art.

"In this ground," wrote Stein of the Silk Road cities he excavated, "time seems to have lost all power of destruction." The same is equally true of Mes Aynak.

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The same process that can be seen in the art dug out of Mes Aynak - a surprisingly strong western presence slowly giving way to Chinese influence from the east - is a story that is likely to be repeated all over the region in the next few decades. For there is a growing conviction these days in Afghanistan that China could end up the ultimate winner here, after the US withdrawal in 2014.

Although the Chinese maintained close contacts with the Taliban regime and their Pakistani ISI backers during the 1990s, they pulled back from interfering in Afghanistan after the US-installed Karzai regime in December 2001, and, until recently, even economic contact was modest: last year there was only 234 million dollars in trade between the two neighbours. But this is now beginning to change.

In September 2012, the Chinese security chief, Zhou Yongkang, visited Kabul and announced a turnaround in Chinese policy. As well as signing contracts for more mining and oil exploration, the Chinese announced plans for roadand rail-building projects linking north-east Afghanistan with western China through the Wakhan Corridor. A railway is now being planned from Kashgar to Iran via Herat; another will run from Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif. China has also made a start on security co-operation with Karzai's regime, and is currently training a first batch of 300 Afghan policemen. The politics of this are delicate, but, potentially, extremely important. China is possibly the only country to which the Pakistani security establishment defers. If China continues to invest in Afghan mineral resources, and the roads and railways with which it can extract them, it will expect Pakistan to protect its interests and not allow the Taliban to disrupt these operations in Afghanistan. This could hold out the best hope for future peace in Afghanistan.

The potential is enormous. Geologists estimate that Afghanistan holds vast hydrocarbon and mineral deposits that could be worth 1 trillion dollar - including oil, gas, copper, iron, gold and lithium that China will need in the decades ahead if its economy is to expand. Yet Mes Aynak shows the scale of the problems that will have to be overcome. Most of the mineral deposits in Afghanistan are in the south-east of the country, where the Islamist insurgency is strongest. Despite massive investment in the fortified camp at Mes Aynak, and enormous security, there have been several Taliban attacks on the Chinese mining camp and most of the 150 Chinese staff in residence recently fled back home. One British observer who worked with the Chinese at Mes Aynak remains sceptical about their resolution: "They are scared, confused, and have little understanding of Afghanistan," he told me. "They may well be regretting ever having got involved in Mes Aynak. Their workmen are attacked - there was another bomb last week, and they have no Dari or Pashto speakers. Rather than ruthlessly efficient, I have found them sweet and a bit hopeless." Certainly, their camp is currently empty except for security and caretakers.

In the meantime, excavations continue. Marquis says he has enough resources for a full rescue dig; what is not clear is how much time he has. Mining was due to begin in January, but the Taliban attack has given him at least until the summer to continue. How long he has after that remains unclear.

William Dalrymple's Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan 1839-42 is published by Bloomsbury

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Captions:

The excavation site in Mes Aynak, where jewellery, coins, statues and Gandharan Buddha images have been unearthed

The destruction of Mes Aynak has been compared to the dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001


Review: Val McDermid: MY HERO EMILY WILDING DAVISON

By Val McDermid

On 4 June 1913, a woman ran across the racecourse at Epsom while the horses were thundering round the track at 35 miles an hour. She collided with the King's horse, Anmer, and died four days later.

Emily Wilding Davison was a militant suffragette, and history has rendered her a protean character, taken by different factions and moulded to fit their needs. Martyr, madwoman, maniac or simply mixed-up. But in Northumberland, where I live, there's no doubt. She's our local hero. When her body arrived by train to be buried in the family plot in Morpeth, thousands of people lined the streets to pay homage.

Now, 100 years later, events honouring her memory are attracting locals and visitors alike. Emily's work for the suffrage cause has made her a legend and finally, thanks to modern technology, her actions and motivations are becoming clearer. She wasn't the only suffragette to die for the cause, but we remember her because her protest was captured on film. For years it was used to back up the description of Emily as the woman who threw herself under the King's horse. Now we know she did nothing of the sort. Frame-by-frame examination reveals that she was reaching up towards the horse's bridle, not hurling herself beneath its hooves. Ill-judged and reckless, yes. But suicidal? I don't think so.

Emily's life should be defined not by her death, but by her tenacity and passion. At a time when it was almost impossible for women to take a degree, she earned first-class honours from London University via St Hugh's College, Oxford. She hid overnight in parliament so she could claim it as her address on census night, an exploit now marked with a plaque. She endured force-feeding 49 times in prison and wrote fervent and sometimes apocalyptic articles. A contemporary described her as "always looking for the next thing to do". Just imagine what she might have achieved if she'd survived.


Review: THE WEEK IN BOOKS: PalFest; Astrid Lindgren memorial award; Barbara Pym centenary; poems for Pussy Riot

nullAt PalFest, a literary festival in the West Bank, I knew we'd have to pass through Israeli checkpoints. What I hadn't expected was what the checkpoints would feel like. As foreigners we could have gone through on our bus. But PalFest wants writers to experience what it's like for ordinary Palestinians. And so it was that we found ourselves walking, single file, down narrow cages towards turnstiles.

In theory it might have been funny to watch writers struggling with their luggage - China Mieville trying a backward twist, or Tom Warner having to hoist his suitcase high above his head - but in reality it was humiliating. And that, I guess, is the point of the narrow corridor and the undersized turnstiles. The message - to us and the people who do this daily - is don't come back again.

As in most literary festivals we give readings - mine was in a beautiful garden in Ramallah accompanied by three musicians, whose haunting improvisations joined the pain of the old South Africa to the contemporary West Bank - and workshops. The rest of our time is spent not as per festival routine, in green rooms or shops, but listening to stories. And so it was that we visited Munther Fahmi's bookshop in east Jerusalem's American Colony Hotel.

Fahmi recently managed to overturn an Israeli court's judgment that he was not entitled to residency in Jerusalem. He's on probation now and unable to travel without permission, which came too late this year for the London Book Fair. "They're lousy losers," he says, "so they gave me a visa days after the fair had ended." Asked why, given all the difficulties he faces, he doesn't leave, he says simply: "I was born here. This is my country. You have to stay where you belong."

Fahmi's case was won with international help. Fatima Salim is not so lucky. Although her family have lived in the same house in the Sheikh Jarrah district of east Jerusalem for generations, a right-of-return law that applies only to Israeli citizens means she has been given an order to vacate. She has already lost the land that adjoined her property. Now she stands outside a house that is deteriorating because she is forbidden to fix it, and tells her story, her tears only leaking out at the end. All we writers we can do is be witness to this dignified old woman telling us that it might be better to be on the streets than to see her children persecuted because of where they live.

At most lit fests writers are there to be listened to. In this one, we are made silent by the pain of all we hear.

Gillian Slovo, president of English Pen

nullArgentinian author-illustrator Isol was presented with the Astrid Lindgren memorial award this week. At five million Swedish kronor (nearly half a million pounds) it is the world's largest prize for children's literature and this year's ceremony, taking place at the Stockholm Concert Hall where the Nobel prizes are awarded, featured an El Sistema children's orchestra, Swedish boy band Mando Diao, a steamy tango interpretation of one of the winner's picture books and an appearance from the Crown Princess Victoria.

Unusually, along with an acceptance speech, Isol also sang. Having reflected that the world of children's books is not unlike Kurt Weill's utopian island Youkali, the tiny figure on stage, little larger than the framed commendation she struggled to lift, launched into the song unaccompanied, tapping out the tango rhythm with her shoes and filling the concert hall with her soprano.

While she is known as a singer in her native country, it is for her 20 or so picture books, first published in Mexico, that she is renowned throughout Latin America. Each page is a wild explosion of colour combinations, absurd humour and her characteristic double outlines and misalignment of lines and colours. The stories themselves are as unpredictable as the "psychotic eyes" of her characters - in El Globo an angry mother turns into a balloon, in Secreto de Familia children discuss the strange things their parents get up to at home.

According to the judges, Isol "sees things from the eye level of a child . . . [she] trusts in children's ability to meet her in the story", a key to her winning the award that honours the achievements of authors, illustrators, storytellers and organisations who work in the spirit of Astrid Lindgren, the creator of Pippi Longstocking who was known in Sweden for her work for children's rights almost as much as for her rebellious young heroine.

Michelle Pauli

nullThis weekend sees the celebration of Barbara Pym's centenary, a writer compared in a recent article by Salon's Laura Miller to Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, EF Benson, Stella Gibbons and Agatha Christie's Jane Marple.

With the BBC for once seemingly letting a literary anniversary pass unnoticed, no national organisation is putting the bunting out for a novelist known for social comedies featuring village jumble sales, unrequited love and clergymen (averaging 5.76 vicars per novel, James Runcie - who made a Pym TV biopic starring Patricia Routledge - has calculated). And that's fitting too - being overlooked or turned down was a recurring experience for Pym, as for her heroines. For 16 years amid the un-Pymian hullabaloo of the 60s and early 70s, she was out of fashion (as was Austen) and couldn't get published until Philip Larkin and others championed her; back in print in 1977, she made the Booker prize shortlist with Quartet in Autumn, three years before her death.

These stories of rejection and rediscovery will doubtless be retold at St Hilda's College, Oxford (an alma mater Pym shares with several authors, Wendy Cope and Val McDermid among them), as the Barbara Pym Society gathers. The highlight, tea and biscuits apart, looks to be a walk from the railway station around locations connected with Pym and Larkin. Only a cynic would suggest it might be called off if there's a risk of sunshine.

At a livelier event in March at Harvard, her American fans enjoyed a church service, singing the society song, "Unsuitable Things" (to the tune of "My Favourite Things"), papers including one on food in Pym, and champagne and cupcakes at their AGM. In the US - where a perfume called Paperback, billed as smelling like "a dusty old copy of a Barbara Pym novel", is available - the BPS's US arm seems keener on "doing a Jane Austen" on her, judging by the mugs, tea-towels and other merchandising on its website. Who wouldn't want a Barbara Pym "tea-bag rest", a snip at 5 dollars?

John Dugdale

nullA collection of poetry in support of the jailed Russian punk band Pussy Riot has won an independent poetry award in London on the day that the band's appeal against their two-year sentence was rejected in Moscow.

Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot features the work of two dozen translators and 110 writers, including Ali Smith, Deborah Levy and John Kinsella. The project began life with a Facebook call-out for poems in support of the Russian collective, who were arrested after performing their Punk Prayer in a Moscow cathedral in February 2012.

With an irony not lost on publishing partners English Pen, the appeal was launched in the run-up to Pussy Riot's appeal hearing in October 2012, and on Wednesday, as the resulting collection won the award for best poetry anthology in the 2013 Saboteur awards for indie poetry, Moscow's highest court rejected the band members' appeal against their two-year sentences, denying that the charges against them were politically motivated.

English Pen said it believes the detentions to be in retaliation for the criticisms the band have made of Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, and therefore in breach of the international convention on civil and political rights, to which Russia is a signatory. "We continue to call on the Russian authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally."

Sophie Mayer, one of three editors of the anthology, said: "Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer proved the power of words: as poets, we want to amplify their call for freedom, and continue their argument against rhetorics of repression."

Catechism was first published as an ebook and is now available through print-on-demand.

Claire Armitstead


Review: GUARDIAN BOOK CLUB: Paul Theroux on the route that led him to The Great Railway Bazaar

By Paul Theroux

Long before I conceived the idea of taking a journey halfway around the world and back on railway trains, a trip I turned into The Great Railway Bazaar, I was a contented traveller in a corner seat. As a boy, I took trolleys and trains from my home in Medford into Boston, and from Boston to New York. On graduating from university I travelled around Italy on trains, and later that same year I went to Africa and found steam trains that ran from Blantyre to Lake Nyasa, in one direction, and to the coast of Mozambique in the other. Train travel was an adventure and a relief; I liked the ease of it, the solitude, the freedom.

As a teacher in Singapore in the 1960s I took trains to Malaysia and Thailand, and within Burma and Indonesia. After that, in the 1970s, as an alien in south London, I travelled from Catford Bridge to Charing Cross. I liked the anonymity. I was indistinguishable from the other railway passengers. My London routine was always relieved by a trip on a train, no matter how short. The train allowed me to reflect on what I began to see as my plight, which was that, after having published so much, and having been such an earnest drudge, never turning away work, I was still living on the margin, in a tiny house in one of the dreariest parts of London.

The train was a break from the monotony, I looked forward to any jaunt on it, for the peace, the chuckle of the wheels over the points, the rattle of the carriage, the height of the tracks, elevated over the city so that I could peer down at the houses and the people and the traffic stalled on the Old Kent Road. I could think clearly on the London trains and when, on the rare occasions, I travelled out of London - on the Exeter line via Sherborne, Yeovil, and Crewkerne, to visit my innulllaws, or on the Flying Scotsman on a journalistic assignment, my spirits revived and I saw with clarity that it might be possible to conceive a book based on a long railway journey.

Inspiration also came from the satisfying shelf of English literature concerned with what we see from the train. The poems that begin, "O Fat White Woman" and "Yes, I remember Adlestrop" stand out, and so do the trains that run up and down the pages of PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie. But the description that captures the English railway experience for me best is Ford Madox Ford's in his first successful book, The Soul of London, an evocation of the city, published in 1905. Looking out the train window, Ford speaks of sitting on a train and looking into the busy, muted world outside. "One is behind glass as if one were gazing into the hush of a museum; one hears no street cries, no children's calls." And his keenest observation, which was to hold true for me from London to Tokyo: "One sees, too, so many little bits of uncompleted life."

London railway stations were also full of suggestions. I often got the train to Blackfriars, to pick up books or deliver copy to the Times, which was then nearby at Printing House Square. Walking out of Blackfriars station, I would pass the Destination Wall, where place names were engraved in the granite slabs: Ramsgate and Ashford, as well as Paris, Naples, Venice and distant St Petersburg. London was connected by rail to the world. When I travelled via Victoria, another great terminus, I saw on the departures board the times of the boat trains to Folkestone and Dover, which left every day, to meet the cross-channel ferries to Boulogne and Calais.

Dreams often begin with a consciousness of exotic place names. And I wondered: Just how far could I go, if I began my train journey at Victoria, crossed to the continent, and boarded the train for Paris? I bought or borrowed a number of books, but the most useful one was the newest, that is the 1973 edition, of Thomas Cook's Overseas Timetable: Railway, Road and Shipping Services Outside Europe. "Timetable" gives the wrong impression. The book was an inch thick, dense with railway detail. I saw at once there were various routes to Istanbul, and onward to Ankara, Lake Van, with a connection to Tehran. Or I could go south to Mosul, Baghdad and Basra and cross over to Iran, where I could connect through Baluchistan, crossing the Pakistan border.

And that was only the beginning. The Overseas Timetable listed the major lines in India and Burma, in Sri Lanka and Thailand and Malaysia; the bullet trains in Japan, the times of the Trans-Siberian. This timetable, and the detailed map of Asia (showing all railway lines) I bought at Stanford's in Long Acre, Covent Garden, told me everything I needed to know and convinced me that such a long trip might be possible. It was simply a matter of changing trains.

guardian.co.uk/books/series/bookclub

Captions:

To order The Great Railway Bazaar for pounds 6.59 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: Across the whale's domain: BOOK OF THE WEEK: A collage of memoir, cultural history and travelogue is full of the ocean's strangeness, writes Caspar Henderson: The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare 384pp, Fourth Estate, pounds 18.99

By Caspar Henderson

A planet full of song sounds like something from a myth or a fairytale. And yet for millions of years Earth was such a place. Forest and grassland across continents was full of birdsong. At sea, great whales sang theme and variations through thousands of miles of the abyss. Man drastically diminished the realm of the birds - first with fire, axe and plough, later with guns, urban development and supercharged agriculture. Britain today has 90% fewer nightingales than it did just 40 years ago. In the ocean, over a period of a few hundred years, Europeans and Americans slaughtered sperm whales, right whales, blue whales and other species in the hundreds of thousands so that by the 1960s more than 99% of most populations had been lost. The sound and fury of engines replaced the old music of the oceans, with whales in small numbers at the margins, or in greatly shrunken sound worlds.

The last third of the 20th century saw a revolution in attitudes - at least in North America and many of the European countries from which the whaling fleets had once sailed. In the 1980s the International Whaling Commission made the conservation, rather then their exploitation of whales, its primary goal. One of the drivers of this change was the discovery by Scott McVay and Roger Payne that humpback whales sing complex and beautiful songs. Their album of whale songs, released in 1971, became one of the bestselling records of the decade and a signature sound for the rapidly growing environmental movement. Photographs of whales underwater - first taken only in 1975 - contributed to growing awareness of the extraordinary beauty and sophistication of these creatures, and by the time of the hit film Free Willy in the early 1990s whales were swimming in the cultural mainstream. The present century has produced other striking works. In 2008 the philosopher and musician David Rothenberg released Thousand Mile Song, an album of his jam sessions with whales in which jazz saxophone is relayed underwater through a loudspeaker and meets funky responses, together with a book reflecting on whale music and human-whale interaction. Bryant Austin's Beautiful Whale, published earlier this year, takes high-definition photography to an astonishing new edge of possibility.

Increasingly, and notwithstanding the unconscionable cruelty sometimes inflicted on smaller cetaceans by fishermen, whales are receiving more practical and effective protection than ever before. In recent years, marine biologists have begun to understand the contribution whales make to ocean productivity (their waste feeds plankton on which other life depends, and they mix ocean waters to useful effect). "Allowing whale numbers to recover could be seen as a benign form of geoengineering," George Monbiot writes in Feral, his landmark book on rewilding. Viable populations of most of the great whale species, though not necessarily the more mysterious beaked whales, are still with us, balanced precariously on the edge of a recovery that may or may not be shattered by rapid changes to ocean acidity and other perturbations in this century. Meanwhile, billions of humans are bound by fossil-fuel consumption into an energy metabolism equivalent to that of a mammal of 30 tonnes - the mass of a humpback.

Philip Hoare documented the wonder of whales and their destruction in Leviathan, or the Whale. It was an extraordinary achievement, combining a history of whaling, a voyage into the life of Herman Melville, reflections on Hoare's own encounters with whales and more. Building on the success of that book, Hoare co-curated The Moby-Dick Big Read, a performance of what is, arguably, one of the defining texts of industrial civilisation.

The Sea Inside is shorter and in some ways a more digressive book than Leviathan, but bears a clear family resemblance. It is a collage of memoir, cultural history and travelogue in which the author makes pilgrimage to ever more distant seas to swim with whales and dolphins. These encounters yield some of the most vivid writing in the book, charged with the same awe and joy that characterised Hoare's retelling in the last chapter of Leviathan of a close encounter with a sperm whale near the Azores. Off the coast of New Zealand he dives into a super-pod of more than 200 dusky dolphins: "I see their shapes, exquisitely airbrushed black and white and pearl-grey, swimming beneath me. Steadily the fins begin to gather and steer towards me, more and more, till I'm in an eddying mass of swooping, diving cetaceans. Everywhere I look there are dolphins; I'm encircled by them. They shoot from a single source like a shower of meteorites, their two-metre bodies zipping past, in and out of focus . . . Dolphins are breaching right by me, turning somersaults in the air. How about this? Can you do that? I reach out instinctively; they easily evade me . . . For a moment I think they're going to swim right into me. A ridiculous notion. They, like the whales, register my every dimension, both inside and out, my density, my temperature, what I am, what I am not." This is glorious stuff, true to our nature and to theirs. For thousands of years, people have marvelled at the exuberance of dolphins. An English bestiary of the 13th century exaggerates in the letter but not the spirit: "Dolphins follow men's voices, or gather in shoals when music is played. There is nothing swifter in the sea. They often leap over ships in their flight."

The Sea Inside also describes artistic and literary figures, scientists and adventurers whose lives have left traces in the spots that Hoare visits on his quest. A day trip to the Isle of Wight from his Southampton home summons the ghosts of Julia Margaret Cameron and Alfred Tennyson. In London, where he goes to see the skeletons and preserved flesh of whales and porpoises, Hoare encounters the shadow of the surgeon John Hunter, whose world is brilliantly portrayed in Hilary Mantel's excellent, neglected short novel The Giant, O'Brien. A visit to Sri Lanka brings in the self-styled Count de Mauny-Talvande, who before the second world war created his own louche paradise on a tiny private island - Paul Bowles and Arthur C Clarke were visitors. There is an extended account of the life and passions of TH White, a man "more remarkable than anything he wrote", but usually remembered today for his Arthurian adventure The Sword in the Stone and for The Goshawk, an account of his attempt to train a bird. These and other digressions will engage different readers to different extents. Especially interesting to me are those circling the lives of a Northumbrian saint, a Tasmanian princess and a Maori warrior. Around St Cuthbert, whose love and communion with wild animals is a tale that never grows old, Hoare traces the radical changes in attitude to the raven in Western history (beloved to early Christian mystics, it denoted gothic gloom by the 19th century). Reflecting on the aboriginal Tasmanian woman Truganini, who survived one of the most thorough genocides in recorded history, Hoare finds himself contemplating the fate of the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger - an extinct marsupial predator with something of Pakicetus, the ancient terrestrial ancestor of whales, in its vaguely wolf-like shape. (The surprise at the end of this chapter is alone worth the price.) And in the Maori war leader Te Pehi Kupe, who travelled from Aotearoa to the English Antipodes in the early 19th century with the aim of obtaining advanced weaponry with which to destroy his enemies at home, Hoare finds the likely model of Queequeg, the fabulously tattooed harpooner in Moby-Dick

Running like a braid of coloured water through the whirls and eddies of The Sea Inside is the author's inner struggle. Hoare's epigraph is from the great Anglo-Saxon poem "The Seafarer": "Even now my heart / Journeys beyond its confines, and my thoughts / Over the sea, across the whale's domain, / Travel afar the regions of the earth . . ." But his starting and ending point is the family home in which he lives alone. At the beginning the vision is intense and unsettled: "Far off in the city centre a clock tower chimes. Inside the house, things shift and fall. Floorboards creak like a ship. It ticks with the ebbing heat as it falls asleep. I lie in my narrow bed, listening to the sound of the dark. A vague rumbling drifts over from the docks, godless, 24-hour places where the black water ripples with sodium traces."

Returning from the ends of the earth, Hoare finds that, for all the journeying, one may never hear anything so beautiful as a blackbird in a suburban garden. An easy, off-the-shelf trope at this point would be the familiar lines from TS Eliot's "Little Gidding": "The end of all our exploring / will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time." But he has discovered something more ambiguous and true: "There's no such place as home. And we live there, you and me." The world is unutterably strange, and full of marvels.

Caspar Henderson's The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is published by Granta. To order The Sea Inside for pounds 13.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop

Captions:

Common dolphins attacking a bait ball near Port St Johns, South Africa


Review: The panegyrist of reading: Do we really need another addition to the Borges industry, asks Giles Harvey: Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature by Jorge Luis Borges, ed. Martin Arias and Martin Hadis, trans. Katherine Silver 320pp, New Directions, pounds 16.50

By Giles Harvey

Any fears that the posthumous Borges industry was entering a period of contraction can be laid to rest. His latest book, Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature, collects a semester's worth of lectures, which the Argentine master delivered in 1966 at the University of Buenos Aires. The lectures were taped by students and later transcribed - not, the editors explain, out of any sense of reverence, but simply so that other students would be able to study the material. Fittingly (for we are dealing here with the laureate of lost books and ghostly counter-traditions), the recordings themselves have disappeared. As the foreword says, "They were probably used to tape other classes, probably in other subjects."

Professor Borges, then, is a translation of a transcription of a series of apparently extemporised lectures, and this, unfortunately, is how it reads. "Now, in the same way that we have seen the way Johnson is similar to Don Quixote, we have to think that in the same way that Sancho is the companion Quixote sometimes treats badly, so we see Boswell in relation to Dr Johnson." The sentence is representative of the book's verbal profligacy. Granted, when you do finally figure out what is being said (that Boswell is to Johnson as Sancho Panza is to Don Quixote; that heroes need foils), the point seems sound enough. But shouldn't the professor be the one doing the explication?

Fine prose isn't everything, of course. In "The Superstitious Ethics of the Reader," a characteristically heterodox essay from the 1930s, Borges mounted a case against the cult of Flaubert and the notion ("this vanity about style") that the "perfect page" was the one "in which no word can be altered without harm". Borges argued that, on the contrary, "the page that becomes immortal can traverse the fire of typographical errors, approximate translations, and inattentive or erroneous readings without losing its soul in the process".

Professor Borges would certainly suggest a broad continuity of his thinking on the matter. In these pages, plot and character, the "soul" of the books under discussion, take clear precedence over textual nuance. The first seven "classes" are devoted to Anglo-Saxon literature, and while we do get a useful primer on kennings and alliterative verse, Borges spends most of the time simply telling us what happens in Beowulf, The Battle of Maldon, the "Finnsburg Fragment", and so on. Shying away from linguistic appraisal, the teacher's analysis rarely rises above the level of enthusiastic interjection. "But this poem was written with so much intensity that it is one of the great poems of English poetry." "And this is, undoubtedly, astonishing." Whatever effect such straightforwardness had in person (and we should remember Borges was speaking to a class of undergraduates whose first language was not English), in print it is about as exciting as flat seltzer.

And so we trundle through the centuries. The Augustan age aspired to "clarity, eloquence, and expressions of logical justification". The Romantics were distinguished by their "keen and pathetic sense of time". The Victorians lived in an era "of debates and discussions". To be clear, Borges was no doubt an inspiring presence, and such literary-historical boilerplate has its function in the kind of survey course he was teaching. The question is whether this course really needed to be turned into a book.

In "The Library of Babel", Borges imagines the universe as a vast network of interconnected reading rooms whose shelves contain all possible books. Every volume, we are told, "is unique, irreplaceable, but (since the Library is total) there are always several hundred thousand imperfect facsimiles: works which differ only in a letter or a comma". The text of Professor Borges that has come down to us often reads like an imperfect facsimile - or indeed, like the first draft of a superior book. In a way, this is what it is. Much of the material it covers was reworked in the Charles Eliot Norton lectures that Borges gave at Harvard in 1967 and 1968, and that were later collected in This Craft of Verse. There is also significant overlap with many of the essays that comprise The Total Library. Anyone interested in Borges's critical writing (which is to say, anyone interested in literature) should start with those lucid and passionate volumes.

"I think of myself as being essentially a reader," Borges says in This Craft of Verse. "As you are aware, I have ventured into writing; but I think that what I have read is far more important than what I have written." Coming from a writer of such world-historical reputation, that is rather beautiful, and, even if it doesn't quite redeem the muddle of Professor Borges, the author's unflagging responsiveness at least sends you back to the canon with a fresh appetite. "The thread that unites all these classes," the editors write, a little wishfully perhaps, "is literary pleasure, the affection with which Borges treats all of these works, and his clear intention to spread his enthusiasm for every author and period studied."

That seems true enough; and yet to see Borges as a mascot for the bookish life is to see him neither straight nor whole. Borges was nothing if not dialectical, and it bears pointing out that his work, especially the fiction, often manifests an outright horror of books. In "The Library of Babel", many of the involuntary patrons, sentenced to a lifetime of reading, choose suicide: "The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms." Another famous story, "The God's Script", inverts the scenario. Instead of a total library filled with mostly meaningless books, there is a single "magical sentence", written by God on the first day of creation. To read it is to receive divine power and understanding, but as the narrator of the story (a Mayan priest held captive by the Spanish conquistadors) learns, such knowledge also entails an obliteration of selfhood: "Whoever has seen the universe, whoever has beheld the fiery designs of the universe, cannot think in terms of one man, of that man's trivial fortune's or misfortunes, though he be that very man."

Or again, there is the menacing late story "The Gospel According to Mark", in which a flash flood forces a young medical student to spend several days with a benighted and illiterate peasant family. To pass the time, the student reads to his hosts from one of the few books in the house, the Bible. The family is descended from Scottish immigrants but, after generations of intermarriage with the Indians, they have lost the Calvinist faith of their ancestors. Nevertheless, the story of Christ's sacrifice transfixes them. They quiz the student on points of theology. "And those that drove the nails will also be saved?" the father asks, and the student, himself an atheist but feeling it his duty to defend what he has read them, says yes. Only on the last page do we realise where it is all headed. One evening, just as it seems the waters are about to recede, the family surrounds the guest, and lead him outside to where they have built a cross. Borges, the panegyrist of reading, knew that it was possible to ask, or to make, too much of books.

As for Professor Borges, the only people likely to make too much of it are a few professors. Let them have their fun. Borges was fond of the idea that an inability to forget would make life unbearable and meaningless. There are so many things we can do without. Professor Borges is one of them.

Captions:

Jorge Luis Borges at his house in Buenos Aires


Review: Squirrel with a quill: Ian Thomson takes a charming tour of Planet Calvino: Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 Selected and with an introduction by Michael Wood, translated by Martin McLaughlin 632pp, Princeton, pounds 27.95

By Ian Thomson

Italo Calvino, the Italian arch-fabulist, is perhaps best known for his 1950s trilogy, Our Ancestors, with its surreal tales of a cloven viscount, a nonexistent knight and a baron in the trees. In Italy, the trilogy is sometimes classified as an allegory for children. Behind the gleeful storytelling, however, was a man who had been a member of the Italian Communist party - until 1957, when he resigned following the crushing by Soviet tanks of the uprising in Budapest.

For much of his life, Calvino worked for the leftist publishing house of Einaudi, based in Turin. Founded in 1933, Einaudi was the most commercially successful publisher in Italy, its white-spined paperbacks a staple of every cultivated Italian home. The director, Giulio Einaudi, had an imposingly aristocratic manner and a reputation for frivolity, but his staff were handpicked for their stringent moral seriousness.

The bulk of the correspondence in this collection concerns Calvino's tireless work on behalf of Einaudi and his struggle to succeed as a writer in post-fascist Italy. Along the way are letters sent to fellow Italian writers (Alberto Moravia, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante) in support of abortion and workers rights, as well as bulletins dispatched from 50s New York and Communist Cuba (where Calvino met Che Guevara). The correspondence is distinguished by its sly philosophic humour and mandarin diversity of interests, ranging from the chivalric romances of Charlemagne to French structuralist theory.

Above all, the letters illuminate the politics of book publishing in Italy after the overthrow of Mussolini. Calvino's first novel, The Path to the Nest of Spiders (1947), was born directly out of his experience as a partisan during Italy's anti-fascist resistance. It was influenced by Ernest Hemingway and Italy's "news-reel" school of realism, which aimed for an unpolished immediacy of the street. Hemingway served as an antidote to fascist rhetoric and obfuscation. Yet Calvino's writing was already marked by a fabulous gothic undertow, with allusions to medieval artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Albrecht Atldorfer. In his letters, he styles himself both "the fabulist Calvino" and "the realist Calvino": which was the real one?

The novelist and poet Cesare Pavese, Einaudi's managing editor, was among the first to detect the virtuoso fable-maker in Calvino. The 24-year-old was a "squirrel with a quill", Pavese said, whose fiction read like a "folk tale from the forests". On 27 August 1950 Pavese killed himself and, to judge by these letters, his death devastated Calvino and his circle; in solitude and despair, the lugubrious, pipe-smoking author had ingested 16 sachets of barbiturate powder in a Turin hotel. Italy's greatest living novelist was dead at the age of 42, "just when he was at the apex of his literary fame", Calvino writes to a friend. His death was a "tragic ordeal", not least for Einaudi's staff.

Pavese's editorial assistant, the young novelist Ginzburg, was grief-stricken. Calvino's correspondence with her, alternately teasing and affectionate, is one of the delights of this book. From a beach on the Ligurian coast in the hot summer of 1950 he wrote: "I spend the afternoons on some rocks here, belly in the sun, reading Thomas Mann, who writes very well about many things that are completely incomprehensible to me."

Ginzburg, with her trademark crooked smile, was cast as Mary Magdalene in Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 film The Gospel According to Matthew. Calvino's relationship with Pasolini was at first admiring: alone among Einaudi authors, Pasolini had revived the Italian tradition of nationalist "civil poetry", which spoke in personal terms of the country's blighted history and politics. His great verse epic The Ashes of Gramsci (1957) was, Calvino wrote to him, the "most important" poem to have emerged in postwar Italy. He and Pasolini shared an interest in Italian dialect and folk literature.

As the 50s gave way to the 60s, however, Calvino came to see Pasolini as a clamorous self-publicist, who had sublimated his literary gifts to film-making. There was a rapprochement in 1973 after Pasolini favourably reviewed Calvino's Marco Polo fantasia, Invisible Cities, in a national newspaper. Delighted, Calvino wrote to him: "Thank you - and accept my best wishes as an old friend." Two years later, Pasolini was found murdered on wasteland outside Rome. His death, apparently at the hands of a rent boy, was the outcome, Calvino wrote to the poet Andrea Zanzotto, of a "D'Annunzian" hankering after redemption through violence: "Pasolini was the ideologiser of eros and the eroticiser of ideology," he concluded.

Towards the end of his life, Calvino moved from Turin (via Paris) to Rome, where he lived in a flat adjacent to Ginzburg's. There he embarked on, among other things, a translation of Raymond Queneau's crackpot account of the Creation, A Small Portable Cosmogony, but found himself defeated by the alchemical-scientific allusions. The Turin writer Primo Levi, with his background in industrial chemistry, was called in to help. Calvino greatly admired Levi, whose concentration camp chronicle If This Is a Man he had reviewed in 1948 for Italy's Communist daily L'Unita. The last letter in this volume, dated 30 April 1985, was addressed to Primo Levi with "warmest good wishes". Four months later, Calvino was dead of a cerebral haemorrhage. Many Italians felt they had not only lost a literary friend, but that the nation's modern literary life had somehow ended. Letters of condolence came from the Vatican and the president. Calvino was 61.

Superbly translated by Martin McLaughlin, these letters place Calvino in the larger frame of 20th-century Italy and provide a showcase for his refined and civil voice. His widow, the Argentinian Chichita Calvino, has been careful to exclude all personal and love letters, as Calvino was jealous of his privacy. I must confess a personal interest. In 1983, as a callow 22-year-old, I wrote to Calvino requesting an interview in Rome. To my amazement, he agreed. In his flat near the Pantheon he leafed through the many pages of questions I presented. "Troppo, troppo, too many," he said. After three hours, Chichita gestured me to the French windows. "Look at our garden." There were hundreds of bougainvilleas - a wash of pink in the Roman evening. Years later, when I called on Chichita she said she remembered the evening all right. "But it would only be fair now, 10 years on, to tell you that I invited you to look at the flowers to mean that the interview was over." She added: "Not for one moment did I think you were interested in flowers." Calvino, as the son of a botanist mother and an agronomist father, was proud to know his bougainvilleas from other flora. Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 is a charming addition to the Planet Calvino - a place cluttered with sphinxes, chimeras, knights, spaceships and viscounts both cloven and whole.

Ian Thomson's biography of Primo Levi is published by Vintage. To order Italo Calvino for pounds 20 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: What would an oyster do?: Blake Morrison enjoys time spent with a brainy, daft and very companionable hermit: Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson, translated by Linda Coverdale 256pp, Allen Lane, pounds 16.99

By Blake Morrison

Christ spent only 40 days in the wilderness. The French writer and adventurer Sylvain Tesson lasted six months. Unlike Christ, he wasn't fasting: plentiful supplies of vodka, cigars and Tabasco saw him through. He wasn't tempted by the devil, either: not once in the diary entries that comprise this book (winner of the 2011 Prix Medicis for non-fiction) does he seriously consider packing in and returning to civilisation. For the most part, solitude suits him just fine. "Better to live joyfully in a wilderness clearing than languish in a city."

The place of his retreat is a log cabin on the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia. Where Soviet dissidents were once sent in exile, he goes to by choice, enduring temperatures of -30C. His only arms are a signal flare and dagger. His only source of heat is a cast-iron stove. And after his computer and satellite phone conk out, his only way of making contact with the world is to put on his snowshoes and walk - and the nearest village lies 75 miles away.

Why do it? To fulfil a seven-year-old dream of going to ground in a forest. To surround himself in silence. To escape ugliness, traffic and the telephone. To catch up on his reading. To see if immobility can bring the peace that travel used to. To sample an existence reduced to bare essentials. To become a hermit and find out whether he has an inner life.

Tesson believes hermits are the true radicals of our age. To retreat is to reject government bureaucracy and consumerism. Whereas those who dynamite the citadel need the citadel, the recluse simply opts out: "A repast of grilled fish and blueberries gathered in the forest is more anti-statist than a protest demonstration bristling with black flags." Yes, the hermit may be slow and woolly-minded but he "gains in poetry what is lost in agility".

Though he adopts the role of anchorite-sage and refusenik, Tesson's retreat is strikingly populous. "The hermit faces this question," he writes: "Can one stand living with oneself?" It's a question he's spared, thanks to constant interaction with others. A mere four days into his stay, in bleak mid-February, a pack of four-wheel drives shatter the silence, pitching up on the beach by his cabin - a bunch of Putin hierarchs from Irkutsk, it turns out. So it goes on. Barely a week passes without some hunter, fisherman or canoeist dropping in, or without Tesson heading off to visit a neighbour five hours away. Every such occasion means getting drunk. Not that he doesn't get drunk on his own - "It's at the fifth glass of vodka that resisting the next one becomes difficult" - but in company it's a solemn ritual.

In the periods when Tesson is alone, he strives for a life of pure sensation - lying in a hammock, listening to the wind, feeling the snow in his face, watching aerial displays of ducks and geese. He compares his existence with that of animals - and questions whether animals are as devoid of consciousness as philosophers claim: "What do we know about the thoughts of a bear? . . . Why shouldn't butterflies in the noonday sun find some aesthetic feeling in their choreography?" In his mind, nature isn't red in tooth and claw, but a shining moral example. When we're faced with a dilemma, he suggests, rather than ask how one of our heroes would act, we should ask what a horse or an oyster would do.

Forced to live in his head and record his thoughts daily, Tesson buzzes with ideas, some brilliant, some flaky. His journal is a mix of philosophising and nature worship, wrapped up in apercus. "Solitude is a country inhabited by the remembrance of others." "Happiness is an obstacle to serenity." "Friendship doesn't survive anything, not even togetherness." "Aestheticism is a form of reactionary deviance." "If nature thinks, landscapes express the ideas."

Where does his love of aphorisms come from, he asks himself? Perhaps it's inscribed in his name - Tesson, a shard or fragment. His prose sometimes strains too hard ("Cabins are the votive lights hung on the roof of the night") but his saving grace is that he knows it. "The rhinoceros moon that with its horn wounds the night the colour of Africa," he writes, then dismisses the pretentiousness of the metaphor: the moon couldn't give a damn about "such sophomoric pseudo-aphorisms".

His favourite trope is the paradox, and his six months in Siberia are full of contradiction. He celebrates the joys of doing nothing, but skates, canoes, climbs the 6,000ft peaks behind his cabin, bivouacs on a cliff-ledge and walks 81 miles over three days pulling a sledge. He condemns hunting, and won't countenance using a gun, but sees no harm in catching fish. He extols the virtues of going back to nature but knows "the masses, taking to the woods, would bring along the evils they'd hoped to flee". He approves of wordlessness - the less you talk, the longer you live, one fisherman tells him - but gabbles away like mad in his diary.

At times he feels trapped, "stuck here alive in a wooden coffin". But reading the 70 books he has brought reaffirms him in his ideas and allows him to adopt different character roles. He's a beatnik, a Crusoe, a Zen philosopher, a frustrated Casanova and a Rousseau-esque child of nature rolled into one. He has Thoreau's Walden with him, of course. And if he doesn't cite Yeats, with his clay and wattle cabin by "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", that's forgivable: nine bean rows and a hive for honey bees make no sense in ice-locked Siberia. Among the traits of literary castaways, he notes, is "the need to constantly confirm the merits of the solitary life by insisting to oneself at every occasion on the beauty of such an existence". It's a habit he has himself.

Nothing much happens during his six months and that's part of the point. He learns to revere things he wouldn't normally notice: titmice, mosquitoes ("tiny flying syringes"), a fresh tint in the foliage of cedars, a glinting reflection off the snow. A fall through the ice and an encounter with a bear prove no big deal. The only life-threatening moment comes when he learns his girlfriend back home has dumped him. The pain is overwhelming. But he can't blow his brains out with a flare gun. And the two dogs he has just acquired - a loan from a neighbour along the lake - prove consoling. Never again will he express contempt for old people who wax sentimental about pets, he says: "I had no idea that fur soaks up tears so well."

A winter forest is like a dead city, and it's June before spring arrives. A month later he leaves, claiming to have been changed completely. In truth, there's little sign of that: the ideas he leaves with aren't much different from those with which he came. And even if he has changed, there's every chance the return to civilisation will change him back. Still, in Linda Coverdale's fluent translation, he comes across as the brainiest, daftest, sternest, funniest, most companionable hermit you'll ever meet.

To order Consolations of the Forest for pounds 12.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop

Captions:

The shore of Lake Baikal . . . 'Better to live joyfully in a wilderness clearing than languish in a city'


Review: The climate change conundrum: The City has already factored environmental disaster into share prices, Peter Forbes discovers: The Burning Question: We can't burn half the world's oil, coal, and gas, so how do we quit? by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark 256pp, Profile, pounds 9.99

By Peter Forbes

Humankind cannot bear very much reality but climate change will not go away: 400 parts-per-million, Prince Charles on the warpath, and here is the most succinct exposition of the great dilemma for some time. Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark are honest about our reluctance to face up to the challenge: "If you wanted to invent a problem to induce confusion, disbelief and the turning of blind eyes, it would be hard to come up with something better than climate change."

It is this cussed nature of the climate-change conundrum that has led, in the last three and a half years since the failed Copenhagen climate summit, to the triumph of the rightwing lobbies over the scientists, environmentalists and concerned citizens. Effective political action to mitigate climate change has ceased and, as Berners-Lee and Clark point out, carbon dioxide emissions are building up at an exponential rate (compound interest, in the vernacular).

Beyond its raw facts about emissions, this book's great contribution to the debate is to point out that the markets are gambling trillions of dollars on a bet that governments will never seriously curb carbon emissions. How do they know this? Because to address climate change would mean leaving most of the remaining fossil carbon in the earth. But that would entail the future value of the fossil-fuel energy companies falling to a fraction of their present valuation: current share prices declare that no climate mitigation will happen. However, sudden action may be forced on governments by a period of catastrophic climate damage and food shortages. This would cause a global collapse of the energy industry greater than the crash of 2007-08. Something will have to give. If the markets are playing their usual game - we know a bubble will burst but that's OK because we'll get out in time - they are gambling with the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and the livelihoods of billions.

The second vital contribution to the argument is the revelation that so far the switch to renewables has had no effect on global carbon emissions, which are increasing by about 3% a year. New technologies have often not supplanted the old but simply added to the mix: the appetite of the world's population for burning energy, including carbon energy, is insatiable.

Berners-Lee and Clark (and also Bill McKibben in a lucid foreword) explain the maths with stark clarity. Because carbon stays in the atmosphere for a long time what matters now is the total we can safely burn. To come within the agreed 2C rise we can add around 565 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050. But using established reserves of fossil fuels would add 2,795 gigatonnes and the City is betting on all of that being burned. At the present rate we'll hit 565 gigatonnes in a mere 16 years. After which, if we are serious, we will have to stop emitting carbon altogether. Obviously, this is not going to happen, but what is? If nothing is done, there is expected to be a 4-6C rise in average global temperature, wreaking havoc.

The Burning Question is eloquent on the trade-offs between economics and ecology, and especially wise on the psychology that has most of the world paralysed. The authors quote JK Galbraith: "Faced with the choice of changing one's mind and with proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." When of course what everyone should be busy on are the solutions to the problem. As Prof David McKay, chief scientific adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, has said: "You need almost everything and you need it very fast - right now." Berners-Lee and Clark almost endorse nuclear power (why is the French example of decarbonising 80% of their electricity generation by means of nuclear power in the 1980s accorded so little attention and respect?) and they have sensible ideas about agriculture and deforestation, neglected but important sources of carbon dioxide. Above all, they advocate carbon capture and storage, which, as they say, is a way of making the oil, gas and coal industries "part of the solution" by exploiting their vast knowledge of piping large quantities of stuff around the world.

Carbon capture is not merely a way of snatching the carbon dioxide from the air and burying it. It could be a major source of the fuel we need. By focusing on clean energy sources such as solar, wind and wave power, it is sometimes assumed that carbon-free electricity is the whole solution. But planes are never going to run on electricity; nor are heavy agricultural and mining equipment ever likely to; and biomass is needed as feedstock on a huge scale for the chemicals industry, especially bulk plastics.

All our biomass, whether fresh-grown or fossil, comes from one process: natural photosynthesis whereby complex organics are created by splitting water and carbon dioxide using sunlight. The mechanism of this fabulously complex feat of photochemistry is gradually being unravelled. The holy grail is to replicate this industrially and economically to bypass natural photosynthesis, leaving that for food production. Surely, this process, which is already feasible on a pilot scale, warrants an international moonshot or Human Genome Project approach? Momentum is building to consider global artificial photosynthesis as "the moral culmination of nanotechnology".

Meanwhile, we have the fossil-fuel lobby: a modern version of the Catholic church refusing to admit the evidence of Galileo's telescope. The church apologised 367 years later. The lobbyists for the dirty black stuff are just as wrong and will be proved to be so. But any (at present, most unlikely) apology from them is going to be too late for us all.

There have been many books on this issue but The Burning Question lives up to the urgency of its title. Clearly set out, steely with the numbers but fair and humane in its assessments of human strengths and weaknesses, it is a book to reignite the debate.

Peter Forbes's Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage is published by Yale. Nanoscience: Giants of the Infinitesimal by Peter Forbes and Tom Grimsey is due in October. To order The Burning Question for pounds 7.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: High kicks and low dives: Kathryn Hughes on a tale of sharp-angled girls making their way in a decade of excess: Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell 456pp, Macmillan, pounds 20

By Kathryn Hughes

The precise etymology of "flapper", as applied to a young woman of the Jazz Age, is a bit fuzzy. Most people seem to agree that it developed from the image of a baby bird leaving the parental nest and starting to wobble its way through the big, wide world. In the course of the 1920s, though, the term lost its cute factor and acquired the edgier meaning of a creature who likes to cause a "flap" for the heck of it. That sounds about right for the six young women under scrutiny here, at least one of whom chose to make an entrance by turning cartwheels while not wearing any knickers. You could call Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Tallulah Bankhead, Josephine Baker, Tamara de Lempicka and Zelda Fitzgerald many things, but shrinking violet isn't one of them.

Still, Judith Mackrell's book is about much more than fast girls with bobbed hair, bold mouths and a desperate need to get noticed. In between the high kicks and low dives, each of her subjects made a serious stab at leveraging the new social and political freedoms available in the years following the first world war. Cooper and Bankhead went on the stage, Cunard and Fitzgerald appeared in print, De Lempicka was a painter and Baker shimmied in a skirt made of fake bananas. The first five came from privilege, Baker from a slum. None of them got as far as they wanted, and they all had to settle for being artistic rather than artists. Whether this falling short was due to society's limits or their own is never made clear. Like so much in this slickly enjoyable book, the deeper questions tend to bounce off the mirrored surface.

What Mackrell does do, though, is give us a series of catchy stories about shiny lives getting smudged (quite where the "dangerous" part of her subtitle comes from is not quite clear: these women were often drunk and frequently drugged, but any harm done was mostly to themselves). Each of her flappers has already been the subject of multiple biographies and one - Diana Cooper - was an acclaimed memoirist. So there are ample sources from which to spin a fabulous tale of sharp-angled girls making their way in a decade of excess.

The location lunges from Alabama (Fitzgerald's birthplace) to St Petersburg (Lempicka's early home), but mostly settles on Paris - where all six flappers checked in from time to time to plot their next reinvention. We hear about Cunard's struggles to establish herself as a poet, and her eventual emergence as high priestess of the literary avant garde. There is the chance to read again about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's hectic summer of 1924, drinking and jazzing in Montmartre as they celebrate the wild success of The Great Gatsby against the dismal backdrop of their imploding marriage. Across town, meanwhile, Lempicka obsessively trawls the streets looking for the next beautifully doomed face to feature in one of her slick portraits.

All these stories are set against the backing of a spectacular culture of seeing and being seen. Even the better behaved of Mackrell's flappers, such as Cooper, who was the daughter of a duke, lived with one eye fixed on their public persona. Cooper's brief but successful career on the New York stage had taught her how to strike a pose, while her shrewd commercial sense, honed by growing up in a draughty castle, drove her to capitalise on it. Lady Diana endorsed Pond's Cold Cream, blagged free hotel rooms, and kept the British and American press enthralled by prattling nonsense in a cut-glass accent. DH Lawrence got her measure best, putting her into Aaron's Rod (1922) as "Lady Artemis Hooper", a scratchy-voiced freebooter with a knack of getting what she wanted.

Put like this, of course, it all sounds rather marvellous. You could even throw in a term like "self-fashioning" to dignify the way in which these girls did Sex and the City decades avant la lettre. Yet Mackrell is too rigorous to let this sort of easy elision go without comment. For beneath the apparently woman-friendly surface of the times, the old tectonic plates of class and gender lay stony as ever. The casting couch could quickly turn nasty, and not just for Baker - who soon found her body, and her bananas, reduced to a novelty sex act. Bankhead, the daughter of a Speaker of the House of Representatives, slept with both men and women to get acting jobs, while Cooper, somewhat protected by class and marriage, was still expected to bat her saucer eyes. Lempicka, a Polish aristocrat by birth, pimped herself out to secure her early exhibitions, while Zelda Fitzgerald was forced to publish short stories under her husband's name. Art and literature, even in these rule-smashing times, belonged to men such as Ernest Hemingway who, according to Zelda, crashed around Paris talking loudly about nothing but "sex plain, striped, mixed and fancy".

Although the flappers floated along in a weightless limbo for most of the 1920s, by the end of the decade even they were obliged to acknowledge that things were changing. After several years of going where she pleased, Baker found some Parisian restaurants closed to her, while on tour in Prague and Budapest she was confronted by chants of "Go back to Africa". Fitzgerald, meanwhile, continued to display her uncanny ability to read the cultural zeitgeist by breaking down at the same time as the American stockmarket and was admitted to a Swiss psychiatric hospital. Lempicka eased up on drugs for long enough to register that her brand of portraiture was no longer regarded as divinely decadent so much as downright kitsch. Finally Bankhead tackled her disappearing cheekbones and stagnant acting career by bingeing on laxatives and heading for Hollywood in an attempt to become the next Marlene Dietrich.

Mackrell's previous book was a biography of Lydia Lopokova, the "Bloomsbury Ballerina" who married John Maynard Keynes and was therefore, according to Niall Ferguson, responsible for our present economic predicament by failing to produce the children that would have given the economist a stake in the future. Such nonsense aside, Mackrell's biography of Lopokova was a thrilling one, deeply researched and scrupulously avoiding the cliches that tend to appear whenever "Bloomsbury" is lodged in the title. In Flappers, though, Mackrell seems to have lost her ability to stand clear of her subjects' noisy self-promotion. While Tamara, Tallulah et al crash around being frankly annoying we are repeatedly nudged to admire their dash and daring. But there is a limit to how many times you can read about parties at which someone rode in on a baby elephant or wore gold-laced slippers or said something witty that they had almost certainly been rehearsing for days.

Kathryn Hughes is writing a book about the body parts of famous Victorians. To order Flappers for pounds 15 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop

Captions:

More than fast girls with bobbed hair . . . Tallulah Bankhead


Review: Spare a thought for spammers: Steven Poole on the human faces behind your clogged-up inbox: Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet by Finn Brunton 254pp, MIT Press, pounds 19.95

By Steven Poole

There is a curious fracturing of meaning and tone in modern email spam. One spam message I got today begins like a pseudoscience news story in the Daily Mail: "Bicycle riding, in moderation, does not affect erectile functioning. But it's not absolutely safe." In case I don't click on that link, the next line offers a cruder, deliberately misspelled hook: "permanent searches for sesx" (sic). The rest of the prose tunes in and out of sense and nonsense, as though an artificial intelligence is being slowly starved of electricity. "If you do not trust in online offerings, you can visit a site checked by me and more other acquaintances." And finally: "For more information you can call even my friend Caleb [email address redacted], who live in pahrump." Who live in where? It's as though the computer has finally gone mad and is about to shut me out of the airlock.

Why do we now get pseudo-serious spam like this, or even "litspam", instead of direct invitations to buy Viagra? The answer, as revealed in Finn Brunton's densely fascinating study, is that previous anti-spam efforts were too successful. In the algorithmic war between spam-filtering and spam-generating programs, the spammers are now driven to exploit our fear of the "false positive" - a legitimate email that wrongly gets sent to the junk folder - by sending messages that look as much like normal writing as possible. "Somewhere," Brunton writes of the spammers' eureka moment, "an algorithmic bot with a pile of text files and a mailing list made a Joycean gesture announcing spam's modernism."

Brunton's survey of the modern spam industry contains many sharp insights. Those emails from Nigerian princes promising you tens of millions of dollars are the age-old "Spanish Prisoner" con gone digital; this form of spam, he observes, "is predicated on a general understanding of the operation of a profoundly corrupt society, and actually reenacts this corrupt operation, exploiting a history of exploitation". Meanwhile, the proliferation of automatically generated "splogs" (spam blogs), which make up more than half of all blogs, is arguably a perfectly logical response to Google's business model of selling ads against keywords. The sploggers, Brunton notes mischievously, just cut out the middlenullman of human conversation, and make the generation of ad revenue a perfectly automated machine. The relatively new phenomenon of "content farms", in which people write quickly and for very little money articles (or "linkbait") targeted at currently popular search terms, is also, Brunton argues, very close to splogging, with the salient difference that more human beings are being exploited for profit.

Spam didn't always mean what it means today. The first commercial spam message was sent over the academic Arpanet system in 1978, but it was called "electronic junk mail". Back then, and through the rise of public discussion groups on Usenet in the 1980s, "spamming" had the more general meaning of abusing people's attention (and the limited bandwidth of the day) through voluble, eccentric, or irrelevant postings. Its use derived from the Monty Python sketch, with its annoying Vikings singing "spam" every time the foodstuff is mentioned, and so became "a word for other kinds of tedious, repetitious, irritating behaviour".

Brunton's history of this period is very detailed, and there is a certain fatiguing sense of futility evoked by picking over decades-old flame wars among what he calls "weird, ferocious nerds". (The book's barely disguised origins as a PhD thesis, meanwhile, mean that there remain some passages of theoretical throat-clearing that seem unlikely to grip the general reader.) But a virtue of Brunton's close historical approach is that we can revisit moments where particular choices were made - technical, political, and rhetorical - and rescue alternative visions. It was not inevitable that malicious self-replicating code should have been called a "virus"; one researcher instead proposed the metaphor of "weeds". That, Brunton writes, might have led us to think of "computers as gardens rather than bodies, with diverse software populations to be tended and pruned by attentive and self-reliant users [and] the professionals as agronomists, breeders, and exterminators rather than doctors at the cordon sanitaire". Perhaps, too, we should more frequently use the lovely word "polylogue": "a term from an early computer network for this new form of asynchronous and many-voiced conversation on screens".

Brunton's book at base is a history of mass electronic communications, which also provides lucid technical overviews of internet search - or "building a spam corpus for scientific research". But it's also a human story: touchingly, Brunton even invites us to spare a thought for spammers themselves - and not just the first kind of thought, inventively murderous, that occurs to you when you see a rogue spam in your inbox. Emails sent between pro-spammers in the 1990s show a sad, ashamed exhaustion among the perpetrators themselves, who are, after all, just trying to live the American dream like anyone else.

Spam is not going away; it's just mutating into new and improbable forms. Street charity fundraisers are sometimes called "human spam" by their marks; spambots are a regular irritant on Twitter; huge "botnets" comprising hundreds of thousands of infected computers can be rented for spam or cyberattacks against companies and nations; and there is even now a burgeoning new genre of "spam books", set up to game the ecosystem of digital publishing. From one perspective, spam even looks like it's alive: as Brunton relates, it follows a curious diurnal rhythm as the earth turns and computers in different time zones are turned on and off. We can be confident that any new communications medium we ever invent will rapidly develop its own enormous parasitical payload of spam. One day, there'll be spam in space. Which at least might have the upside of persuading aliens that we're too stupid to be worth fighting.

To order Spam for pounds 14.95 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: The whole world is magical: Isabel Allende's story of a teenager in crisis avoids brutal reality. By Emily Perkins: Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende, translated by Anne McLean 400pp, Fourth Estate, pounds 12.99

By Emily Perkins

Isabel Allende's latest novel is a departure from historical fiction and magic realism, though the author of House of the Spirits and Eva Luna is still interested in the effects of history on individuals, and Maya's Notebook does feature some rather glamorous witches and a ghost. But these manifest as everyday magic, the kind that seamlessly rises from the loose sort of realism practised by this novel, which encompasses a crime story, an addiction-recovery narrative, and a family drama.

Character portraits and sketches of other lives abound, though the main focus is the teenage narrator, Maya, "with hair dyed four primary colours and a nose ring", whose problems include drugs, alcohol and parental rejection. In the opening pages Maya pitches up on a remote island in the Chiloe region of Chile, on the run from "the FBI, Interpol, and a Las Vegas criminal gang".

Fortunately, she has a loving grandmother who has arranged this sanctuary, and despite recent ordeals, her confident, upbeat nature soon charms the locals. She is smart and curious, and the novel brims with her discoveries about the archipelago and its people: tourist fantasies and harsher realities are described with great feeling. On the island Maya begins to write down her story, from her grandmother's flight from Chile in the early days of the Pinochet regime to her own childhood in Berkeley, teenage loss and three years of plummeting crisis. At the same time, the Chilotan narrative moves forward, and Maya gets involved in village life, forms close bonds, and begins to uncover horrors from the past.

Maya is the lightest of narrative guises: wise beyond her 19 years but convincingly coltish, she gives us an outsider's observations ("happiness seems kitsch to Chileans") and has a chirpy, wry sense of humour; when she falls in love, she writes her adoration and despair with hyperbole, exclamation marks and teenage wholeheartedness. The sections describing her own past are dominated by the energetic narrative impetus and lose track of any feelings of abandonment, terror and hurt at the story's centre. This may be due to the pressure applied by the crime plot, or the need to drive this book in the direction it is headed - towards a story of survival.

Maya used to read the dictionary with her beloved grandfather, something we're reminded of when she drops words such as "lapidary" and "telluric". Harder to reconcile are the almost anthropological observations, such as this, of her teenage gang: "We walked along dragging our feet, with our cells, headphones, backpacks, chewing gum, ripped jeans, and coded language." Little of that coded language finds its way into the book, even during intense scenarios with her best friends and sometime boyfriend, a hapless fellow in low-slung baggy jeans. The slang is mild: "dumbass", "man". The crime boss she works with in Vegas explains, "Heroin doesn't kill: it's the addicts' lifestyles that do. . ." The effect is a bit like taking a bus tour through the desperate parts of Las Vegas, a guide delivering facts about life on the streets. You see a mugging through the window, but the bus has moved on.

The prioritising of story over voice suggests that it's not the aim of Maya's Notebook to plunge the reader into the grim existence of a real-life Maya; this is a tale of revelations and resolutions, and the plot is more answerable to its own turns than to the brutal possibilities of reality. Despite the observations about the number of young people lost to street violence, crime and slavery, or because of them, the driving force of this novel is ultimately resilience - the power of love and acceptance to face down terrible things.

In this worldview, perhaps, the wise perspective of the narrative voice can elide with the young narrator: "I'm not going to be weighed down [by past mistakes] till the day I die," Maya insists. Her argument is compelling. She hits some nasty snags on the way to her rock bottom, but emerges (after a rather idyllic sounding rehab) with her joy in life intact, able to heal others. Whether a consequence of characterisation, magical thinking or authorial determination, this girl and her community are going to be all right. "The whole world is magical," says Manuel, the man who has survived much and becomes Maya's protector, and the book is best read in that spirit.

Emily Perkins's The Forrests is published by Bloomsbury. To order Maya's Notebook for pounds 10.39 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: All at sea: John Self on a book about the nightmare of the writer's life: Burnt Island by Alice Thompson 224pp, Salt, pounds 8.99

By John Self

"Writers are nightmares from which you cannot awake," wrote Martin Amis in The Information. "Most alive when alone, they make living hard to do for those around them." Like Amis's novel, Alice Thompson's tantalising Burnt Island is about an unsuccessful writer who finds himself face to face with his worst enemy: the author of a bestseller. Max Long, creator of seven little-read novels, has made living hard to do for those around him and is estranged from his wife and son.

He wins a three-month sabbatical to write on Burnt Island, a rock "in the middle of the Atlantic", and finds himself staying with blockbuster author James Fairfax. Fairfax's next book is keenly awaited: Max's is not. "He had never known such pain since his agent, on reading his recent manuscript, had asked him where the rest of it was." Max decides to do something about this: his next novel "would be written by the rational god of market forces". It would "appeal to millions, be full of sex and terror and character development".

Life on the island progresses as though written by Max as part of his new book. It is full, at least, of sex and terror. Women on the island seem to be both sexually attractive and available: the island's GP not only goes on a date with him, but - eternal fantasy of the writer - has read all his books. His time there is also riddled with the motifs that a cynical author such as Max might put into a work of horror fiction: doppelgangers, mute children, bird attacks. How reliable are his perceptions?

Max snoops on the progress of Fairfax's keenly awaited novel, and becomes obsessed with the disappearances of both Fairfax's wife and Daniel Levy, the last writer to stay on Burnt Island. ("He became delusional.") He also becomes involved with Fairfax's companion Rose, but her role and even identity are increasingly unclear. Through all this, we are reminded of the toll Max's writing took on his family back home. Finding marriage difficult and disappointing, he retreated to the fantasy of stories he could control. "Max hadn't really lived his life, just watched it pass by while making copious notes." The best assurance he can offer his son, Luke, when they speak is, "it didn't mean I didn't love you. You were both always at the back of my mind."

The framing device of the story - the novel opens with Max telling his therapist, "I feel like I'm on an island" - leads us to wonder if all this is a dream. Situations end in frustration or interruption; external noises are incorporated into Max's experience; relationships between characters are suddenly altered, then accepted without question. But in these respects, Burnt Island anticipates its effect on the reader, commenting on its own carefully detonated cliches and impeccably rendered dream logic. Even the novel's ending seems boldly foreshadowed. This playfulness is a risky technique: Max asks: "No one likes a book they can't pigeonhole, do they?" Well, they do if it's as clever and satisfying as this one.

Burnt Island is steeped in self-awareness, as a book about the process and effect of writing might be. It seems connected by literary electricity to other tales of isolation: The Shining, Pincher Martin, The Sea, The Sea. It might resist "character development", but Max does learn that, however bad things can get for him, there is always someone who has had it worse: usually another writer.

John Self blogs at theasylum.wordpress.com. To order Burnt Island for pounds 7.19 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: FICTION: A long St Patrick's Day speech: A little ambiguity would have counterbalanced McCann's rhapsodic charm, writes Theo Tait: TransAtlantic by Colum McCann 320pp, Bloomsbury, pounds 18.99

By Theo Tait

In 1845, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, born a slave and then still technically the chattel of a Maryland landowner, arrived in Ireland. He described his feelings in a stirring letter, later published in his second great autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom

"Eleven days and a half gone and I have crossed three thousand miles of the perilous deep. Instead of a democratic government, I am under a monarchical government. Instead of the bright, blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft, grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel becomes a man. I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as his slave, or offer me an insult. I employ a cab - I am seated beside white people - I reach the hotel - I enter the same door - I am shown into the same parlour - I dine at the same table - and no one is offended. No delicate nose is deformed in my presence . . . I find myself regarded and treated at every turn with the kindness and deference paid to white people. When I go to church, I am met by no upturned nose and scornful lip to tell me, 'We don't allow niggers in here!'"

It is obvious why this episode would appeal to Colum McCann, who left Dublin for New York aged 21 to write "the great Irish-American novel". His most convincing attempt thus far is probably his previous book, Let the Great World Spin, which sold a million copies, and won the US National Book award. Starting in Dublin, it moves to New York in August 1974, and spins a web of interconnected stories around Philippe Petit's high-wire walk between the newly built Twin Towers. McCann is fond of quoting John Berger's line, that "never again will a single story be told as if it were the only one"; his novels groove on multiple storylines, diverse perspectives, and wide sympathies - all usually arranged around a central image of some awenullinspiring human feat.

His new novel, TransAtlantic, likewise dramatises Irish-American encounters, and once again features elements of nonfiction, and a gravity-defying central metaphor. The story begins in 1919, with a re-creation of the first nonstop transatlantic flight: Alcock and Brown, two British airmen bruised by the war, flew from Newfoundland to County Galway in a converted bomber. Well researched and high on derring-do, it shows McCann's gift for small, exhilarating lyrical flourishes: "a field of grass sleeved with ice"; the cold "shrill around them".

The second transatlantic encounter concerns Douglass's visit to Ireland, a heartening episode with a tragic undertow: while Douglass was being lionised and petted by the right-thinking members of the Protestant Ascendancy - and "even one or two Catholics from good families", as McCann has it - the Great Famine was beginning to sweep the country.

The third section, again based closely on the facts, tells the story of Senator George Mitchell's efforts to broker the Good Friday agreement of 1998. McCann gives a brief, elegant and admiring account of Mitchell's attempts to "turn the long blue iceberg" of Irish history. He doesn't go into detail on the negotiations, but his impressionistic brush-strokes are smart and telling: Tony Blair manages - typically - to find the only shower in the building, so as to keep himself looking slick and chipper.

The first half of TransAtlantic features non-fictional stories about great men, united by theme but not by narrative. In the second half, McCann invents a fictional family of women to tie all the threads together. Lily Duggan, a maid at the house of Douglass's host and publisher, is inspired by his example to board a coffin ship for a new life in America. Her daughter Emily Ehrlich is a pioneering female journalist who covers the Alcock and Brown flight. Emily's daughter Lottie marries a Belfast man, and meets Mitchell in the third section. The book's coda concerns Lottie's daughter and her family. "We return to the lives of those who have gone before us," she writes, echoing the book's back-and-forth progress - "a perplexing Mobius strip until we come home, eventually, to ourselves".

Colum McCann is a very gifted, charming writer; in full, rhapsodic-onrush mode, he is hard to resist. He coins a good phrase. Pondering the vast gulf between the British and the Irish, Mitchell asks himself: "How did such a small sea ever come between them?" TransAtlantic is deft, well-crafted, and broad in its imaginative range. The many people who loved his last novel will certainly enjoy this one. And yet it is somehow less impressive than it ought to be.

Stylistically, McCann leans very heavily on one particular syntactical formation, the sentence capped by two or more lilting verbless fragments, which comes to seem like a mechanical affectation. ("He will pause a moment, watching. Her hair askew. Her body long and slim and quiet against the sheets. The baby against her.") He also has a regrettable tendency towards sonorous potted history: "The Great War had concussed the world . . . Europe was a crucible of bones." More generally, in order to incorporate all its stories, the plot becomes a little contorted, its themes generalised: war versus peace, tolerance versus prejudice. The prevailing tone is, as a result, a bit official, sententious and uplifting, redolent of an extended St Patrick's Day speech by a gifted American politician. McCann dwells heavily on the positive Irish-American encounters, such as the inspiration that Douglass drew from Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator, and downplays the more embarrassing ones. (We don't hear much, for example, about Douglass's belief that the famine was caused by intemperance.) It's hard to fault McCann's fine sentiments, but really memorable fiction requires a little more ambiguity - some more grit in the oyster.

To order TransAtlantic for pounds 13.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: FICTION: View from the gallery: Alexandra Harris on a darkly absorbing novel about art and disorder: Asunder by Chloe Aridjis 192pp, Chatto & Windus, pounds 14.99

By Alexandra Harris

Marie, the narrator of this strange, extravagant, darkly absorbing novel, is possessed by the idea of craquelure. We look at a painting and think the main event is there in the picture, but there's another story to be found in the network of cracks that runs across the surface. The cracks form grids and spirals, nets and spokes, their shapes narrating the physical history of a painting. "Painters create order from disorder," Marie muses, "but the moment that order has been created, the slow march towards disorder begins again." She sees history working its way through the National Gallery, crack by silent crack.

Marie is drawn to quietness, which is why she works as a gallery guard, pacing and sitting, sitting and pacing. A connoisseur of footsteps, she knows that sandals with cork-filled soles make the least noise. The notable points in her day are when she changes rooms, or when a tourist's finger comes close to a canvas. Such moments are electric: the non-touch of that finger might rearrange, imperceptibly, the membrane across a picture. And in any instant the peace of the gallery might be dramatically broken. Marie's great-grandfather was a guard there in 1914 when the suffragette Mary Richardson entered demurely and then suddenly slashed her cleaver through the flesh of Velasquez's Rokeby Venus. Nothing so extraordinary happens under Marie's watch: the novel works too obliquely for that. But Marie is the inheritor of those gashes. She harbours some of the dissident fury that made them, and much of the controlling spirit that guarded against them.

So this is a book about quietness and violence. Carefully curated blandness flares up into spectacle; economy of word and action gives way to melodrama. Marie is a woman who favours self-erasure, loves her grey gallery uniform, courts boredom, avoids risk, prefers not to shine; yet the novel she narrates is an original and assertive performance with more than a hint of the baroque.

These distinctive dynamics are recognisable from Aridjis's much-admired first novel, Book of Clouds, in which a detached young woman spends her time in Berlin typing out someone else's words about the haunted city. Book of Clouds was a collage of the mundane and fantastical, feasting on a vision of Hitler on the U-Bahn in 1986 disguised as an elderly woman. Having surprised us in Berlin, Aridjis surprises us again with her comical and macabre version of London, where goths huddle in nightclub corners "like packed umbrella stands" and a hypnotist might cure your headache while bequeathing you a limp.

"Cra-que-lure . . . the allure of the crack . . . the crack of dawn, the crack of doom." There is a Nabokovian rhythm in Asunder's obsessive permutations, and in the novel's dance of fluttering life and slow decay. Marie's flatmate hangs moth-catching strips in every room to preserve her jumpers; Marie unpeels the moths from their sticky graves and places them in miniature landscapes she has crafted from eggshells. They are granted an afterlife of sorts in the bizarre personal museum on Marie's bedroom shelf, where nature is condensed - lacquered, gilded and still cracking. This weird imagery could easily seem precious and overly contrived, but Aridjis is a fine judge of tone. Her eggshell landscapes are both the comical hobbynullcraft of a lonely woman and profound exercises in the control of creation and loss.

Obsessed by museums and collections, the novel is itself a museum of motifs displayed in tense juxtaposition. It is the work of an addicted image-maker who fills her cabinet of curiosities and then adds some more. Geology competes with archaeology as the book's structural principle: the injured Rokeby Venus is upstaged for a time by William Dyce's painting Pegwell Bay

In this London novel, which alternates purposefully between the still air of the National Gallery and the chaotic streets of Camden market, it probably wasn't necessary to include a weekend break at a B&B next to an asylum in an unsavoury cathedral town. And then there comes a whole section in Paris and an outlandish gothic denouement somewhere else again.

Some of these chapters want to become short stories; you can almost see the wires by which they are unwillingly tethered in place. But Aridjis knows all this. Her novel thrills with energy because of it. She dares add one more straining element because she knows that her novel - like the paintings she most admires - will be more intensely alive the more it seems to be just on the verge of falling apart.

Alexandra Harris's Virginia Woolf is published by Thames & Hudson. To order Asunder for pounds 11.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop

Captions:

Fully restored . . . Diego Velasquez's Rokeby Venus


Review: 'Don't show hatred: the Germans will be flattered': A portrait of Germany in defeat is constantly surprising, finds Gerard Woodward: The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook 336pp, Viking, pounds 14.99

By Gerard Woodward

In Hamburg just after the war, the crucial question, if you were German, was whether you were white or black. The denazification process carried out by the occupying powers entailed the filling in of a 133-question fragebogen that would determine the degree of a German citizen's collaboration with the regime. "From this they were categorised into three colour-coded groups - black, grey or white, with intermediate shades for clarity - and despatched accordingly." As a means of probing into the souls of its subjects, the questionnaire was a blunt instrument, and there was endless suspicion about the true colour of the German citizenry. In a delightful vignette towards the end of this novel, set in a certification office, a cold, sinister gentleman turning the pages of a novel with gloved hands is given his papers, while a nervous young woman is told to come back for further interrogation. The stereotypes no longer apply and deeply held assumptions are constantly challenged.

Colonel Lewis Morgan arrives in this world of shattered buildings and broken spirits charged with overseeing the reconstruction in the British zone. He has an idealistic, forgiving nature, seeing the Germans as a people crushed first by Hitler, then by the allied pounding of their cities. When he requisitions a fine home on the banks of the Elbe, he allows its owner, former architect Herr Lubert, and his daughter to remain in residence. It is a decision that baffles most and shocks some, not least Lewis's wife Rachael. She arrives later, still deep in grief for the loss of her eldest son, killed by a stray bomb that had "hurled her across the floor of the sitting room like a rag doll". Perhaps because she has witnessed her son's death she is more deeply affected than her husband by the sufferings of the local people. They are still pulling bodies from the rubble - on one occasion, Pompeii-like, two embracing skeletons are discovered.

Nevertheless, with British resolve, Rachael accepts the situation, so long as the Germans remain in their part of the house and don't "fraternise" - a word that puzzles her surviving son Edmund when he reads a guidebook on how to deal with the population. "Don't try to be kind - this is regarded as weakness. Keep Germans in their place. Don't show hatred: the Germans will be flattered." Rachael's interpretation of German character is even less forgiving - "When all is said and done, Germans are bad." Thankfully, Edmund is a repository of innocent wonder and trustingness, and ignores all the advice in his book.

It soon becomes apparent that the house on the Elbe is to be a site where prejudices will be tested, emotions awakened and viewpoints altered. It is akin to Hamlet's Elsinore - oppressive, claustrophobic, haunted by shadows and suspicions. Lubert's family mirrors the Morgans. The father lost his wife in a raid and is in prolonged mourning. The daughter, Freda, 15 years old and pigtailed, is a seething mass of resentment, as if all the energy of the fallen regime had taken up residence in her body. She does exercises using The Magic Mountain as a counterweight ("You should try Shakespeare, or perhaps the Atlas," her father remarks). She flashes her knickers as a sign of dominance at innocent Edmund, and, like an animal marking its territory, delivers a chamberpot full of hot piss into his room.

Gradually, the house does its work. Lewis and Rachael's sexual standoff turns her increasingly towards the dignified and civilised Lubert. But is he as white as he seems? On the wall there is the outline of a painting that has been removed, and one of Rachael's gossipy English friends suggests it was a portrait of the Fuhrer. "You think all this comes without compromise?" she says of the grandly furnished house. When Lewis is sent away to the archipelago of Heligoland to work on the destruction of munitions, he almost knowingly allows Lubert and Rachael the space needed to indulge their increasing fascination for each other. As even Freda begins to soften towards Edmund, it seems possible that the house can be a true site of reconciliation. But there are further levels of loyalty and betrayal to negotiate before anything approaching a resolution can be reached.

The strength of this novel lies in its superb management of the various lines of narrative tension, alongside a painfully clear portrait of Germany in defeat, conjuring surprise after surprise as it shows how the forces of politics and history penetrate even the most intimate moments of its characters' emotional lives. By the end of the novel they seem as exposed as those embracing skeletons, and the new Germany is glimpsed, just visible beyond the interminable piles of rubble.

Gerard Woodward's latest book is Nourishment (Picador). To order The Aftermath for pounds 11.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: The devil in person: Ian Sansom admires a collectively written historical thriller: Altai by Wu Ming, translated by Shaun Whiteside 272pp, Verso, pounds 17.99

By Ian Sansom

The New Yorker once described Clive James as "a brilliant bunch of guys". Wu Ming actually are a brilliant bunch of guys: Roberto Bui, Giovanni Cattabriga, Federico Guglielmi and Riccardo Pedrini, a collective of Italian writers and self-styled cultural terrorists based in Bologna, who write novels together under the name Wu Ming, and who like to compare their working method to jazz improvisation, role-playing games and 1970s Dutch total football.

Their first novel, Q, written when they were a part of the now defunct Luther Blissett Project - named after the one-time Watford and England footballer who suffered racial abuse when playing for AC Milan - was published in Italy in 1999, and translated into English in 2003. One might have expected a bunch of cultural terrorists to produce a work of impenetrable self-conscious artspeak. Instead, Q was a massive, rollicking, readable historical novel set during the Reformation.

The group have since written more works of historical fiction, all with political intent, including 54, set in Europe and the US in the 1950s, and Manituana, set in the 18th century. In 2009 they returned to the rich, dark territory of the 1500s with the publication of Altai, now translated by Shaun Whiteside, one of the great literary translators. The book is, as they say, unputdownable.

One suspects that this has much to do with the writers' peculiar method. Working together, Wu Ming produce books that read almost as if they were serial publications, or computer games, or multi-authored US television sitcoms, consisting of hundreds of silky sequences carefully stitched together. Most chapters are just a few pages long and tend to end with a cliffhanger sentence so obvious, so thrilling and so bold that the authors might simply have typed "To be continued . . ." at appropriate intervals throughout. These addictive, teasing terminal lines act as useful plot interchanges. "He would tell the truth." "For a moment I stood on the spot. Then I got moving." "So it was that I abandoned Venice, sure that I would never see her again." "The men locked the door behind them, leaving me sitting on the floor." It's feuilleton fiction.

The story is narrated by Emanuele de Zante, a Venetian gentleman, spycatcher and torturer who is accused of being a spy himself. De Zante becomes a fugitive, rediscovers his Jewish identity and ends up travelling to Salonica and Constantinople, making love and falling in love along the way, being captured by dastardly traitors, escaping from them, and eventually working with Giuseppie Nasi ("The Damned. The Cursed One. The Devil in person. The Sultan's favourite Jew") to try to establish a Jewish homeland in Cyprus.

The pace is relentless, and what matters throughout is not so much the quality as the sheer quantity of historical data and description: it's a book distinguished by its density and its momentum. Take this, from the beginning of chapter 25, a typical scene-setting opening: "The midday sun erased the shadows from the dock at Scutari and scattered drops of gold in the puddles left by nighttime rain. The reflections dazzled the eye. It was hot, perhaps for the first time since I had come to the city, and the sea's bright hues spoke of summer. Men and goods crowded the big open space on the Bosphorus; products from between carts and holds, unloaded from the backs of stevedores and the humps of camels. Nothing seemed to stop for as long as a breath." That last sentence could be a Wu Ming stylistic manifesto.

Another Wu Ming trait is the use of historical fiction as a form of cultural protest. We sometimes forget that the historical novel, ironically, is essentially a form of experimental fiction - counter-factual, anti-realist, and anti the dull mid-range of our everyday experience. Using this apparently conventional form, Wu Ming are able to reinterpret and reconstruct reality according to their own aims and intentions. There are doubtless parallels, for example, between the despoiling, warring powers depicted in Altai and the rapacious nation states of today. But of course many of us would rather read about the adventures of a De Zante than think too hard about the nature of geopolitics. Wu Ming make it possible to do both.

Ian Sansom's The Norfolk Mystery (Fourth Estate) is published in June. To order Altai for pounds 12.99 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: If I were given a red pen now and I went back, I'd take The Kite Runner apart Khaled Hosseini: THE BOOKS INTERVIEW: Photograph by Tim Knox for the Guardian

By Interview by Hermione Hoby

There's no question that Khaled Hosseini merits the term "publishing phenomenon". His two heart-tugging, blockbuster novels, set in his native Afghanistan, offered simple tales of redemption and grace while the ugly realities of war in the country rumbled through the news. His debut, 2003's The Kite Runner, written in the early mornings before work as a doctor, was followed by 2007's A Thousand Splendid Suns. Together they've sold over 38m copies worldwide.

We meet on the eve of publication of his new novel, And the Mountains Echoed, in a midtown Manhattan hotel bar where Hosseini expresses relief at finally having a scotch in hand. He has a quiet self-possession, a creased handsomeness to him - perhaps more creased today than usual: mass international appeal also means mass international press demands. He explains that the new novel began with a single image: a man towing a small wagon through the desert at night. In the wagon are two children; a brother and sister.

"I heard these stories about what a harrowing ordeal wintertime is for families in Afghanistan," he says. "People are terribly afraid and they lose their kids. So, with this background, suddenly this image came out of the blue, delivered with pristine, perfect clarity. And I was like: who are these people? Where are they going?"

The answer - a desperate father is on his way to Kabul to sell one of his children - provides the genesis for the novel's many narratives. The agony of the siblings' separation echoes down generations and across continents.

Hosseini though, puts it simply: "The book is kind of like a fairytale turned on its head. You have a very painful rupture at the beginning and then this tearful reconciliation at the end, except the revelations and the reconciliations you're granted aren't the ones you're expecting. Which is how life is, really."

This isn't how the world appeared in Hosseini's fable-like previous books. Their characters are the kind EM Forster might have classified as "flat" rather than "round". The Kite Runner's Hassan, for example, is, as Hosseini puts it, "a lovely guy and you root for him and you love him but he's not complicated". Everyone in the new novel finds themself morally compromised at some point.

The most stark example of that, he says, "is the warlord - this sort of evil benevolent lord. And it's something I've seen in Afghanistan a lot, these charismatic, larger-than-life figures who people are simultaneously afraid of, in admiration of, dependent on."

The central and most resonant line of the novel, though, is spoken not by a person but by a div, a demonic giant of Afghan folklore. When a peasant's beloved son is taken by the creature, he sets out to rescue his child, knowing he will most likely be killed for his audacity. Instead, the div shows him his son playing happily with other children. The father has to decide whether to leave his boy there - happy and provided for - or to take him back to a harrowing and potentially short life in a village blighted by droughts. Despondent, he accuses the div of cruelty. It replies: "When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour."

Hosseini is 48 - not exactly Methuselan then, but old enough to look back on his first two novels and see a different writer: a writer for whom cruelty and benevolence were very much two different colours.

"Yeah, it looks like the work of somebody younger than me," he says, a little ruefully. "I'm glad I wrote them when I did because I think if I were to write my first novel now it would be a different book, and it may not be the book that everybody wants to read. But if I were given a red pen now and I went back . . . I'd take that thing apart."

He was similarly exacting with this novel's ending. "I sort of dreaded this kind of Hollywood-ish thing and I could see it inching that way and was a little worried." Then he reread his first chapter, which includes the story of the div and the peasant father. It ends with an act of mercy: the div gives the man a potion that erases his memory, and with it, the pain of having lost his son. "And I was like, ah, this is how the book needs to end, with this idea of memory as a way that we make sense of our life. It's this amazing gift - to treasure all those things that matter to us the most, that form our identity. But it's also very cruel because we relive those parts of our lives that are so painful. I could see that if the reunion were to occur, it would occur on these terms and it wouldn't be the reunion we'd expect and perhaps the one we want."

Among Hosseini's most compelling creations in the new novel is Nila Wahdati, an alcoholic poet. One chapter takes the form of a Paris Review-style Q&A in which she's simultaneously charming and insufferable. "I didn't want her to be likable," he agrees. "I just wanted her to be real - full of anger and ambition and insight and frailty and narcissism."

Hosseini was born in Kabul in 1965, the first child of his diplomat father and teacher mother. Nila came, he says, from the kind of parties he remembers his parents throwing while he was a teenager in the 70s, when a certain stratum of Kabul's middle class was undergoing Westernisation.

"There would be really striking women in short skirts," he recalls. "Beautiful, very outspoken, temperamental, endlessly - in my young mind - interesting. Drinking freely, smoking. Nila is a creation from my memory of that kind of woman from that time and that place."

It was, however, a place that he left when he was just 11 years old. His father's work took them to Paris, and then, when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prevented them from returning home, they sought political asylum in the United States and settled in California. Hosseini, aged 15, was plunged into a San Jose high school, speaking no English.

"It was a culture shock," he says. "It was very alienating." Was he bullied? "Worse - I was completely ignored. I felt on the periphery of highnullschool culture; one of those invisible creatures that walk the campus. I think it was a lot worse for my parents. My dad was a diplomat and my mum vice-principal of a high school and now she's a waitress at Denny's, working the graveyard shift, and my dad is a driving instructor."

He adds: "There's nothing wrong with those things, but it was a regauging of their place in life. In Kabul they knew everybody, but in California nobody cared."

The family lived on welfare and, determined to ensure financial security, Hosseini resolved to become a doctor. He graduated from the University of California in 1993 and then completed his residency in internal medicine at Los Angeles's Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in 1996.

One of the new novel's most powerful sections includes an Afghan-American doctor whose compassion is tested by a trip to his homeland. Hosseini, who says he doesn't miss medicine one bit, admits that the character is deeply autobiographical.

"I went back and I'm like, this is my home city," he says. "I learned to speak here, I got into my first fistfight here - and, at the same time, it's no longer home. I don't want to act the ugly, entitled Afghan-American and go around backslapping people, pretending I'm one of them, full of bonhomie. That's disingenuous. I wasn't here when those guys were getting blown to pieces, so I'm not going to act like I was now that things are better."

And Hosseini, of course, isn't really an average Afghan-American but a celebrity. Sales of The Kite Runner began snowballing when the book came out in paperback, and it spent 101 weeks on the US bestsellers list. In 2007 it was made into a film; the movie adaptation of A Thousand Splendid Suns is due in 2015.

In the past decade he has enjoyed several moments of disbelief. The first, he recalls, came on a flight when he realised the woman beside him was reading The Kite Runner. "She was reading my book! And I couldn't believe it. I didn't do anything, and she never said anything, but I noticed that she was really into it."

The second time: "I was watching TV and I flipped the channels just in time to catch myself as the answer to a Jeopardy! question." He smiles and shakes his head. "And then the phone rang and my cousin said, oh my God, are you watching Jeopardy!? So that was like: OK, people are reading my book."

But even while patients of his were coming in just to have their copies signed, he continued to work at the clinic for a year and a half. How long did it take him to think of himself as a writer? "Oh, a long time. And even now I'm a little . . ." he trails off, with a quiet laugh. "It's a little pretentious - 'I'm a writer'. I can't take it seriously. It's just like, oh get over yourself, you know?"

That kind of humility has no doubt helped his status as book-club favourite - particularly, it seems, among women. "Literary fiction is kept alive by women," he says. "Women read more fiction, period. That said, I'm always thrilled and feel a great sense of pride when I see a 17-year-old varsity wrestler at a high school and he says, 'Man, I love your book and I wanna read more!'"

I ask him what is the most common thing fans tell him. "Oh, they say they cried." He gives a little laugh. "I feel ambivalent about that. I'm touched, but I don't want to be the guy that writes these books that make people cry. It presupposes a kind of calculated effort to extract a specific emotion out of the reader and that's not the way I work. Everything that happens happens because I feel it, you know? Whatever the readers feel when they're reading my books, I feel it tenfold when I'm writing it."

I ask him whether the knowledge of such an enormous readership wanting more of the same ever feels suffocating. "You would think, but I'm so involved in figuring out this puzzle that it saves me from all that stuff. The only fear that I have is what if that goes away . . . I do live with the very real possibility that we don't have endless stories to tell."

Family, though, seems to be fruitful territory for him. "In Afghanistan, you don't understand yourself solely as an individual," he says. "You understand yourself as a son, a brother, a cousin to somebody, an uncle to somebody. You are part of something bigger than yourself. The things that happen within families . . . I'm so fascinated by how people destroy each other and love each other."

And Hosseini shows me a picture on his phone of his two kids clutching the printed-out manuscript, thumbs up, mugging gleefully.

And the Mountains Echoed is published by Bloomsbury.


Review: POETRY: At an angle to the universe: Paul Bailey on the most thorough collection of Cavafy's poems to date: CP Cavafy: The Complete Poems translated with introduction and commentary by Daniel Mendelsohn 547pp, Harper Press, pounds 35

By Paul Bailey

When Constantine Cavafy died on 29 April 1933, his 70th birthday, his work was little known beyond Greece and Alexandria, where he spent most of his life. In 1935, with the publication of the first substantial collection of his poems, he began to receive the critical attention his genius merited. His foremost, lasting admirer was another great Greek poet, George Seferis, who observed: "Outside his poetry Cavafy does not exist."

That was in 1946, when several of Cavafy's friends and acquaintances were still alive. Yet the remark is not a harsh one, because the artist he was referring to was the least self-assertive of men. He worked for 30 years as a civil servant in the ministry of irrigation, sometimes making extra money as a broker in the Alexandria stock exchange. His lovers, golden youths who needed money to buy clothes, have all disappeared into the nameless history that accounts for the majority of the human race.

He was fluent in three languages besides his own - English, French and Italian - and enjoyed reading detective stories when he wasn't immersed in the classic Greek and Latin texts that had captured his quizzical and ironic imagination from an early age. In his 60s, he described himself, aptly, as a "poet-historian" and a "poet-novelist".

Daniel Mendelsohn, the latest of his many translators, has had access to Cavafy's 30 unfinished poems and four fragmentary pieces. This beautifully produced book is therefore as complete an edition as one can expect. Mendelsohn's scholarship is formidable. He produces mini-biographies of the emperors, mystics and martyrs who populate the ancient civilisation Cavafy captures with such beguiling immediacy. No previous editor or translator has been so thorough. It could be said, with a certain accuracy, that Mendelsohn is a larger presence here than his unassuming subject. He takes slight issue with WH Auden, who said that Cavafy survives translation, as very few poets do. Auden counted the Alexandrian as one of his main influences, and knew what he was talking about. Mendelsohn argues that the poems are more lyrical, more musical in their original form. This may well be true, but it's not just a matter of coincidence that Cavafy's poetic voice sounds much the same in the renderings into French, by Marguerite Yourcenar, and the English versions of John Mavrogordato, Rae Dalven, and Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.

Let me cite two versions of a single poem "One Night", which was started in 1907 and completed in 1916:

The room was cheap and sordid,

hidden above the suspect taverna.

From the window you could see the alley,

dirty and narrow. From below

came the voices of workmen

playing cards, enjoying themselves.

And there on that ordinary, plain bed

I had love's body, knew those intoxicating lips,

red and sensual,

red lips so intoxicating

that now as I write, after so many years,

in my lonely house, I'm drunk with passion again.

That was by Keeley and Sherrard, writing under the benign guidance of the foremost expert on Cavafy, George Savidis. And this is how Mendelsohn renders it:

The room was threadbare and tawdry,

hidden above that suspect restaurant.

From the window you could see the alley,

which was filthy and narrow. From below

came the voices of some laborers

who were playing cards and having a carouse.

And there in that common, vulgar bed

I had the body of love, I had the lips,

sensuous and rose-colored, of drunkenness -

the rose of such a drunkenness, that even now

as I write, after so many years have passed!,

in my solitary house, I am drunk again.

It could be that Mendelsohn is more accurate than Keeley and Sherrard, but it's their interpretation I prefer. Their ears are attuned to colloquial English, whereas Mendelsohn's aren't. "Having a carouse" is as ugly as it is daft. I can't recall ever having had one. They opt for "intoxicating", which suggests delirious happiness, rather than the unromantic "drunkenness" he uses. That interfering exclamation mark spoils the look as well as the felicitous melancholy of the poem, as Keeley and Sherrard understood. Their edition of the collected poems, published in 1975, remains unsurpassed.

Those dates of composition demand some explanation. It was Cavafy's habit to set down a few lines on a sheet of paper and then place the sheet in an envelope for future inspection. He stored these envelopes in his cluttered apartment, opening them when he felt capable of bringing the half-poems they contained to a satisfactory end. This was his lifelong method. Whenever a poem was finished, he showed it to a discerning friend, not an editor or a publisher. What seems so spontaneous, on the page is the result of years of rewriting and rethinking.

It was EM Forster, who befriended him in Alexandria during the first world war, who said of Cavafy that he stood "absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe". He remained thus, this acute observer of human folly, throughout his heroically ordinary life. He celebrates homosexual desire in a way his near-contemporary AE Housman never could. Housman escorts the living to death, but Cavafy restores the dead to moments of sublime liveliness. This new volume is top-heavy with Mendelsohn's knowledge, yet Cavafy refuses to be entombed academically. He flies free, in his straw hat and his dapper suit, from even the worthiest explication.

Paul Bailey's Chapman's Odyssey is published by Bloomsbury. To order CP Cavafy: The Complete Poems for pounds 28 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop

Captions:

Dapper . . . The poet Cavafy around 1900


Review: CHILDREN'S FICTION: Tony Bradman finds pleasures and problems in this debut fantasy novel: Urgle By Meaghan McIsaac 347pp Andersen Press pounds 9.99

By Tony Bradman

Fantasy is a demanding genre. In a tale such as The Lord of the Rings or His Dark Materials, everything has to be invented. Not just the plot and characters, but every detail of the fantasy world: its geography and flora and fauna, its peoples and their languages and myths and histories, its past and the present that has grown out of it. Not all of that, of course, should be there on the page - it's the nine-tenths of the iceberg beneath the surface that gives the rest its heft. And everything should be as believable in its own terms as the grittiest realism.

Once the world has been created, the fantasy author still has to bring the story's characters to life and unfold a gripping plot. That's why good fantasy is such a hard act to bring off. If your characters are two-dimensional and your plot uncompelling, it won't matter how incredibly detailed and believable your fantasy world might be. Equally, the slightest suspicion that you haven't expended enough effort on building your world can bring the whole thing down like a house of cards.

Meaghan McIsaac's debut novel demonstrates the problems of fantasy writing, as well as its pleasures. Urgle opens in the Ikkuma Pit, a great hole populated by boys abandoned as babies by the "Mothers". These lost boys think of themselves as a band of brothers, each "Big Brother" looking after a "Little Brother" from babyhood, all of them hating the women who dumped them there. The Pit has limited resources, so every Big Brother has to leave once his Little Brother has grown up enough to care for himself. Each Little Brother then becomes a Big Brother by adopting a new baby.

The story's hero is a Big Brother, the Urgle of the title. Urgle is a well-drawn character, a boy who feels he is useless because he seems to lack all the manly skills a Big Brother should have. He is no good as a hunter or a fighter, and nobody really takes him seriously, especially his Little Brother Cubby, a cheeky, wilful tyke and an unending source of worry for his primary carer. This section of the story feels the most solid: the Pit and its community a thought-through world, the writing sharp and funny, the boys an arresting mixture of toughness and tenderness.

Urgle's call to adventure comes when a former Big Brother returns to the Pit, pursued there by strange, violent creatures who kidnap Cubby. The default plot setting for fantasy is The Quest, so Urgle sets off on one to rescue his Little Brother, accompanied by the usual mixed bunch of other characters. Challenges of various kinds are faced and dealt with, more of the fantasy world is revealed, and Urgle finds himself heading towards an inevitable encounter with the Mothers. Half of them turn out to be no-nonsense Amazons, the other half wailing, guilt-racked wretches.

By this time, however, my interest had flagged. Too much of Urgle's world is left unexplained. We know the Mothers abandon boy babies and not baby girls, and that's an incendiary scenario, with a question at the heart of it that needs to be answered. But McIsaac does nothing with it: we never find out why the Mothers behave in this way, so the story is left unresolved despite a hectic series of rescues and escapes. I feel a sequel coming on, but that's not such an exciting prospect as it could have been.

To order Urgle for pounds 5.59 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop


Review: NICHOLAS LEZARD'S CHOICE: Bayeux banter brings history to life

By Nicholas Lezard

I recall, from my school days, being quite unimpressed by the Bayeux tapestry; my eyes would glaze over as we were being obliged to admire it. Knowing enough now to suspect that what bored me when I was young will prove worth paying attention to now was what drew me to the book; that, and its elegant cover design and its first sentence: "Weeks and weeks of incessant dull regn, which falls off the sky lyk cow piss."

Ah, I see what's in store for us: pastiche Anglo-Saxon. This could, I worried, get tiresome; and I wondered whether using terms like "five-toes" for "feet" and "five-fingers" for "hands" throughout, when I have a very strong hunch that both Anglo-Saxon and Norman had perfectly serviceable words for "feet" and "hands", might not get irritating after a while.

It doesn't. By showing a language in flux, tapestry draws you into its world: that of the creation of the Bayeux tapestry (which, as we are reminded in the book by an exasperated narrator, isn't a tapestry at all, but a work of embroidery) by a group of nuns in the late 11th century at a priory in Kent. (The theory that it was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror's half-brother, and stitched in England, very possibly in Kent, has the full endorsement of Professor Wikipedia.)

Medieval works lend themselves to the picaresque, or multiple narration - think of The Decameron or The Canterbury Tales. So while there is an overarching narrative, that of the commission and creation of the tapestry, work is paused while each nun tells a story related to her work. If you look at the tapestry, you will remember, or notice, that there are numerous extraneous designs along the borders that would appear to have nothing to do with the matter of the Norman usurpation. Terry has noticed, as have others, the Aesopian motifs that occur, and includes slender, playful versions, sometimes modernised, of Aesop's fables himself. My favourite is one in which a lion, confronting Aesop, asks him to tell him a fable before the lion eats him. So Aesop says he was confronted by a lion who asked him to tell a fable . . . and so on; and eventually the lion gets bored and goes away.

Terry has form when it comes to yanking the old into the new: his 2002 collection Shakespeare's Sonnets turns the line "from fairest creatures we desire increase" into "Clone Kylie". And so we shouldn't worry at all about the linguistic anachronisms in tapestry. This isn't so much a dialogue between the ancient and the modern as a kind of banter: the narrator, who is also a soothsayer, is teased for predicting Harold's victory against the Norman invader; only too late does she realise she'd been thinking about his defeat of the Vikings at Stamford Bridge: "Oon army looks mych lyk anothir these dags - thats what makes things so difficult. Alle that distinguishes them es the har: the Normans wear it short and shave the back of the cou . . . the Vikings, the hariest by far, go for the full beard plus har extensions." (You get into the rhythm and language very soon; it's probably easier than getting to grips with A Clockwork Orange

This, Terry's first major prose work as far as I know, is, as pompous book reviewers like to say, A Major Achievement. (It's a nice touch, incidentally, that the publisher is based in Hastings.) It's fun, it's intelligent, it makes you contemplate the age with new interest, and yet it does not shirk from depicting the grim realities of life at the time. In some way the language it uses protects us a little from the real pain that is in here: the plagues, the blindings, the tortures, the perils, the indifference to human life in close embrace with respect for it. But it will also rouse you into indignation at what those Norman bastards did to the people of this country when they arrived.

tapestry

by Philip Terry (Reality Street, pounds 10.50)

To order tapestry for pounds 10.50 go to realitystreet.co.uk


Review: CRITICAL EYE: Veteran novelists vie for praise

Several reviews of John le Carre's A Delicate Truth were raves. In the Times, Marcel Berlins called it "beautifully sad; the novel is the most satisfying, subtle and compelling of his recent oeuvre". The Independent's Ian Thomson praised it as a page-turner - the work of "a writer of towering gifts", whose thrillers show up "much of what passes for literary fiction [as] mere creative writing". Allan Massie in the Scotsman agreed, calling it "the best novel Le Carre has written for some time" and its author "far more serious in his themes than the majority of those who write so-called literary fiction". As if anticipating that the spy writer would be thus praised, two veteran literary novelists were his flintiest critics. In a review recalling his hatchet job on Ian McEwan's Saturday, John Banville, in the Literary Review, patronised the book as "charming", but only after calling its author "increasingly lazy", and dismissing A Delicate Truth as continuing a long series of "flawed and shrill works": it "marks a return to the days of Sapper and John Buchan, when black was black and white was white". The TLS's Frederic Raphael was even more scornful, complaining of "mixed cliches . . . witless dialogue" and bogus "daring revelations about How Things Really Work". The New Statesman's Sarah Churchwell was less damning, but complained like Banville of Le Carre's "increasingly consoling" recent work trading in "the certainties of heroes and villains", with the former "rewarded with upright women who stiffen their moral backbones".

Brickbats were scarcer in reviews of another octogenarian's novel, James Salter's All That Is, centred on a naval officer who becomes a publisher in postwar America. In the Independent, Geoff Dyer hailed it as "a strange masterpiece", demonstrating, in its idiosyncratic style, that "mastery . . . is an indifference to how things are meant to be done". The Financial Times's Simon Schama enjoyed Salter's "gem-cut prose" and some "transporting moments"; but, as they are linked only by a "loose ribbon of chronicle", he preferred Salter's Collected Stories. In the New York Times, Malcolm Jones found the novel "vigorous proof that this literary lion is still on the prowl", but he was too much on the prowl for Scotland on Sunday's Hannah McGill, so far All That Is's only woman reviewer and only discontented one. McGill took aim at the "pseudo-profound" style of a novel "past its time", and saw "a bias in the writer, not just his character" in the narrator's "assessing every female . . . in terms of her sexual viability".

In contrast, Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs was overwhelmingly assigned to women. Michiko Kakutani, in the New York Times, identified a mismatch between its "dense, self-reflexive writing" and "wilfully commercial plot", resulting in "an intriguing but ungainly Frankenstein monster of a novel". Julie Myerson, in the Times, found Messud's writing "overwrought" and her closing revelation "not wholly convincing". The LRB's Emily Witt was also vexed by implausibilities, and failed to warm to the narrator. But the novel met with admirers as well as fault-finders: "a deft study of character underpinned by a gripping narrative", said the Observer's Elizabeth Day; "it's beautiful, and it's moving, and feels true," agreed Christina Patterson in the Sunday Times; "a howl of fierce, furious rage" by "a breathtaking writer", enthused the Independent on Sunday's Daneet Steffens.

Captions:

'A deft study of character' . . . Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs


Review: Where the wild things are Further to Frances Stonor Saunders's review of George Monbiot's book about the "rewilding" of the British countryside ("Call of the wild", 25 May), the most prominent case study so far is at Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, where apex predators (wolves) have been reintroduced. There have been many interesting side-effects that suggest predator reintroduction can be highly beneficial to dysfunctional ecosystems. Regarding the notion that reintroducing predators will lead to a string of horrific attacks on humans, there have been no attacks so far related to any of the projects (bears in Italy, panthers in Florida and wolves in Yellowstone). DragonNoodle from the website

George Monbiot does not seem to get the point that a large diversity of plants needs careful management. My parish council adopted a policy of leaving pond margins to themselves, in the hope of improving diversity. What we got was a dominance of rank weeds, such as thistles, brambles and nettles. If you take the sheep off the uplands, you will get a domination of bracken, not a revival of a huge selection of "declining" native trees. As top predator, it is our job to decide on what balance is best for the overall health of the environmental system. It's a shame, that in most cases it's the economic criteria that is leading the debate, and not the health of the ecosystem.

jediperson

from the website


Review: True grit

If Blake Morrison ("Mother's boy", 25 May) thinks that in Sons and Lovers 'the realities of working-class life intrude more forcibly than any other novel of the modern period", he should read Cwmardy (1937) and We Live (1939), two novels by Lewis Jones, a Welsh miner, communist activist, mesmerising public speaker and compelling writer. Set in Jones's Rhondda Valley, they offer a fascinating insight into life in a mining community.

John Jenkins

Bath

Historical facts

Moneyball was not anything like The Book of Genesis for analytics in sport ("The size of a player's heart", 25 May). The Society for American Baseball Research was founded in 1971, and statistical analysis has been widespread in football for decades. Valeriy Lobanovskyi was crunching numbers at Dynamo Kiev back in the 80s. The only thing that's changed since then is the availability of data, and the ease of crunching it.

TheMightyParisAngels

from the website


Review: Ironic image

By John Harvey London

It was a shame that the film still illustrating The King of Marvin Gardens ("Trust the audience", 25 May) was mislabelled, with Julia Anne Robinson mistaken for Ellen Burstyn. And also ironic as Burstyn's character spends almost the entire movie fearing that she is going to be replaced within their three-way relationship with Bruce Dern by her younger, prettier step-daughter, played by Robinson.

John Harvey

London


Review: Perfect view

Just because run-of-the-mill buildings use float glass in the most utilitarian of ways doesn't mean it has no positive aesthetic quality ("The story of stuff", 25 May). The same could be said of any building material: concrete, brick etc. When used by talented architects and artists, the perfection of modern float glass offers opportunities that imperfect glass doesn't: reflection, refraction, parallax, colour, and so on, that can be used to create incredible experiences in buildings and art.

280E

from the website


Review: Obscenity street

By James Elliot

London and Oxford were not the only medieval cities endowed with thoroughfares with robustly descriptive names ("Pissabed amongst the grass", 25 May). The present Grape Lane in York, now the address of several fashionable restaurants, was known as "Grapcunt Lane" from 1329, and its residents were alleged to have offered their professional services to members of the clergy of the nearby minster.

James Elliot

York

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Review: Would you Adam and Eve it?: Steve Jones on the fallout from mixing science and religion

By Steve Jones

Book reviewers should listen to Saint Luke. "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise". I have written plenty of needlessly rude reviews and am, as a result, more or less immune to the slings and arrows aimed at my own works (Amazon is a good place to look).

The response from various reviewers to my latest effort, though, has been different. The Serpent's Promise is subtitled The Bible Retold as Science. The reaction by some to that second phrase has been that of a Calvinist to a consecrated wafer: whatever its merits or otherwise, the believers cannot swallow it.

As Sibelius said, "Who ever saw a statue to a critic?" but some of mine deserve at least a brief memorial: "Cue heavenly choir of white-coated lab dwellers chanting the genetic code of DNA ", wrote the Daily Mail. "They are worshipping the Great Beard of Darwin, which looks remarkably like that of God" or, if you prefer, "a recranking of the Darwinist barrel organ - accompanied by the monkey of New Atheism, of course, as it screeches petulantly at religion" (Sunday Times).

In fact, what I was aiming for with my treatment of what I refer to (with "heavy irony") as the Good Book, was to interpret it in part as an attempt to make sense of the physical world, and hence as an ancestor to today's science. What have scientists found out about the origin of life, fate, the great flood, the visions of the prophets, or even religion itself?

The Serpent's Promise tries to answer those questions. It is not an attack on, or a defence of, religion but a journey into Dawkins's Canyon; the yawning and largely unexplored chasm between the faithful and their opposites. It avoids anything incapable of rational explanation: the afterlife, the resurrection, even God himself, for science can neither confirm nor deny notions based on spirituality alone.

My idea ("workshopped to death during a marketing brainstorming session rather than springing from a single human mind" - the Independent) has not proved universally popular: "The trouble with so many scientists, including, I am sorry to see, Emeritus Professor Jones," continued the Daily Mail reviewer, "is that they have no idea why men have always made up myths and parables and allegories and profited by them. They are ways of explaining things that cannot be otherwise expressed . . . Myths don't need updating".

One theological expert was enraged that I did not mention the "reincarnation" of Christ, while another was shocked that the beautiful verses of the Bible might have a literal meaning: "to criticise the opening line of Psalm 19 - 'The heavens declare the glory of the Lord' - for empty logic is a strangely wooden way of reading poetry" (the New Statesman).

I agree - but surely there is more to the psalms than poetry. No thinking Christian (and there are many) defends the notion that the Earth is 6,000 years old, or that women descend from a male ribcage. To criticise such beliefs is to kick straw men when they are down, and I don't even try. In any case, an account of physics based on the impossibility of walking on water, or a section in chemistry that turns on the reactions that transform it into an alcoholic beverage would make feeble reading indeed.

Is the Good Book really no more than myth, and the heavens no more than a psalmist's celebration of divine power? Surely its verses also reflect an ancient curiosity about the physical nature of what lies around us. Not justastronomy is forbidden territory: "We are asked to believe a number of intellectual contortions including the claim that Genesis was 'the world's first biology textbook'" (the Observer). The origin of life - of plants, animals, sex, human pedigrees, death - not biology?

Adam and Eve are, it seems, models of the loss of purity that comes with knowledge and not, as genetics makes clear, the real ancestors of every man and woman. Another hit: "At the root of Professor Jones's attitude to the leprosy of Leviticus lies a comical misunderstanding. 'Leviticus,' he declares, 'is obsessed with hygiene.' He writes as if the Israelites washed in order to get rid of the germs of a nasty disease. But the Levitical concept of clean and unclean had nothing to do with contagion from germs" (the Spectator).

Yes, fair enough, for in that prescriptive volume we are also told that men must avoid chairs upon which a menstruating woman has sat: and that has nothing to do with sex hormones. But is it no more than a coincidence that - as I suggest - the Levitical concern with infectious disease emerged at the time of the appearance of the first great cities and, with them, the era of epidemics? For the modern churchman, apparently not; it's a sermon about moral spotlessness.

Even the great flood, it seems, has nothing to do with waves. In spite of the geological evidence of repeated inundations in the Bible lands, the waters are irrelevant, for the flood is no more than a parable explaining that the Lord punishes those who are sinful.

Acolytes of the Church of the Holy Metaphor so much despise the fundamentalist view of scripture that they deny that the Bible has any contact at all with the real world. If they do not believe in the literal truth of at least some of its verses, what do they believe? Not, it seems, very much. In their capacious philosophy almost none of the events recorded in the testaments has a connection with the physical universe: instead, from Genesis to Revelation, they are to be read as symbol, allegory, and myth.

I am the last person to comment on whether The Serpent's Promise is any good or not: but even if its "pages are soaked in a reductive contempt" (the Sunday Times again), the response from the faithful has led me to the unexpected conclusion that, atheist as I am, I believe more of the Bible than many Christians do.


Review: ARTS: His dark material: Werner Herzog's films portray humans as frail, vulnerable creatures caught in the gap between an indifferent nature and a punishing God. As The Act of Killing opens in the UK, Michael Newton celebrates the director's unique vision

By Michael Newton

For a man whose "social network" is his kitchen table, Werner Herzog's image is very present on the internet. You can see him (deceptively edited) discoursing in doom-laden tones concerning the "enormity of the stupidity" of hipsters or Republicans. (Originally he was discussing chickens.) He's there (or rather someone impersonating him is) intoning about the dark intensities of "Where's Waldo". (The clip has had more than a million hits on YouTube.) And, most notably, he can be seen in Les Blank's short film (this time for real) eating his shoe to celebrate the successful completion of Errol Morris's Gates Of Heaven (1978). While the shoe boils, Herzog remarks that the movie industry makes clowns of its artists, as happened to Orson Welles, and even, he claims, Francois Truffaut. And it can seem that the media has indeed turned Herzog into a clown an archetypal Deadly Serious German, a mockable, foolish "Ahrtist".

It's as though the apparent gloom of his world view prompts us to giggle at him. Herzog can be found online being shot by a sniper with an air-rifle during an interview with Mark Kermode. Somehow it is hard to imagine such a thing happening to any other famous director, and even harder to imagine that they would respond with the unconcerned, pessimistic sang-froid of Herzog. (He remarks: "It doesn't surprise me to be shot at.") Just before that air-rifle sniper shoots him, Herzog remarks: "In Germany . . . Nobody cares about my films." Elsewhere they certainly do, though not perhaps as much as they ought; for the clown of those YouTube clips is also the maker of some of the most inspiring and disturbing movies of the last 50 years.

In Grizzly Man (2005), partly as a counterpoint to the saccharine, Disneyesque view of nature held by that movie's bear-loving hero, Herzog glumly declares: "I believe that the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder." It's no surprise that one of the last things Ian Curtis of Joy Division did before hanging himself was to watch Herzog's Stroszeck (1977). Given the opportunity to shoot in the Antarctic, another director might have succumbed to the temptation to reproduce the anthropomorphic cuteness of Oscar-winning March of the Penguins. Encounters at the End of the World (2007) steers clear of the cuddly for as long as possible, and when it finally succumbs to the bird's allure, Herzog focuses on "penguin prostitution" and the suicidal impulses of penguins, who for no discernible reason suddenly depart the colony, and head inland, waddling forlornly across the ice towards the distant south pole and inevitable death.

In overview, his movies can look like a series of Graham Greene novels rewritten by DH Lawrence. Just as Greene had Greeneland, Herzog has Herzogland, and the two realms, at the very least, share a border. Like Greene, Herzog would presumably assert that the place of his films is no invented country, but simply the world as in fact it is. The variety of locales and milieux in his films is astonishing: from the Peruvian jungle in the stunning Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) to the Biedermeier Germany of Nosferatu and Woyzeck (both from 1979); from the dusty pre-tourist Lanzarote of Even Dwarfs Started Small (1969) to the science-fiction landscapes of the Kuwaiti oil fires after the first Iraq war in Lessons of Darkness (1992). The richness of his interests is amazing: ecstatically devout pilgrims; prehistoric cave paintings; fast-talking American auctioneers; skinulljumpers; TV evangelists; Siberian trappers; the blind, deaf and dumb. He has made more than 60 films, both fiction and documentaries, and, in total, they look like the life's work of several directors, yet all maintain the spirit of one man's view of this disparate planet. With their eye for the strangeness in the world, the unaccountable in human beings, these films can haunt you.

Film-making has been for him a life of adventure and physicality, where the tactile aspects of the process are central. With cameraman Thomas Mauch, Herzog used to walk in tandem, his hands around Mauch's waist, or hooked into his belt, so that the camera, its operator and the director could fuse.

An aesthetic of authenticity guides his approach to movie-making. It is there in his fiction films in the casting of such people as Bruno S, the star of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) and Stroszeck. Bruno S was a marginal, troubled Berlin street-singer brought in to play characters who were similarly marginal and troubled. One thing that makes documentaries such as Little Dieter Needs To Fly (1997) or Wings of Hope (1999) so powerful is that Herzog persuades the subjects of those films to revisit and even re-enact the traumas they experienced in the jungles of Asia or South America. What transforms mere commitment to "fact" is Herzog's sense that the real truth often lies in the figurative quality of events. In Little Dieter Needs to Fly and its feature-film remake Rescue Dawn (2006), he uses the same slow-motion footage of American bombers dropping napalm on to the Vietnamese countryside. In Rescue Dawn, it is accompanied by orchestral music, and looks sad, majestic, august - a melancholy anti-war sequence. In Little Dieter, it plays out to driving Tuvan throat-singing, and the same shots become off-centre, exhilarating and insane. In other hands, the wonderfully odd Wodaabe, Herdsmen of the Sun (1989), with its nomadic tribe's beauty contest to find the most gorgeous man in the desert might have been a National Geographic film, with its immensely tall, preening tribesmen, exquisitely madeup, standing on tiptoe, opening their eyes as wide as possible (the whites being considered particularly winning), their mouths fixed in improbable toothy grins. Only Herzog would have added opera on a scratchy 78 to the soundtrack, in the process making this high point of European culture appear as strange, disturbing and artificial as the customs of the tribe.

There are few film-makers less interested in the everyday world of supermarkets, mortgage payments and Sky Sports. Herzog does not despise the "ordinary person", for it is hard to picture him believing in such a rare creature and to imagine him despising anyone. Yet in the background of his films lingers a sorrowing contempt for the blithe, banal member of "the public" - that hypothetical person who accepts society as it is, who believes bread will always come ready-packaged, and who is too busy updating their Facebook page to notice how at any moment nature might sweep us all off the Earth. Thankfully, this putative character rarely appears in person in his films.

For all Herzog's people - as much in the documentaries as in the feature films - are instead shown in relation to a moral or existential abyss. Hence his recent interest in the murderers on death row. In the most disturbing Herzog films, human life is a beleaguered property, a flicker of consciousness sustained within an equally flimsy civilisation. The experience of being a child of the ruins in Germany after the second world war perhaps injected him with this sense, living as he did in the moral and physical collapse of a culture.

His God is nature - but not a gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild tree-hugger's nature, but a terrifying, unappeasable Old Testament Jehovah. Perhaps with Terrence Malick, he is one of the last film-makers to have a feeling for the sublime. His moral landscape emerges from this space - frail, plucky humanity holding the gap between an indifferent nature and a punishing God. There his people endeavour to make meaning in their lives. In the process he presents unimaginable people - as in Fata Morgana's (1970) desert characters: the piano-playing madam and drum-playing begoggled pimp playing cabaret music in the Lanzarote brothel; the shellshocked Foreign Legion deserter clinging to a ragged letter from his mother; the lizard-loving German. One actor in particular will be associated with Herzog for ever - Klaus Kinski, who appeared in five Herzog films. To channel Kinksi's rage and arrogance productively on to the screen was a huge achievement. However, a far greater one was to elicit Kinski's tenderness, his joy, and even his reserve.

Herzog's love is kept for whatever it is in human beings that strives for connection, for meaning - even when the form those strivings take seem weird, misplaced and mad. It's there in Dieter Dengler's passion for flying, an obsession for safety and freedom in the skies that began when, as a small boy, he gazed on as an American plane strafed his Bavarian village.

No film demonstrates such guiding fascinations more clearly than Fitzcarraldo (1982). Strange as it feels to make the connection, it is staggering in the way that David Lean sometimes is - the Lean whose last project was to have been an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo, a novel of the silver mines and South American revolution. There's something of The Bridge On the River Kwai about Fitzcarraldo's monomaniacal passion to bring opera to the jungle. In order to do so he must first haul a huge steamboat over a high hill that separates two rivers, avoiding unnavigable rapids, and so take a shortcut to an unclaimed jungle of rubber-producing trees. Herzog shows us the mechanics of the achievement, as the cast and crew (and the large number of native "extras") really do drag that boat up and over the slope. It is painstaking, magnificent and crazed. Yet their success leads to immediate failure, the apparent disappointment of a dream. If the film had stopped there, it would have been a beautiful tribute to human aspirations fallen wide. But in the end, Fitzcarraldo indeed brings opera to the interior, and the transcendence of those last minutes takes the film to heights that even Lean did not think of attaining.

Herzog's identity as a film-maker is so distinctive that it even informs films that might seem only equivocally his. Happy People (2010) was in fact filmed by Dmitry Vasyukov, and the extraordinary Grizzly Man (2005) is almost a collaboration with a dead man, centring as it does on Timothy Treadwell's footage of his summers spent living as near as possible to the grizzly bears of Alaska. In both movies Herzog structures the material, and, above all, acts as its interpreter, discovering something visionary in another film-maker's work. The images may have been shot by another, but the ideas in the film come from Herzog. Grizzly Man is a film about the crossing of the human-animal divide (a journey taken to Treadwell's ultimate cost), and also about film-making itself. Treadwell foolishly identifies himself with the bears he films, but also with the camera that films him. And to complete the cycle of slipped identities, it is hard not to feel that Herzog stands apart from Treadwell, regarding him, while being somehow doubled with him.

He has made a handful of Hollywood action films, such as Rescue Dawn and Bad Lieutenant (2009), both of which are well worth watching. (In the latter film, it is a credit to Herzog that he draws out such a great performance from Nicolas Cage, now mostly accustomed to coasting through a film.) Yet in the great run of his fiction films from Signs of Life (1968) to Fitzcarraldo, Herzog's sense of timing and pace is very non-Hollywood. His films are gripping; they are never stately, but they are slow; there are longeurs; things can drag on. In what I suppose has to be called his "documentary" about the Sahara, Fata Morgana, the film opens up with eight extended shots of eight jet-planes landing; by the fifth I found myself squirming in my seat with frustration. Lengthy, rolling, spinning shots of the desert follow. Yet this pace leaves space for moments of stillness and allows the material to reveal itself. But only when animals and outstandingly absurd human beings enter the film does our interest truly wake up.

In the end, despite the great gloom of his philosophy, Herzog remains one of the most celebratory, life-affirming film-makers alive. The story told in Little Dieter Needs To Fly is almost unbearably grim. Yet, ultimately, the film honours Dengler's good humour, his resilience, his overwhelming desire to live; after describing the many horrendous tortures the Viet Cong inflicted on him, he shrugs and says: "They were always thinking up new things to do to me!"

Over 50 years, Herzog's aim has been to produce images adequate to our reality. At the end of Land of Silence and Darkness (1971), Herzog films Heinrich Fleischmann, a man both deaf and blind, who has forgotten how to speak and write, and has lived part of his life in a stable with animals. Fleischmann's situation was probably as bleak as any that I can imagine. And yet, as the film closes, irritable, frustrated, Fleischmann moves away from us and heads off across a garden, until he stumbles into a tree. The moment could be desperate, even desperately comic, until he pauses, and draws close, and, fumbling at first, then more assuredly, with his fingers feels the trunk and branches and leaves in what must surely be an ecstasy of curiosity and delight. It is a mark of Herzog's achievement that he has provided us with so many such images that unflinchingly encapsulate our fragility and our endurance.

The Werner Herzog season is at the BFI, London SE1, from 1 June to 23 July. bfi.org.uk

Captions:

Clockwise from main: Nosferatu (1979), Aguirre: Wrath of God (1972), The Bad Lieutenant (2009), directed by Herzog, below

Sad, majestic, august . . . Herzog and Christian Bale filming Rescue Dawn


Review: ARTS: A man or a company?: It may not be true that Walt Disney wanted to be cryogenically frozen, but Philip Glass's new opera about the last months of his life explores the man behind the myth. Nicholas Wroe meets its director, Phelim McDermott

By Nicholas Wroe

It was remarkably soon after Walt Disney's death in 1966 that the urban myth emerged of his body being cryogenically frozen in the hope that one day, pending advances in medical science, he might be brought back to life. "Of course it was absolute nonsense," says Phelim McDermott, director of Philip Glass's new opera about Disney, The Perfect American, which opens at the English National Opera today. "But for some reason, this was a myth that people wanted to believe. One of our singers grew up in Florida and says, when he was a kid, everyone just knew that Disney was underneath the Epcot Centre. And after a while, these myths can take on a certain power because there is some kind of truth embedded in them. This opera is about Disney discovering that he is ill and is going to die, and Philip uses the story to deal with ideas of mortality and immortality. What will happen after Walt has gone, but his famous creations live on? What will become of his legacy? Who will look after his memory?"

Several of Glass's 24 operas have featured biographical accounts of historical figures, including Christopher Columbus, Albert Einstein and Galileo. McDermott first worked with Glass on the acclaimed 2007 revival of Glass's 1980 opera about Gandhi, Satyagraha, which was staged by the ENO in London and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was then that they first discussed an opera based on novelist Peter Stephan Jungk's fictionalised account of the last period of Disney's life, when he realised he was dying of cancer.

McDermott says that one of the key questions Disney asks is, "Am I a man, or a company?" "It is something that has been raised more recently with Steve Jobs and Apple. People didn't quite know what went on there. Jobs didn't create the iPad, but he created the conditions in which other people could. Disney was the same. And within that is the discussion of whether he was an artist. He wasn't actually that good at drawing. When he gave public talks and demonstrations, he had to be given lines to help him draw Mickey Mouse."

In telling the story, a composite character, Dantine, stands for the many individual animators who worked on the classic Disney films and who, whether thriving under his patronage or engaged in a bitter strike against his studio, enjoyed an almost oedipal relationship with him. "Dantine asks if Disney is really an artist if he doesn't physically do the work," says McDermott. "Andy Warhol appears in the opera saying he wants to make a picture of Walt because he was his inspiration. There is a discussion about collaboration which is not dissimilar to that which takes place around someone like Damien Hirst today."

The visual design of the staging is intended to resemble the feel of an old film and includes screens, not unlike individual animation cells, on to which images are projected. The famously controlling Disney estate rarely grants outsiders permission to use its characters, but McDermott says, in this case, the need didn't arise. "We maybe hint a little bit, and there might be some small things hidden in the set subliminally," he says. "But we were never interested in using the copyrighted material. I was much more interested in showing the process of animation rather than the finished thing. The feel is far more of the animator's rough pencil drawings."

There is a resonant correlation between the repetitions in Glass's music, progressing only by the tiniest of increments, and the animation process of producing a series of near-identical drawings that move forward by the smallest degrees. Highlighting this connection, the opera includes sequences in which animators repetitively turn pages back and forth to the music. McDermott and his team devised much of the staging as Glass was writing. "So it was a two-way process. We worked from the libretto and Philip was shown ideas for the proposed sets as he was composing."

The Perfect American was premiered in Madrid earlier this year and it was two weeks into rehearsals before McDermott actually heard the music for the second act. "That is obviously a little scary. But opera is a form you have to bring together at the last moment in a live event. That is unavoidable and is part of the excitement. And after all that, you usually only get six or seven goes at it, so having another run in London is great in that it does allow us to tweak things a little."

McDermott made his reputation with his Improbable Theatre company, producing work that is known for having an improvisational element, sometimes involving puppetry, comedy, unlikely subject matter and a heightened theatricality. The visually stunning staging of Satyagraha included vast puppets, but this time, he says, "as the way people move is at the core of animation, there is a very strong dance and choreography element, rather than puppetry. That was one of the scary things in planning the piece at the same time as the music was being written. Will there be any room for dance? Part of the way I work is to create a language of movement that joins everyone up. It's not a matter of 'here come the dancers', more that everyone inhabits the same sensibility in a world, and that is guided by the music."

He says that in Satyagraha there were sections of the music when "you simply could not move people fast to it. So taking things slowly was part of the language. Here, the dancers are sometimes animals, although animals that Walt Disney might see if he was having a nightmare. It is the dancers who are sort of the pioneers of hearing first the language prompted by the music, into which the principals and the chorus then also fit."

As to the question of where Disney's famous characters came from, "the answer is that they grew out of his early life in this incredibly tiny, apple pie town of Marceline, Missouri, and his dream in later life was that everyone should have access to an apple pie town. Philip has drawn out the myth of origin from Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the others and produced something quite haunting. What we see is not the finished images, but a little boy dressing piglets up in clothes. It's a slightly weird, more David Lynch than Disney bit of America."

As an actor, deviser and radical director of theatrical performances that often take place in fringe or even non-theatrical spaces, McDermott appears suited to the production. But he is still surprised by the success he has enjoyed in opera. "It's somewhere I never thought I'd end up. But even though I'm not a musician, a lot of my work contains a musical sensibility and, weirdly, a lot of the performance methods I've used with actors in the rehearsal room are very suited to opera." He cites the Michael Chekhov acting technique, "which is about being aware of atmospheres on stage and not being afraid to make big, sustained gestures. All that heightened style is part of the language of opera, so I've found a lot of the things I already do making total sense in this world."

In fact, he compares the operatic process of marshalling an orchestra, chorus, dancers and principals, as well as the staging, to "a big outdoor sitenullspecific gig. It's difficult in opera to be a director who really likes to hone and control everything. You have to be kind to the process itself, set everything up and then at the gig, everyone has to be very awake for all the elements to work together. You can't feel you have to solve everything: you have to trust the musicians, the choreography and the performers. All you can do is create the conditions in which those things can work."

He has also become enamoured with the artform. A previous immersion in music theatre - "a journey on Broadway, which was not a particularly enjoyable journey" - came down to "amplifying everything to make it more like a rock concert". In contrast, he finds the idea of those moments in opera where there is just a single, unamplified voice on stage, "almost unique in being unlimited in its ambition, and yet vulnerable at the same time. I've always been interested in that sense of vulnerability on stage. That's why I've always liked improvisation. The impulse to batten things down and make them ultra-reliable gets rid of the whole point of having a live performance. And opera is still a live performance. It can all still go wrong."

Like many people of his age - McDermott is 50 this year - he had a great deal of admiration and love for Disney films when young. "And they were also a communal event in a way that is much less frequent today. But then, as time went on, there was all the merchandising and a Disney store seemingly in every city in the world and you began to think 'yuk'. And then you get to hear things about Disney himself - his political views, the cryogenic story - and it begins to feel a bit more creepy and complicated and you suddenly ask: 'Who was that person?'"

McDermott suspects that many people have shared this "double response, which is why investigating the conversation between the man and the myth is so interesting. And out of all these small threads of the man, his life and his work, Philip has drawn out the more mythical aspects that clearly come through in the music. Not least the story of a man who couldn't live forever, and his relationship to a body of work that he thought might."

ENO's The Perfect American is in rep at the Coliseum, London WC2N, until 28 June. www.eno.org

Captions:

History repeats itself . . . Andy Warhol pays tribute to Walt Disney, pictured on the backdrop in The Perfect American and below


Review: ESSAY: ESSAY: 'We all breathe the same air': In June 1963, JFK made a speech that changed the outcome of the cold war. Fifty years on, modern politicians should follow his example of leading, not following, public opinion. By Jeffrey Sachs

By Jeffrey Sachs

President Obama's address to young people in Jerusalem in March was meant to be an uplifting call for peace. Yet there was one remarkably dispiriting line. "Speaking as a politician," said Obama, "I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see."

Obama was appealing to Israel's young people to rally for peace. That's fine. But he was also expressing the sad truth of our time - political leaders are followers. Politicians are governed by focus groups and opinion surveys. They will "lead" only when the outcry becomes loud enough, and sometimes not even then. And when the public is confused and divided, the politicians cower in their platitudes.

It is fitting, therefore, to remember other times in history, when democratic politicians led, by cajoling, inspiring, and enlightening the public to follow a necessary yet courageous course. At those moments of history, grand rhetoric spurred action, even dazzling and inspiring action. We are at an anniversary of one such moment of democratic leadership, an act of leadership and statesmanship so large that it helped to save humanity.

Fifty years ago, on 10 June 1963, President John F Kennedy changed the course of the cold war. Like Obama, he spoke of peace. Yet, unlike Obama, JFK took risks in the cause of peace. His British counterpart of the day, Harold Macmillan, and the UK ambassador to Washington, David Ormsby-Gore, deserve significant credit for bolstering his resolve at critical moments.

But JFK had a towering role model for his political bravery. No 20th-century democratic politician did more to harness words to courageous action than Winston Churchill. His determination, soaring rhetoric, and decisive action in 1939 and 1940 saved Britain in the war with Nazi Germany.

As a young college student, JFK watched Churchill's rise to wartime leader while visiting his father Joseph Kennedy, America's ambassador to the Court of St. James. Churchill's courage no doubt made a powerful impression on JFK in contrast with his own father's notorious pessimism about Britain's wartime prospects.

From this time onward, JFK's yardstick of leadership was political courage, the readiness to lead public opinion rather than to follow it. As a US senator, he and Ted Sorensen, his trusted adviser and speechwriter, crafted Profiles in Courage, a selection of historical examples from the Senate where a politician risked career and reputation to stand for higher principles. Soon enough, Kennedy would face the test of political courage at another hinge of history.

He arrived at the presidency with little experience - the youngest elected president in US history. His first two years were bumpy, far from the ideals of leadership to which he aspired and held himself accountable. Yet it was in his third year, a true annus mirabilis of presidential leadership, that JFK joined the pantheon of greatness.

Kennedy became president after 15 years of cold war, and at a moment when the prospects of a US-Soviet thaw were rapidly fading. Stalin's death in 1953 had raised widespread hopes that solutions to the cold war could be found. Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin's successor, championed the cause of "peaceful coexistence" of the superpowers. Yet years of US-Soviet negotiations on arms control had failed to make headway: the distrust on both sides was too great.

Worse still, tensions intensified in the months between JFK's election victory in November 1960 and his assumption of office on 20 January 1961. A long-awaited Khrushchev-Eisenhower summit failed when a CIA spynullplane was shot down in Soviet airspace just weeks before the scheduled meeting. This was par for the course: no agency did more damage more consistently to the cause of peace than the malign and bungling CIA. But Eisenhower compounded the CIA's damage by brazenly denying the spy mission, only to have the Soviets produce both the plane's wreckage and the captured US pilot for a global audience.

Kennedy came into office in 1961 hoping to reach a series of arms-control treaties with the Soviet Union, specifically a ban on nuclear arms testing to be followed by a nuclear nonnullproliferation treaty. Yet as an initially inexperienced leader, JFK drifted with events instead of leading them. The CIA reprised its spy plane bungling in a far larger and more dangerous debacle, by staging an invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles. When the attempt immediately collapsed on the beach of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy repeated Eisenhower's blunder by brazenly (and ridiculously) lying to Khrushchev about the US role in the attempted invasion.

To say that matters quickly spiralled out of control is an understatement. Kennedy increased defence spending; completed the placement of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Turkey, practically on Russia's doorstep; and generally stepped up the cold war rhetoric. Khrushchev, too, dramatically raised the stakes, declaring that the Soviet Union would soon take unilateral action in divided Berlin to deny western access to the western portion of the city. And then came the coup de grace, Khrushchev's impetuous decision in early 1962 to place intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Cuba to give the US a taste of its own medicine, a tit-for-tat response to the Bay of Pigs and the missiles in Turkey.

JFK's greatness began in the famous 13 days of the Cuban missile crisis. While demanding the removal of the Soviet missiles, he bought time through a naval quarantine of Soviet ships to Cuba, and kept open communication channels with Khrushchev. He repeatedly imagined himself in Khrushchev's position, in order to assess his motivations and to induce him to withdraw the missiles without humiliating the Soviet Union. One crucial part of that strategy was Kennedy's secret commitment to Khrushchev, that the US would remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

As Kennedy would say eight months later in the "Peace" speech: "And above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy - or of a collective death-wish for the world."

Many historians have misjudged the importance of Kennedy's secret quid pro quo on the missiles in Turkey. When it was revealed, 25 years after the event, it was first assumed that this trade must have played a decisive role in Khrushchev's own decision to withdraw the Cuban missiles. But once the timing of JFK's commitment was re-examined, in light of new evidence from Soviet archives, it was clear that Khrushchev had decided to remove the Soviet missiles from Cuba even before learning of Kennedy's pledge on the Jupiter missiles. Some historians then swung the other way, deciding that Kennedy's pledge had played no role in the ultimate outcome of the crisis.

Yet Kennedy's decision, an act of statesmanship and wisdom, played a powerful role. Khrushchev appreciated Kennedy's gesture. It established a bond of mutual trust and common understanding that would serve them well in the test ban negotiations.

The Cuban missile crisis changed Kennedy and Khrushchev, and thereby changed the world. Despite JFK's long-standing fear that nuclear war could occur through miscalculation or accident, he himself had almost presided over the ultimate Armageddon. Had he listened to his generals, advocating a surprise military strike, this surely would have been the outcome. Khrushchev was no less shocked. His ill-considered plan for a quick political advantage had brought the world to the brink of annihilation. As he recounted later: "Any man who could stare at the reality of nuclear war without sober thoughts was an irresponsible fool . . . Of course I was scared. It would have been insane not to have been scared. I was frightened about what could happen to my country - or your country and all the other countries that would be devastated by a nuclear war."

The crisis was therefore a catharsis for the leaders of the two superpowers, a break of the fever of the self-feeding escalation of arms and conflict of the preceding two years. Most importantly, for JFK it was a wake-up call. If the world was to be saved, if nuclear war was to be avoided, the president would have to lead. War and peace could not be left to the generals, the CIA, or a confused and fearful public. Obama told the Israeli young people to "create the change you want to see". JFK instead decided that as president he must lead that change.

What followed, between October 1962 and September 1963, was one of the greatest sustained acts of leadership and statesmanship in modern times. Kennedy's eloquence was key; but it was just one weapon in his political arsenal. JFK built his campaign for peace on a combination of vision and pragmatic actions, focusing first on a treaty to end nuclear tests.

The notion of a test-ban treaty might seem rather obvious today, yet at the time it was as likely as a substantive US-Iran or Israel-Palestine treaty would be today. Making peace with the Soviet Union was hardly high on the political to-do list in the spring of 1963, and very few were even arguing it should be tried. Soviet perfidy, or so it seemed to many Americans, had brought the world to the brink of destruction. The US public was deeply sceptical that any peace could be possible. Hardliners on both sides firmly believed that any treaty would be tantamount to unilateral surrender, as it would be followed by secret aggression - even a nuclear first strike - by the other side. But after staring into the nuclear abyss in the missile crisis, Kennedy was determined to pull back from the brink. There could be no better start for his peace campaign than the American University on commencement day.

Any speech, of course, has many listeners and audiences, but this one was more complicated than most. It had to satisfy three tough audiences: the American public, who would in turn influence the Senate debate over treaty ratification; Soviet leaders; and key European allies. Strong and vocal opposition by West Germany, for example, could undermine the negotiations. And such vocal opposition was quite possible. West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer repeatedly ridiculed the possibility of a cold war thaw, arguing instead for a US-backed German nuclear arsenal as the key to the west's defence.

Kennedy's rhetorical strategy was brilliant. Instead of using the speech to list a set of demands on the Soviet Union, as earlier presidents had done, JFK called on Americans to "renullexamine our own attitudes, for ours are as important as theirs". Kennedy's basic point was simple, powerful, direct, and shocking: both sides of the cold war are human, and both sides want peace.

Kennedy did not speak of Russian perfidy. Instead he spoke of Russian valour. "No government or social system is so evil that its people must be considered as lacking in virtue. As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture, in acts of courage." He noted that America and the Soviet Union shared a mutual abhorrence of war, and that "[a]lmost unique among the major world powers, we have never been at war with each other".

The humanisation of the foe, the emphasis that both sides are rational and desirous of peace, not only formed the bulwark of JFK's core vision, but also greatest lyricism of the speech, in soaring phrases with the capacity to inspire across generations:

"So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal." Towards the end of the speech, Kennedy made the important announcement that he, Prime Minister Macmillan, and Chairman Khrushchev would resume talks on a test ban treaty.

We may read the speech for inspiration, but should judge it in history as a political act. Kennedy above all warned against fantasies and fanatics. He was a politician, and had his eye firmly on the outcome. Could a treaty be signed and ratified? And would the treaty help to create the conditions for peace?

The answers are of course now clear. Khrushchev regarded Kennedy's speech as the greatest by an American president since Franklin D Roosevelt. It spurred him to clear away many long-standing obstacles to the test ban treaty, which was signed in Moscow just seven weeks after the Peace speech. Only one major compromise was made - to limit the test ban to air, space, and underwater, excluding tests underground - so as to sidestep the vexing scientific and political question of how to differentiate between secret underground nuclear tests and earthquakes. Kennedy also reassured Khrushchev that the US would not arm West Germany with nuclear weapons, a policy that Eisenhower had begun to explore, to the great alarm of the Soviet Union.

The American public rallied as well. They did reconsider their own attitudes, and agreed with Kennedy that peace was possible. Yet Kennedy also made a series of shrewd agreements with the military top brass and with key Senators, to ensure that no sticking points would hinder ratification. Kennedy had all the reason to keep his feet on the ground, even as he let his rhetoric soar. Any agreement with the Soviet Union would have to pass the Senate by a two-thirds majority. There was no use signing an agreement that the Senate would not ratify. Through arduous and detailed work over many weeks, Kennedy produced a landslide victory in the Senate, with ratification won by a margin of 81 to 17.

The test ban treaty certainly did not end the cold war, but it did end atmospheric nuclear testing. Just as important, it provided the proof that negotiation and agreement was possible, and thus laid the groundwork for future treaties, most importantly the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of 1968. The myth of implacable hostility between the superpowers was disproved, decisively and irreversibly. It is also notable that the most recent careful epidemiological research has also found that nuclear fallout from the atmospheric testing until 1963 was even more dangerous than supposed at the time.

Yet the impact of JFK's courageous leadership in the final year of his life extends even beyond his role in putting the cold war on to a safer path, for his lessons in leadership extend beyond nuclear diplomacy and great power politics. I would draw several lessons for our own time, indeed for any time.

First, our foes are human, and our common human bonds can overcome seemingly unbridgeable divides. One of Kennedy's most important messages that summer was that "history teaches us that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. However fixed our likes and dislikes may seem, the tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations and neighbours." This lesson remains largely unlearned by many in the US and Europe today.

Second, empathetic steps can beget empathetic steps in return. Kennedy removed the missiles from Turkey, and respected legitimate Soviet concerns over potential West German nuclear arms. He and the US were repaid with the trust to clear away a decade's worth of hurdles to a durable test ban treaty.

Third, Kennedy was guided by a soaring vision of peace, but kept both feet on the ground. "World peace," he declared, "like community peace, does not require that each man love his neighbour, it requires only that they live together in mutual tolerance, submitting their disputes to a just and peaceful settlement." The test ban treaty, he said, was but the first step on a journey of a thousand miles. He did not oversell the treaty, and won the public's trust in his honest appraisal of what it could and could not do.

Fourth, while a great speech is a powerful tool of leadership, it must be combined with pragmatic follow-through, something evidently lacking in Obama's diplomacy. The essence of leadership, said JFK, is to make the vision seem achievable by laying out the pragmatic steps to implement it. "By defining our goal more clearly, by making it seem more manageable and less remote, we can help all people to see it, to draw hope from it, and to move irresistibly towards it."

Finally, leadership counts. Courage does not arise by committee. And vision is not the common denominator of a focus group. Kennedy made peace not because he was advised to do so. He made peace because he chose his own counsel, tuning down - if not out - the cacophony of advice from the generals, politicians and pundits.

These are lessons for our time, whether to end the roiling wars in the Middle East or finally to face the challenges of human-induced environmental destruction. We live in an age where the media rules and the politicians follow. That age is becoming dangerous indeed, an echonullchamber of sound bites and politics as the art of the trivial. We need better politics than that, and can draw hope from a moment of history 50 years ago, when courage, leadership and vision moved the world.

To Move the World: JFK's Quest for Peace by Jeffrey Sachs is published by Bodley Head. To order a copy for pounds with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop

Continued on page 20

Continued from page 19

Captions:

The man who changed the world . . . John F Kennedy

Kennedy arrives for talks with Nikita Khrushchev. Below, Obama speaks in Jerusalem in March this year


Review: Ely 1948: The Saturday Poem

By Grey Gowrie

A de Havilland Dove ascends from a still-commissioned

East Anglian airfield and shakes its small

wings at all the damaged and marooned

Lancaster bombers. I watch it fly

until it is even higher than Ely cathedral,

an alp in this flat land.

Sky tries to sustain the little dove

a while longer and the two towers

swap sunrise and sunset. Afternoons

are flat, also, and grey: memorial services.

Cromwell and Co. hacked the noses off

shelved medieval saints. Our modern world

hums quite happily, like the de Havilland,

over the nave just now.

All my life I have loved the sun

and the colour of honey. Now I long for the dark

to crouch and soar in; with you, my grave, my cathedral.

From The Italian Visitor, published by Carcanet, RRP pounds 9.95. To order a copy for pounds 7.96 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.


Review: BESTSELLERS: The top 10 bestsellers through the Guardian Bookshop this week

1 Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

Daniel C Dennett

RRP pounds 20 Our price pounds 15

2 This Boy

Alan Johnson

RRP pounds 16.99 Our price pounds 12.99

3 The A303: Highway to the Sun

Tom Fort

RRP pounds 7.99 Our price pounds 5.99

4 A Sting in the Tale

Dave Goulson

RRP pounds 16.99 Our price pounds 12.99

5Facts Are Sacred

Simon Rogers

RRP pounds 20 Our price pounds 13

6 The Devonshires

Roy Hattersley

RRP pounds 25 Our price pounds 20

7Clampdown

Rhian Jones

RRP pounds 9.99 Our price pounds 7.99

8Blood and Beauty

Sarah Dunant

RRP pounds 16.99 Our price pounds 12.99

9 The Making of the English Landscape

WG Hoskins RRP pounds 12 Our price pounds 12

10Winning Without Losing

Martin Bjergegaard

RRP pounds 12.99 Our price pounds 10.39

To order these books with free UK p&p visit guardianbookshop.co.uk or

call 0330 333 6846.


Review: Tuesday

Tessa Hadley reads from and talks about her new novel, Clever Girl. 8pm, Topping & Company, The Paragon, Bath. Tickets pounds 7/pounds 6 (redeemable against a purchase of a copy of the book). Tel 01225 428111.

toppingbooks.co.uk


Review: Thursday

Independents Day. The Independent Alliance of Publishers host a series of events, with Alan Bennett, Edna O'Brien, Simon Armitage and others. From 2pm, ICA, The Mall, London SW1. Tel 020-7930 3647. ica.org.uk

Thomas Keneally discusses his recent novel, Daughters of Mars. 6.30pm, Foyles, 113null119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2. Tickets pounds 5/pounds 3. foyles.co.uk

George Monbiot introduces his new book, Feral. Followed by signing. 7pm, Waterstones, William Baker House, Broad Street, Oxford. Tickets pounds 4/pounds 2.

Tel 01865 790212. waterstones.co.uk


Review: Paperback fiction: Hardback fiction: THE WEEKLY CHARTS: Paperback non fiction: Hardback non fiction

This Last Title Author Publisher RRP Sales Week Week

1 NE A Wanted Man: Jack Reacher Child, Lee Bantam pounds 7.99 28,861

2 2 Bring Up the Bodies Mantel, Hilary Fourth Est. pounds 9.99 16,704

3 1 The Life Cole, Martina Headline pounds 7.99 16,528

4 3 The Secret Keeper Morton, Kate Pan Books pounds 7.99 15,242

5 4 Gone Girl Flynn, Gillian Phoenix pounds 7.99 15,220

6 NE Tigers in Red Weather Klaussmann, Liza Picador pounds 7.99 14,065

7 9 The Mystery of Mercy Close Keyes, Marian Penguin Bks pounds 7.99 11,806

8 NE NYPD Red Patterson, James Arrow Books pounds 7.99 11,700

9 6 I've Got Your Number Kinsella, Sophie Black Swan pounds 7.99 10,822

10 NE The Bone Bed: Scarpetta Novels Cornwell, Patricia Sphere pounds 7.99 9,393

1 1 Inferno Brown, Dan Bantam pounds 20.00 100,697

2 NE And the Mountains Echoed Hosseini, Khaled Bloomsbury pounds 18.99 10,913

3 NE Private Down Under (Private 6) Patterson, J & White, M Century pounds 18.99 4,839

4 NE The Dying Hours: Tom Thorne Novels Billingham, Mark Sphere pounds 16.99 4,527

5 NE Emperor: The Blood of Gods Iggulden, Conn HarperColl. pounds 18.99 4,455

6 2 A Delicate Truth le Carre, John Viking pounds 18.99 3,581

7 4 The Holiday Home Britton, Fern HarperColls pounds 12.99 2,177

8 5 Wedding Night Kinsella, Sophie Bantam pounds 18.99 1,570

9 3 Dead Ever After: A True Blood Novel Harris, Charlaine Gollancz pounds 18.99 1,471

10 7 Alex Cross Run Patterson, James Century pounds 18.99 1,186

1 1 The Fast Diet: The Secret of Intermitt. . . Spencer, M & Mosley, M Short Books pounds 7.99 11,836

2 2 The Fast Diet Recipe Book: 150 Delic. . . Spencer, M& Shenker, Dr S Short Books pounds 14.99 8,227

3 7 Please Don't Take My Baby Glass, Cathy Harper Elem. pounds 6.99 3,787

4 3 The Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food. . . Myers, D & King, S W & N pounds 14.99 3,485

5 6 Dam Busters: The Race to Smash the. . . Holland, James Corgi Books pounds 7.99 3,460

6 NE Rod: The Autobiography Stewart, Rod Arrow Books pounds 7.99 3,167

7 4 A Street Cat Named Bob: How One. . . Bowen, James Hodder pounds 7.99 2,820

8 NE The Top Gear Years Clarkson, Jeremy Penguin Bks pounds 7.99 2,747

9 8 The 2-day Diet: Diet Two Days a Week Harvie, M & Howell, T Vermilion pounds 10.99 2,703

10 5 My Animals and Other Family Balding, Clare Penguin Bks pounds 8.99 2,656

1 2 Now and Forever Nolan, Bernie H & S Ltd pounds 16.99 3,705

2 1 Paul Hollywood's Bread Hollywood, Paul Bloomsbury pounds 20.00 2,937

3 4 The Hairy Bikers' Great Curries Myers, Dave & King, Si W & N pounds 20.00 2,005

4 7 Gwynne's Grammar: The Ultimate. . . Gwynne, NM Ebury Press pounds 7.99 1,936

5 NE The New Digital Age: Reshaping the. . . Schmidt, E & Cohen, J A John Murray. pounds 25.00 1,850

6 3 This Boy Johnson, Alan Bantam pounds 16.99 1,674

7 10 The Science of Discworld IV Pratchett, T & Stewart, I Ebury Press pounds 18.99 1,640

8 6 The Great British Sewing Bee Evelegh, Tessa Quadrille pounds 20.00 1,484

9 NE Doctor Who: Who-ology Scott, C & Wright, M BBC Books pounds 12.99 1,480

10 8 It's All Good:Delicious, Easy Recipes. . . Paltrow, G & Turshen, J Sphere pounds 20.00 1,298

Data supplied by Nielsen BookScan (C)Nielsen BookScan 2012 (01483 712222 or www.nielsenbookscan.co.uk)


Review: THE BACK PAGE: Rodge Glass on the rise of fiction with a global warning

A couple of days ago Dan Bloom, a freelance news reporter based in Taiwan, wrote on the Teleread blog that his word had been stolen from him. In 2012 Bloom had "produced and packaged" a novella called Polar City Red, about climate refugees in a post-apocalyptic Alaska in the year 2075. Bloom labelled the book "cli-fi" in the press release and says he coined that term in 2007, cli-fi being short for "climate fiction", described as a sub-genre of sci-fi. Polar City Red bombed, selling precisely 271 copies, until National Public Radio (NPR) and the Christian Science Monitor picked up on the term cli-fi last month, writing Bloom out of the story. So Bloom has blogged his reply on Teleread, saying he's simply pleased the term is now out there - it has gone viral since the NPR piece by Scott Simon. It's not quite as neat as that - in recent months the term has been used increasingly in literary and environmental circles - but there's no doubt it has broken out more widely. You can search for cli-fi on Amazon, instantly bringing up a plethora of books with titles such as 2042: The Great Cataclysm, or Welcome to the Greenhouse. Twitter has been abuzz.

Whereas 10 or 20 years ago it would have been difficult to identify even a handful of books that fell under this banner, there is now a growing corpus of novels setting out to warn readers of possible environmental nightmares to come. Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behaviour, the story of a forest valley filled with an apparent lake of fire, is shortlisted for the 2013 Women's prize for fiction. Meanwhile, there's Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow, set in a future New York, about a mathematician who deals in worst-case scenarios. In Liz Jensen's 2009 eco-thriller The Rapture, summer temperatures are asphyxiating and Armageddon is near; her most recent book, The Uninvited, features uncanny warnings from a desperate future. Perhaps the most high-profile cli-fi author is Margaret Atwood, whose 2009 The Year of the Flood features survivors of a biological catastrophe also central to her 2003 novel Oryx and Crake, a book Atwood sometimes preferred to call "speculative fiction".

Engaging with this subject in fiction increases debate about the issue; finely constructed, intricate narratives help us broaden our understanding and explore imagined futures, encouraging us to think about the kind of world we want to live in. This can often seem difficult in our 24nullhour news-on-loop society where the consequences of climate change may appear to be everywhere, but intelligent discussion of it often seems to be nowhere. Also, as the crime genre can provide the dirty thrill of, say, reading about a gruesome fictional murder set on a street the reader recognises, the best cli-fi novels allow us to be briefly but intensely frightened: climate chaos is closer, more immediate, hovering over our shoulder like that murderer wielding his knife. Outside of the narrative of a novel the issue can seem fractured, incoherent, even distant. As Gregory Norminton puts it in his introduction to an anthology on the subject, Beacons: Stories for Our Not So Distant Future: "Global warming is a predicament, not a story. Narrative only comes in our response to that predicament." Which is as good an argument as any for engaging with those stories.

All terms are reductive, all labels simplistic - clearly, the likes of Kingsolver, Jensen and Atwood have a much broader canvas than this one issue. And there's an argument for saying this is simply rebranding: sci-fi writers have been engaging with the climate-change debate for longer than literary novelists - Snow by Adam Roberts comes to mind - and I do wonder whether this is a term designed for squeamish writers and critics who dislike the box labelled "science fiction". So the term is certainly imperfect, but it's also valuable. Unlike sci-fi, cli-fi writing comes primarily from a place of warning rather than discovery. There are no spaceships hovering in the sky; no clocks striking 13. On the contrary, many of the horrors described seem oddly familiar.

There is an opportunity here. Whenever a literary term gains traction it is a chance to examine not only what it says about the writers who explore the new ground but also the readers who buy it, read it, discuss it. And that discussion is only going to get louder. It is already difficult for any serious writer to imagine convincing worlds on the page without admitting that these worlds, if they resemble our own, are under threat. As that threat grows, so will the vocabulary designed to make sense of it.

Captions:

A vision from 'cli-fi'? The aftermath of superstorm Sandy in New York


Review: THE BACK PAGE: Steve Jones on the fallout from mixing science and religion

By Steve Jones

Book reviewers should listen to Saint Luke. "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise". I have written plenty of needlessly rude reviews and am, as a result, more or less immune to the slings and arrows aimed at my own works (Amazon is a good place to look).

The response to my latest effort, though, has been different. The Serpent's Promise is subtitled The Bible Retold as Science. The reaction by some to that second phrase has been that of a Calvinist to a consecrated wafer: whatever its merits or otherwise, the believers cannot swallow it.

As Sibelius said, "Who ever saw a statue to a critic?" but some of mine deserve at least a brief memorial: "Cue heavenly choir of white-coated lab dwellers chanting the genetic code of DNA . . . They are worshipping the Great Beard of Darwin, which looks remarkably like that of God" or, if you prefer, "a re-cranking of the Darwinian barrel organ - accompanied by the monkey of New Atheism, of course, as it screeches petulantly at religion".

In fact, what I attempt with my treatment of what I refer to (with "heavy irony") as the Good Book, is to interpret it in part as an attempt to make sense of the physical world, and hence as an ancestor to today's science. What have scientists found out about the origin of life, fate, the great flood, the visions of the prophets, or even religion itself?

The Serpent's Promise tries to answer those questions. It is not an attack on, or a defence of, religion but a journey into Dawkins's Canyon; the yawning and largely unexplored chasm between the faithful and their opposites. It avoids anything incapable of rational explanation: the afterlife, the resurrection, even God himself, for science can neither confirm nor deny notions based on spirituality alone.

My idea ("workshopped to death during a marketing brainstorming session rather than springing from a single human mind") has not proved universally popular: "The trouble with so many scientists, including, I am sorry to see, Emeritus Professor Jones, is that they have no idea why men have always made up myths and parables and allegories and profited by them. They are ways of explaining things that cannot be otherwise expressed . . . Myths don't need updating".

One theological expert was enraged that I did not mention the "reincarnation" of Christ, while another was shocked that the beautiful verses of the Bible might have a literal meaning: "to criticise the opening line of Psalm 19 - 'The heavens declare the glory of the Lord' - for empty logic is a strangely wooden way of reading poetry".

I agree - but surely there is more to the psalms than poetry. No thinking Christian (and there are many) defends the notion that the Earth is 6,000 years old, or that women descend from a male ribcage. To criticise such beliefs is to kick straw men when they are down, and I don't even try. In any case, an account of physics based on the impossibility of walking on water, or a section in chemistry that turns on the reactions that transform it into an alcoholic beverage would make feeble reading indeed.

Is the Good Book really no more than myth, and the heavens no more than a psalmist's celebration of divine power? Surely its verses also reflect an ancient curiosity about the physical nature of what lies around us. Not just astronomy is forbidden territory: "We are asked to believe a number of intellectual contortions including the claim that Genesis was 'the world's first biology textbook'". The origin of life - of plants, animals, sex, human pedigrees, death - not biology?

Adam and Eve are, it seems, models of the loss of purity that comes with knowledge and not, as genetics makes clear, the real ancestors of every man and woman. Another hit: "At the root of Professor Jones's attitude to the leprosy of Leviticus lies a comical misunderstanding. 'Leviticus,' he declares, 'is obsessed with hygiene.' He writes as if the Israelites washed in order to get rid of the germs of a nasty disease. But the Levitical concept of clean and unclean had nothing to do with contagion from germs".

Yes, fair enough, for in that prescriptive volume we are also told that men must avoid chairs upon which a menstruating woman has sat: and that has nothing to do with sex hormones. But is it no more than a coincidence that - as I suggest - the Levitical concern with infectious disease emerged at the time of the appearance of the first great cities and, with them, the era of epidemics? For the modern churchman, apparently not; it's a sermon about moral spotlessness.

Even the great flood, it seems, has nothing to do with waves. In spite of the geological evidence of repeated inundations in the Bible lands, the waters are irrelevant, for the flood is no more than a parable explaining that the Lord punishes those who are sinful.

Acolytes of the Church of the Holy Metaphor so much despise the fundamentalist view of scripture that they deny that the Bible has any contact at all with the real world. If they do not believe in the literal truth of at least some of its verses, what do they believe? Not, it seems, very much. In their capacious philosophy almost none of the events recorded in the testaments has a connection with the physical universe: instead, from Genesis to Revelation, they are to be read as symbol, allegory, and myth.

I am the last person to comment on whether The Serpent's Promise is any good or not: but even if its "pages are soaked in a reductive contempt", the response from the faithful has led me to the unexpected conclusion that, atheist as I am, I believe more of the Bible than many Christians do.


Film Byzantium Dir. Neil Jordan "Preposterous but watchable soap opera of the undead"

3/5

"Doesn't quite gel, but the result is still weirdly compelling"

2/3★★

"Ends up a muddled clot of plotlines"

2/3★★

"Neil Jordan directs with energy if not much finesse"

1/2★★★★

"A vampire movie that's unafraid to be a vampire movie"

denofgeek.com

2/3★★

"Let's hear if for the great Neil Jordan, and for his new vampire film, Byzantium"

@annericeauthor

2/3★★


Theatre To Kill a Mockingbird Open Air theatre, London "A performance that is direct, simple and unshowy"

2/3★★

"Heart-shakingly sincere production"

2/3★★

"A production of tremendous heart and emotional depth"

2/3★★

"A quiet, shadowy but highly effective performance by Robert Sean Leonard"

2/3★★

"Beautiful, thoughtful and playful production"

fourthwallmagazine.co.uk

2/3★★

2/3★★


Music Field Day Victoria Park, London "Finally found its groove after some trying early outings"

2/3★★

"Django Django closed proceedings with one of the finest sets in recent memory"

2/3★★

"Largely crowd-pleasing acts"

2/3★★

"The lineup was nothing short of incredible"

contactmusic.com

2/3★★

"Field Day, you were splendid! So so fun:)"

@solangeknowles

2/3★★


Theatre Race Hampstead theatre, London "Moderately entertaining, Terry Johnson's production is well acted"

2/3★★

"A furious, occasionally witty Mamettian word game. But it gets nowhere"

2/3★★

"Leaves its audience seriously undernourished when it comes to emotional depth"

2/3★★

"Slyly subversive production of a play generally derided"

2/3★★

"Unbearably taut production"

whatsonstage.com

2/3★★

"Such jolly fine acting and I do like a spot of David Mamet. Perfick"

@whichpennysmith

2/3★★


Review: Opera: Eugene Onegin Grange Park, Hampshire 3/5

By George Hall

Tchaikovsky's most famous opera turns on an ironic reversal of roles between its two central characters. Near the beginning, the impetuous Tatyana's over-hasty love letter to her more sophisticated new neighbour meets with a cold rebuke; but by the final scenes, the subsequently socially isolated Onegin has belatedly fallen in love with the now married woman, who feels duty-bound to reject him.

In Stephen Medcalf's production for Grange Park Opera (left), neither Susan Gritton as Tatyana, nor Brett Polegato as Onegin convincingly suggests the crucial youth of their character, though the baritone sings vividly and acts with energy. Gritton, suffering from a bug, negotiates Tchaikovsky's vocal writing with her lyric soprano scarcely impaired, yet Tatyana's painful vulnerability is only partially realised.

The opera's second doomed romantic couple - Onegin's friend Lensky, whom he callously despatches in a duel, and Tatyana's more down-to-earth sister, Olga - also work hard at their roles. Even so, Robert Anthony Gardiner needs a stronger top register as he stares death in the face, while Frances Bourne offers warmth and immediacy as Olga.

Standing out from the rest of the cast is Clive Bayley as Tatyana's elderly husband, Prince Gremin, his last-act aria a high point of immaculate singing and focused acting. Medcalf unnecessarily brings the Prince back at the end, carrying a pistol, as if ready to shoot his crestfallen rival. It's one of several moments where the director's surefooted approach feels absent. Visually, Francis O'Connor's latenull19th-century designs are handsome, with glamorous costumes for the ball scenes.

Conductor Martyn Brabbins also has a mixed night; he draws confident playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, though there's the odd moment of dodgy ensemble, and the smouldering passion of Tchaikovsky's music only intermittently ignites.

George Hall

Until 11 July. Box office: 01962 737365.


Review: Theatre: Bristol beats Broadway as Lionboy is crowned king: Lionboy Bristol Old Vic 4/5

By Michael Billington

I normally associate the 30-year-old Complicite with extravagantly theatrical explorations of world literature. Here, however, they have come up with their first family show based on a bestselling trilogy by the pseudonymous Zizou Corder about a boy who can speak the language of cats, big and small. Even if Marcelo dos Santos's adaptation rushes through the later stages, Annabel Arden's production delights without lapsing into the cuteness that can be the curse of children's theatre.

What is fascinating is the polemical nature of the story. The hero, Charlie Ashanti, inhabits a future world ravaged by pollution. The story also concerns his quest to find his parents who have been abducted by a pharmaceutical giant, the Corporacy, to prevent them finding a cure for asthma and driving down profits. But, while we're always aware of the politics, it is the no-tricks-up-the-sleeve, Peter Brook-like elegance of Arden's production that enchants. Jon Bausor's design is dominated by a tilted disc that can turn swiftly into a blood-red African skyscape or the undulating floor of the Corporacy HQ. Circe, the floating circus-ship Charlie joins on his travels, is evoked through rocking stools, calliope music and kaleidoscopic costumes. Meanwhile, the lions, whom Charlie eventually liberates, are suggested by a mix of the actor's body movements, Tom Gibbons's score and our own imaginations.

The first half is better than the over-compressed second, and the actors are as yet tentative about eliciting audience responses. But the eight-strong cast all emerge as distinctive individuals. Adetomiwa Edun as Charlie is both wily and good-hearted; Dan Milne trebles effectively as benign fishmonger, breezy circus-owner and Bulgarian monarch, and Lisa Kerr plays a spinning acrobat and a multilingual chameleon with a bright-eyed vivacity that hints at star quality. As a study of life with the lions, the show is far more enjoyable than a rival big beast from the Broadway jungle.

Michael Billington

Until Saturday. Box office: 0117-987 7877. Then touring.

Captions:

Wily and good-hearted . . . Adetomiwa Edun in Complicite's Lionboy at Bristol Old Vic Photograph: Mark Douet


Review: Last night's TV

By If you catch a horrible disease, Sam Wollaston says, don't suck a sheep's leg

I'm feeling a bit like a time traveller at the moment, yo-yoing between now and - almost every time I put BBC2 on - around 500 years ago. The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England (BBC2) should be useful, then - kind of a Ruff Guide, I guess.

What! This first part is called Common People, and Ian Mortimer is taking me back to find out what it's like to be Elizabethan riffraff. More of a Rough Tunic guide. Where's the fun in that? I don't want to live like common people, do the things that common people do, or did. Oh go on then, it might be amusing for an hour.

Actually, not that amusing. Dr Mortimer teleports me to a dark and colourless world - dark, because I can't afford candles in the tiny, freezing, smoky hovel I call home. My rough tunic I'll have to make myself because my wife has probably been hanged, for being a witch or a woman. There's very little in the way of entertainment, unless there's some bear-baiting going on in town, or someone ties a monkey to a horse and sets the dogs on them. Otherwise, my only fun will come from beating the children.

If I go outside, I won't enjoy the view, not because there isn't one, but because it won't cross my mind to enjoy it: that kind of thing simply hadn't been invented. To be honest, I'll be more concerned about where my next meal is coming from, and whether I'm about to get murdered, or hanged for being poor.

I'll certainly get horrible diseases, which I'll try to cure using charming Elizabethan remedies, such as sucking the unwashed wool from between the rear legs of a sheep. Which - weirdly - won't work, and I'll most probably die anyway, aged about 26. The sheep, incidentally, won't be any less miserable, being a skinny little thing not much bigger than a guinea pig.

Fascinating yes, but bloody hell, bring on episode two, The Rich. Obviously I'm going to get beheaded, but there might at least be some fun - a lute concert or something - beforehand.


More reviews online

≥⃒ "When the action moves to the forest, there's a nice whiff of danger: this is a world of bellowing hunters and fairies as prowling, sharp-horned stags, where one wrong turn is liable to offer a nasty surprise" Andrew Dickson on A Midsummer Night's Dream at Shakespeare's Globe, London 3/4★

≥⃒ "Their focal point is spindly, frontman Phil McDonnell, whose preppy garb, twitchy demeanour and faux-astonished yelps can't help but evoke the early David Byrne" Ian Gittins on Night Engine at XOYO, London 3/4★

Captions:

≥⃒ "Whether tinting and refining the delicate textures of the Debussy, or organising the massive orchestral forces involved in the other works, EsanullPekka Salonen was expertly efficient" Andrew Clements on Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall, London 4/5

guardian.co.uk/culture Tweet your reviews using #gdnreview



GUARDIAN TRAVEL PAGES

Travel: Beyond Glasto: After the party's over Somerset still has lots to offer, as Gavin McOwan finds out with festival founder Michael Eavis and, right, stars and locals add their top spots

By Gavin McOwan

'I've got the local paper from the day I was born, and there's a letter in there complaining about pagans running around naked on Glastonbury Tor," says Michael Eavis. "So you can't blame it on us!"

I'm in Glastonbury with the founder of the 43-year-old festival, discussing the town's propensity to attract hedonists and bohemians.

Eavis was born at the family farm just east of Glastonbury in 1935, 35 years before the first Glastonbury festival, which proves his point that any link between the freaks who populate the town and those who descend on the festival each year is purely coincidental. It seems hippies, crusties, new-agers and the like were being drawn to Glastonbury many decades, or even centuries, before such labels had even been concocted.

The Tor is at the focal point of the many mysteries that have surrounded the area for millennia: Avalon became associated with Glastonbury in the 12th century, when monks at the abbey claimed to have discovered the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere; legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea travelled here after Jesus's crucifixion; and archaeological evidence suggests this was a sacred region from as early as 4000BC.

By the late 19th century, when the Victorians were busy elaborating Celtic mythology, the area's reputation as a spiritual, utopian community was well-established. Today, parts of Somerset, such as the towns of Frome and Bruton, are becoming fashionable and attracting pop stars and designers from London, but the hippy element remains strong, particularly in Glastonbury itself. The druids and the goddess worshippers have never really gone away.

Michael has agreed to spend a morning showing me around this patch of the county in his old red Land Rover, pointing out attractions that are overlooked by the festival-goers. With many people now spending a whole week at the festival, it's a shame, he says, that more don't bother to leave it and spend a little time exploring the county's ancient myths and natural understated beauty.

And outside of festival time, most tourists tend to miss out Somerset altogether, bombing through it on the M5 on their way to the more obvious charms of Devon and Cornwall.

"Somerset isn't chichi pretty like Devon and Cornwall," says Michael. "It's a real, working county." Or, as a friend of his we bump into puts it: "It's not all cream teas and National-Trusted up [like its tourist-orientated neighbouring counties]. You have to dig a little here, but there's plenty of soul under the grunge."

We began our search in Burnham-on-Sea, Michael's favourite Somerset spot, a quintessentially English seaside resort with a faded Victorian promenade.

"For me this place is about the whole history of coming here as a kid, on the train with Sunday school: sandcastle competitions on the beach, saying grace before we ate our jam tarts. And later I did all my courting in Burnham. It's a very humble place. There's no razzmatazz. It's laid-back and unspoilt - which is why I still love it. I come back every couple of weeks to walk the dogs out to the lighthouse."

Burnham seems to have changed little since those Sunday school outing days, apart from a concrete sea wall built to protect the town from the tides. On the other side is a long dramatic sweep of empty sandy beach, with a distinctive nine-legged wooden lighthouse and views out to the mudflats and south Wales on the other side of the Bristol Channel.

"The putting green's gone now . . ." Michael muses as we leave Burnham and turn inland to the Somerset Levels. The locals often call this area the Moors, even though much of this unique landscape - one of the lowest, flattest areas in the country - lies below sea level. In ancient times this land, being too wet to be used in winter, was called the Summerlands, which is possibly the origin of the name Somerset. We zigzag through a tapestry of fields of sheep and Scottish longhorn cattle and farming villages to the Natural England visitor centre at Shapwick Heath, which covers 500 acres and contains the Sweet Track, a Neolithic causeway built in 3806BC, one of the oldest roads in the world.

"This is what the Levels is all about," says Michael. "Here you've got a combination of wildlife and birds as well as history. It's full of birdsong in spring: there are cuckoos everywhere. You can walk for miles from here on trails they've created on recycled plastic pallets. You can watch the otters, which have taken off big time here . . . In fact they are multiplying at such a rate I fear the fisherman will say enough's enough . . . which is why the otters were done away with in the first place!"

Another recent addition to the area's wildlife is the enormous murmurations of starlings who migrate to the Levels in winter and fill the skies at sunset with spectacular aerial displays. "The starlings are a huge draw in Somerset now," says Michael. "Millions of them come to roost in the reeds. I love to see them, but for a farmer they're trouble - they'll eat all your maize."

Most of Michael's observations are peppered with references to farming and the county's strong work ethic. "Not much unemployment around here, I'll tell you," he says proudly as he waves to an old farming colleague. "We're busy all the time."

And no one more so than Michael. He has squeezed in our meeting between being the after-dinner speaker at the county's beekeepers' convention the night before and an engagement with the Diocese of Somerset tonight. And then there's the festival to plan . . .

To the north of the Levels lie the Mendip Hills, the setting for Somerset's most dramatic landmark, Cheddar Gorge, the deepest canyon in Britain, the site of the Cheddar show caves and home to Britain's oldest complete human skeleton, the 9,000-year-old Cheddar Man, who was found in 1903.

"The Mendips are fantastic for walkers," says Michael. "My favourite is Ebbor Gorge, which goes from the Levels to about 300m. There are no people or buildings. And there are some terrific views over the Levels when you get to the top of the gorge.

"I'm not really a drinker but there's an amazing pub up in the Mendips, the Hunter's Lodge Inn in Priddy (01749 672275) run by a lovely old couple." The pub is a step back in time ("They haven't mucked about with it," says Michael, approvingly), serves good local ale and attracts cavers. In fact there's a cave right outside the pub: the Hunter's Lodge Inn Sink, one of many in the area. Priddy is also home to an annual folk festival, a sheep fair, which has been held since 1348, and a summer gypsy festival which draws people from all over the country to buy and sell horses.

Back on Glastonbury High Street it seems - at least to a cynic like me - that people come from all over the country to buy hippy tat. "The shops are totally unique here" says Michael, as we walk through town. He's not wrong there. It is unlike any high street I've seen: the shops have names like Natural Roots (A Non-Toxic Salon), Hemp Avalon, Sufi Charity Shop, Man, Myth & Magik (sic), and Cat & CauLdron (sic again). It feels like it's stuck in a 1960s time warp, but there's clearly a market for all this spiritualist paraphernalia. Revealing that work ethic again, Michael says: "I've read this is the only high street in England that hasn't got a shop to let. Isn't that amazing?"

After saying goodbye to Michael I walk up the Tor, the 158m conical hill, topped by St Michael's Tower, that rises out of surrounding plains to dominate the landscape. It is easy to imagine it as it once was, rising as an island from the waters. There are no naked pagans today (it's a little early, and far too cold) but it's still an evocative spot, with all its Arthurian legend and Celtic myth.

It rises in a series of seven manmade symmetrical terraces that are the Tor's oldest mystery, and from the top there are views south-east to Dorset and east to Wiltshire as well as back over the Levels we've spent the morning driving around. From here it's a patchwork of villages and fields criss-crossed with glistening irrigation channels all the way to the Bristol Channel, with the Mendips to the north and the Quantock Hills to the south. And while I'm too much of a skeptic to feel the energy of the Tor's fabled ley lines, the view from up here is quite magical.

* First Great Western (08457 000125, firstgreatwestern.co.uk) provided train travel - and will run over 50 additional trains to and from Castle Cary station during the festival (off-peak returns from London Paddington pounds 65). Accommodation was provided by Parsonage Farm B&B (01278 733237, parsonfarm.co.uk, doubles pounds 65 B&B) in Over Stowey, which has views of Glastonbury Tor

PHOTOGRAPHS: GETTY IMAGES; REX FEATURES; ALAMY

Captions:

Magical mystery Tor . . . steps down

from Glastonbury Tor (pictured below), with views over the Somerset Levels

Water line . . . the Parrett at Bridgwater

Red stripe . . . the lighthouse at Burnham-on-Sea

Vintage frock and china for Pearl Lowe


Travel: Festival: County set: More top Somerset tips from locals

Retail therapy

Pearl Lowe, musician turned designer

Somerset's towns offer some fantastic shopping. Take Poot in Frome (23 Catherine Hill, stcatherinesfrome.co.uk), which is filled with the prettiest dresses from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Hayley, the owner, has a fantastic eye for some real gems. Make and Mend, also in Frome (28 Catherine Hill, stcatherinesfrome.co.uk), is great for men's vintage suits, vintage dresses and odd bits of furniture. And Antique & Country, (43-44 Vallis Way, Frome) has splendid chandeliers and gifts. A lot of the stuff in my house is bought from La Belle Etoffe in Frome (37 Rossiters Road, labelleetoffe.co.uk), which has fantastic French antique furniture.

In Bath, Susannah (25 Broad Street, cloudsandangels.com) is the most wonderful shop filled with French lace and linens. The perfect place to buy presents, it's my favourite shop in the world. And if you're in Bruton, do not miss the eclectic mix of antique furniture, trinkets and clothes at Phillips & Skinner (19 High Street, phillipsandskinner.com).

Back in Frome, Dores and Rees (Vicarage Street, doreandrees.co.uk) is the best auction house in the south-west, and a must for people kitting out their houses or flats on a budget. Finally, Frome reclamation yard (Station Approach, fromerec.co.uk) is great for roll-top baths, sinks, doors, floorboards and everything housey.

The Traveller's Rest

Billy Bragg, singer-songwriter

The A37, which runs in an almost straight line between the A303 and the turn-off to the festival site at Pilton, is a remnant of the Fosse Way, the Roman road that connected Lincoln with Exeter. In the early years of the Roman occupation, this was the western border of the Roman Empire, keeping the passive Britons apart from the unruly tribes beyond the Fosse. The festival lies on that unruly side and every year the tribes still gather to celebrate their culture. With its pub sign depicting a weary Roman centurion, The Traveller's Rest, on the A37 at East Pennard, offers the only visible reminder of those times. Stop there for a pint of Fosseway cider.

* travellersrest.org.uk

Bridgwater Carnival

Julian Temple, film director

I remember taking Joe Strummer to the Bridgwater Carnival when he first came to live in Somerset. It was a freezing November night, and I wasn't sure what he'd make of it. I needn't have worried - the first float to come swaying around the corner, pulled by a mud spattered tractor was blasting out [Joe's song] Rock the Casbah. The glare of what seemed like a million naked light bulbs lit up a vision of scantily clad local beauties, belly dancing as though their lives depended on it. The crowd roared, hurling coins at the float.

Joe turned to me. "This is my kind of town," he grinned.

He was right: little do people know as they drive past Bridgwater on their way to the chocolate-box cream tea world of Exmoor and beyond, that they are missing a trick. In early November each year, coinciding with the Day of The Dead in Mexico and Bonfire Night, cider meets samba in this uniquely renegade town. For over 150 years the people of Bridgwater have defied the odds, overcoming economic hardship and change, keeping the spirit of their community alive all year round with elaborate preparations and fundraising for this spectacular carnival. Wrap up warm and come on down and join us in cider space . . . for a true taste of Anarchy in the UK!

* bridgwatercarnival.org.uk

Drinking, shopping, coast

and country

Simon King, naturalist, broadcaster, president of the Wildlife Trusts (wildlifetrusts.org)

If you fancy a bevvy, head for the Talbot Inn (01373 812254, talbotinn.com) in Mells near Frome. It has a cosmopolitan feel, with great honest food and a fun vibe. For retail therapy, Catherine Hill in Frome is probably the only place in the world where you can stroll from an astronomical telescope shop to a burlesque clothing shop to a fab coffee house to a well-stocked model shop all within 50m.

And of course, there is the countryside, with everything from lowland marsh to heath to ancient woodland and moorland, tidal mudflats and rocky coastline. Westhay Heath and Shapwick Heath reserves on the Levels are both heaving with booming bitterns, otters and egrets.

Walk the Parrett river

John Shearlaw, Glastonbury festival press officer

Bridgwater finishes an untrumpeted and distant second in most conventional travel appraisals. It's home to the world's second-largest illuminated carnival (behind Rio de Janeiro), and close to the country's second-oldest Area of Outstanding Beauty, the Quantock Hills.

But yet another runner-up - the Parrett river, boasting the second-highest tide range in the world - is the key to the town's former glories. The first wealth came from religious pilgrims bound for Glastonbury Abbey, who crossed the Parrett by foot at nearby Combwich. Seventeen centuries later the river trade in wool from Langport through Bridgwater brought status and prosperity. By 1843 the former's Stuckeys Bank had holdings only marginally smaller than the Bank of England's. Not much of the gloss is immediately visible, but a walk down the 50-mile River Parrett Trail reveals some of the county's hidden soul. End the day at the Green Olive Turkish meze restaurant (01278 238565, greenolivebridgwater.co.uk) on Bridgwater's quayside.

The Sheppey Inn, Godney

Lucinda Garland, director of Strummerville music charity

The Sheppey Inn is a rare place that leaves you with a smile. Hidden away on the Somerset Levels with the Glastonbury Tor nearby, it's unpretentious and super laid-back. The small wooden door brings you straight into to the bar, which sets the tone for the place - it's rustic and all that, and there are snugs and crevices, but it's also clean and shiny and friendly, with good booze. I love the cider and mead cocktail - innocent, frothy and lethal. The big barn-like eating area is bright and airy and sits on the river - fab in summer with the doors wide open. There's a great big deck for outside drinks and fags on the river.

There are funny touches all over the place like the Spanish dancer loo roll dolls on tables or a Ken Doll doing press-ups . . .all a bit random but that's balanced by big retro overhead lighting, and it's the kind of place where a waitress who's also an artist is showing her work. On the menu are great burgers, noodles, salady things and grills served on large wooden boards. The chips are stunning. I remember one Sunday lunch where we had the most amazing lime pudding, a cheesecake in a pot, rather unassuming, but the flavour and zing wowed us all.

* 01458 831594, thesheppey.co.uk

Wilkins Cider Farm, Wedmore

Abi Small, Glastonbury festival press officer

Wilkins Cider Farm, known as Mudgley's to locals, is one of my favourite places in Somerset. My first visit was for a friend's birthday, when 20 of us, all in fancy dress, spent the day drinking Roger's famous, purportedly psychedelic, farmhouse scrumpy, chatting merrily with the legend himself and eating local cheeses and pickles. This all led to running around the farm, hide and seek in the hay barn and generally playing like proper country children, then later on, propping ourselves up against the huge oak barrels in the shed. The charm of this place is that Roger Wilkins doesn't raise an eyebrow at any of this - just his gert big flagon of cider.

* 01934 712385, wilkinscider.com

For a longer list of Somerset tips, see guardian.co.uk/travel/glastonbury


Travel: Food & Drink: More than a pie and a pint: To launch our two-for-one deal on lunches in 50 pubs featured in a new Sawday's guide, editor David Hancock picks 10 summer watering holes: Walkers can arrive in the bar with muddy boots, and not an eyelid batted

By David Hancock

The Old Hall Inn

Whitehough, Derbyshire

A glorious stone-built 16th-century coaching inn and Elizabethan manor house, the Old Hall Inn is also a family-run country pub and village hub. There are 10 local cask ales on tap - and their own will arrive as soon as Dan perfects the brew. Food ranges from pub classics to tarragon chicken burgers or pulled pork. The pub, and its sister, the Old Paper Mill - a stone's throw across the garden - both have rooms.

* 01663 750529, old-hall-inn.co.uk. Lunch from pounds 5.50. Bar meals and dinner from pounds 8. Sunday lunch, three courses, pounds 18.50. Rooms from pounds 69

Queens Arms Litton,

North Yorkshire

It's a good day when a rural pub re-opens. This one is in Litton, one of the most remote villages in this corner of the Dales and as pretty as it gets, with a smattering of handsome 17th-century houses, wildflower meadows and the river Skirfare burbling through. The Queens Arms, long, low and freshly whitewashed, is a good find after a lovely walk. A lick of paint has smartened the inside without routing tradition; flagged floors, open fire, beams and stone walls remain. There's a new regime in the tiny kitchen, and a short but appealing menu. Upstairs are four bedrooms with long views from the low windows.

* 01756 770096, queensarmslitton.co.uk. Lunch and dinner pounds 4.95-pounds 12.95. Rooms from pounds 55

Y Ffarmers Llanfihangel y Creuddyn, Ceredigion

Previously a farm and tax collector's office, Y Ffarmers, in a pretty village, has found its calling under the stewardship of chef Rhodri and wife Esther. Walkers can come into the quarry-tiled bar with mud on their boots and not an eyelid will be batted. The Evan Evans or Felinfoel are recommended pints. The dining rooms are packed with books on Wales, there's art on the walls and a piano for impromptu live music sessions; choral and harp evenings also take place. All the food is made from scratch and menus range from Penlan gammon, egg and chips to lamb tagine.

* 01974 261275, yffarmers.co.uk. Lunch and dinner pounds 5-pounds 17.50. Sunday lunch pounds 15 and pounds 18.50

The Black Lion Inn Llanfaethlu, Anglesey

The Lion roars again thanks to the hard work of owners Mari and Leigh, who have transformed this oncederelict late-18th-century inn. French windows open to a paved patio with views across the car park to fields, one of which will soon grow vegetables and herbs for the kitchen. Ales from Marston's and wines from Wales complement modern British dishes with a Gallic twist, such as local pan-fried scallops with black pudding on a bed of wilted lettuce topped with butter sauce, or beef from Mari's father's own Hereford herd. Upstairs are two rooms with open rafters.

* 01407 730718, blacklionanglesey.com. Lunch and dinner pounds 6-pounds 19. Rooms from pounds 115

The Bull Hotel

Wrotham, Kent

Wedged (peacefully) between the M20 and M26, pretty Wrotham and its rambling old coaching inn sit on Kent's glorious North Downs, smack bang on the Pilgrim's Way. Refurbishment of the Bull, also the hub of the village, has been a labour of love, with Martin and Lygia sprucing up their interiors whenever the coffers allowed. In a bar once frequented by Battle of Britain pilots (note the stamps on the ceiling), are Dark Star ales, interesting wines and good seasonal food, perhaps venison sausages or a 30-day aged fillet steak, then an orange and almond cake. It's a great country bolthole and handy for Eurotunnel and port-bound travellers.

* 01732 789800, thebullhotel.com. Lunch from pounds 6.50, bar meals from pounds 9, three-course dinner pounds 25-pounds 35. Sunday lunch from pounds 12. Rooms from pounds 79

Yew Tree Inn

Newent, Gloucestershire

Guests stride the grasslands and pine forests of May Hill before heading to this centuries-old cider press with a modern facade. The cosy bar, all stone and beer-mat festooned beams, has local ales, cider from Three Choirs and a wine list sourced from little-known vineyards. There is also a wine shop at the back. Menus are seasonal and local: steamed mussels in saffron and cider, roast guinea fowl breast and confit thigh, braised cabbage and quince jus. The terrace has views over trees, and a child-friendly play area below.

* 01531 820719, yewtreeinn.com. Lunch from pounds 8. Bar meals from pounds 12. Dinner, two or three courses, pounds 18-pounds 23

The Lion Inn

Winchcombe, Gloucestershire

Pushing open the heavy oak door reveals a main bar of exposed brickwork and stripped wood, stunningly restored by owner Annie. It's a great place to read the papers over a pint of real ale, play Scrabble, cards or one of the other games. The menu is seasonal, and includes ham hock and black pudding terrine, monkfish with chorizo piperade and pineapple tarte tatin. In summer, drinkers can spill onto the tranquil terrace with a platter of seafood. Country-chic rooms upstairs - one with a small balcony, three with private staircases - are TV-free and decorated with soothing colours. For walkers, Winchcombe is on the Cotswold Way.

* 01242 603300, thelionwinchcombe.co.uk. Lunch and dinner pounds 12-pounds 19. Rooms from pounds 90

The George Inn Robertsbridge, Sussex

John and Jane swapped corporate life for this handsome old inn in pretty Robertsbridge, and have restored its fortunes as both an inn and a community local. There are pints of Rother Valley Level Best on offer and seasonal dishes, such as locally landed lemon sole, Rye Bay scallops, slow-roasted pork belly with Bramley apple spiced compote, chargrilled lamb rump with minted rosti. Ingredients are sourced within 30 miles and everything is homemade. Upstairs, money has been lavished on four rooms. The George Inn is close to the tourist destinations of Battle, Bodiam Castle and Pashley Manor Gardens.

* 01580 880315, thegeorgerobertsbridge. co.uk. Lunch from pounds 5. Bar meals from pounds 9.75. Dinner from pounds 10. Rooms from pounds 95

The Angel Inn

Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk

Soft lamplight glows in the windows of this 16th-century inn deep in Constable country. Inside, there are carved beams, exposed brickwork, polished wood tables, chesterfields and wing chairs, fresh flowers and candles and a few antique pieces. The Angel fills early and offers an imaginative menu. Diners can eat in the bar, the galleried restaurant (once a brewhouse) or on the terrace at the back on warm summer evenings. The inn also has boutique-style bedrooms. Flatford Mill and beautiful Dedham Vale are a short drive away.

* 01206 263245, angelinnsuffolk.co.uk. Lunch pounds 13.95-pounds 15.95. Dinner pounds 14.50-pounds 22.50. Rooms from pounds 85

The Merry Harriers Hambledon, Surrey

Leafy countryside rolls away on all sides from this historic pub that has dispensed ale since 1710. Inside, wine racks are crammed with bottles from across the globe, including Chateau d'Yquem from Bordeaux, and there's Pilgrim's Progress and Surrey Hills Shere Drop on tap. Traditional menus come with a Mediterranean twist and local provenance; their own smoked trout is a speciality. Blackboards list specials and local events, and there is a garden with swings and slides, watched over by the owners' nine llamas. Overnight guests enjoy a breakfast hamper delivered to their room.

* 01428 682883, merryharriers.com. Lunch pounds 6-pounds 22. Bar meals from pounds 6. Dinner pounds 12.50-pounds 22. Rooms from pounds 85

All these 10 pubs, plus 40 more in England and Wales, are part of a Guardian deal, offering two for one lunches throughout June. Download a voucher from 1-7 June at guardian.co.uk/sawdays-241-discount

Sawday's Special Places Pubs & Inns of England & Wales, 10th anniversary edition (sawdays.co.uk/pubs), is on sale now, at pounds 15.99. The new Sawday's Pubs app is also available now from the App Store, introductory offer pounds 2.49

Captions:

The Lion Inn, Gloucestershire

The George Inn, Robertsbridge

The Angel Inn, Suffolk


Travel: Corkboard: 5 blogs in ... Pacific NW

* foodcartsportland.com - mapped, Portland's street food carts

* lostoregon.org - a guide to the state before Portland got hip

* thebeerchaser.com - drink in the best of Portland's pubs

* seattlemet.com - food, booze, news and culture

* Seattlemag.com - stories from all the neighbourhoods, including a Washington beer-themed cruise and a speakeasy on wheels


Travel: Corkboard: Cheap date

Tipi Adventures is offering 50% off midweek breaks (Sun-Thurs) at its tipi campsite in the Wye Valley, Herefordshire. A two-night stay costs from pounds 180 for a tipi sleeping seven people. Canoeing, cycling and archery are also available at the site.

* 07415 202979,

tipiadventure.co.uk


Travel: Corkboard: Travel trash

A sport fashion brand, HPE Clothing, says it has invented leisurewear that can beat jet lag. It claims its special new antimicrobial Freshfit fabric draws heat from the body, and is compressive, to increase muscle oxygenation, and "decrease muscle oscillation to reduce fatigue".

* hpe-shop.com


Travel: Corkboard: Hampshire The Greyhound on the Test

By Sally Shalam

British

boltholes

I last reviewed a pub run by Lucy Townsend five years ago, and it was a memorable trip: enjoyable food, smart room, pub element intact. Mentored by hotelier Robin Hutson, Lucy has now bought her own pub. It used to be called the Greyhound Inn; its newly elongated name leaves the fishing fraternity in no doubt that this lies beside the holy of holies when it comes to trout. This Stockbridge pub even has fishing rights.

She opened. I waited (a long time) for the website. By then all seven upstairs billets were booked solid by folk whose luggage no doubt bulges with the last word in breathable overtrousers. Finally squeezed in, I invite C to dinner. Our last dining experience, orchestrated by yours truly, was disastrous, a regular source of leg-pulling. Now, like the fly fisherman, I'm quietly optimistic.

Dashing in from lashing rain (yes, it's a bank holiday) I push the door. A girl behind the bar leads me upstairs. Breakfast is from 8am.

"Till when?"

"Oh whenever, at weekends through till lunch really." Ding dong.

This is posh Hampshire, so I'm not going to argue about a simple, freshly painted double and good linen at pounds 110. I'd like a table for the kettle, and conditioner among the organic toiletries in a bathroom stocked with thick towels, though.

Descending, I spot a hallway honesty bar. It's lively below: wines chalked up, Ringwood beers on draught, and Lucy greeting customers who are obviously regulars. When C turns up, we move to the dining room, amid lanterns and modern art, jewel-coloured water glasses on our table.

Guilt (sic) bream with confit potato and tapenade is "A dish with something on its conscience," says C, who then spots braised pork belly and cheek. "Now I like a bit of that with dinner." From a short section headed On Toast, thoughtfully aimed, we guess, at those who nip in for a lunchtime pint, she proclaims Stockbridge mushrooms and sage butter "a wise choice".

Braised cod cheeks with saffron sauce and linguine, and smoked carpaccio of buffalo arrive, well presented and delicious.

"Now I'm quite pleased winter's gone on a bit," says C as spatchcock poussin arrives in unctuous gravy with garlic mash, a bargain at pounds 13.95. I pick a pounds 24 sirloin steak, bang-on medium rare, buttery chateaubriand sauce in a jug, and fat chips, crisp outside and soft in. Panna cotta flavoured with lemongrass and a calorific nougatine glacee round it all off with pots of herbal tea, a ridiculous bid, after such indulgence, for redemption through caffeine-avoidance.

We are impressed by what Lucy and chef Alan Haughie have achieved. Some will need the lure of fishing to return (details on website). For us the pub is bait enough.

* Accommodation was provided by The Greyhound on the Test, 31 High St, Stockbridge (01264 810833, thegreyhoundonthetest.co.uk). B&B doubles pounds 100-pounds 125, three-course dinner around pounds 33pp without drinks


Travel: Corkboard: Escapism

The first World Street Food Congress, showcasing the best cuisine from food trucks, vans and hawker stalls around the world, takes place this week in Singapore, with top chefs and speakers from around the globe, such as Anthony Bourdain, Claus Meyer and Johnny Chan. For updates on the winners, see wsfcongress.com. And see our guide to cheap eats in Singapore: guardian.co.uk/singapore.


Travel: Corkboard: What's new?

KID'S ATTRACTION

A new Sea Life aquarium, opening in Manchester on Thursday, contains over a million litres of water, 5,000 sea creatures - including sharks, rays, seahorses and jellyfish - and a trademark underwater tunnel for seeing it all close up. Visitors can also hold a crab and stroke a starfish at the touch pools. Situated at Barton Square next to the Trafford Centre, and the Legoland Discovery Centre, it is the 14th Sea Life to open in the UK.

* Tickets from pounds 12pp, visitsealife.com/manchester

ARTS EVENT

A stunning collection of beautiful circus costumes (pictured) dating from the 1800s and used by some of the greatest circus troupes in the world, will be on display at the Centre National du Costume de Scene in Moulins, in the Allier department of central France, from

15 June until 5 January 2014.

* cncs.fr

FOOD FESTIVAL

Pembrokeshire Fish Festival gets down to fishy business between 22 and 30 June, with food demos and pop-up restaurants in Haverfordwest, fishing competitions, coasteering with a foraging twist with Preseli Ventures (preseliventure.co.uk) and foodie events all over the county.

* pembrokeshire fishweek.co.uk


Travel: UK Accommodation: Cool cottages in ... Suffolk: Fancy a traditional seaside house, an old beamed cottage or a modern barn floating above countryside? Here are five lovely Suffolk pads

By Rhiannon Batten

1 Beech House Gite Yoxford

This prettily converted cottage for two mixes contemporary and vintage furniture and has lovely views on to a garden. It is well-placed for exploring Suffolk's heritage coast and is also one for foodie couples: there are two good restaurants in the village - Mains (mainsrestaurant.co.uk) and Satis House (satishouse.co.uk).

* 01502 578278, heritagehideaways.com. From pounds 350 a week

2 The Old Monkey Hadleigh

This traditional beamed cottage for two is small in size but big on character. In the summer there's a pretty garden to sit in, or book a romantic autumn break and spend your evenings sipping wine by the open fire. It's in great walking territory and close to the south Suffolk cycle route (bikes are provided).

* 01787 211115, grove-cottages.co.uk. From pounds 363 a week

3 Edinburgh House Aldeburgh

Rumour has it that this bay-windowed townhouse was named after Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, who used to sail into Aldeburgh and stay here. Now it's more 1960s seaside showhome than 19th-century princely pad. Most rooms are decorated with retro-influenced contemporary furniture in a burst of love heart shades.

* 01728 638962, bestofsuffolk.co.uk. From pounds 1,130 a week, sleeps eight

4 The Balancing Barn

near Halesworth

One of two properties in Suffolk run by Living Architecture, a social enterprise that builds architecturally interesting holiday homes around Britain, this one appears to dangle seesaw-like off a hillside. Sleeping eight and clad in silver tiles, the cantilevered building is not just about appearances: its rural location is great, handy for Church Farm nature reserve. Book well ahead.

* No phone, living-architecture.co.uk. From pounds 1,600 a week

5 Martello Tower Woodbridge

This property at Shingle Street, a hamlet on the Alde estuary, was built during the Napoleonic wars but has been converted into a unique place to stay. It sleeps eight, with facilities that include a smart kitchen, open-plan lounge and a rooftop balcony. Unsurprisingly, given its history, it also has amazing views of the surrounding sea, beach and marshes.

* 0845 163 8815, holidaycottage compare.com. From pounds 1,650 a week


Travel: Culture: Not so Familia: Gaudi is Barcelona's most famous son but one of his collaborators, Jujol, created buildings with a lighter touch and humour, in its surrounding villages. Richard Eilers takes a tour

By Richard Eilers

The old man fiddled with the keys, peered rheumily in turn at three or four, then with a grunt chose one. The key slipped into the ornate ironwork keyhole and the door opened. I stepped into a deep gloom and the caretaker shuffled off through the darkness.

A few seconds later, with the clank of ancient switches being thrown, the lights came on one by one. First, an extravagantly decorated wall emerged, then an outrageous chandelier and finally a soaring roof. The work of architect, sculptor and painter Josep Maria Jujol was revealed.

Think of Barcelona and you think of tapas, beach, football, stag parties and, of course, Antoni Gaudi. His work defines the city for many visitors. His wild modernista designs seem to lie on each street corner, marked by a gaggle of appreciative tourists.

But deeply religious Gaudi was an austere character: it was left to Jujol, his little-known collaborator, to bring a lightness of touch and humour to many of his most famous works. The broken tile mosaics of the city's Park Guell (Calle Olot, parkguell.es), for example, were made by him.

Jujol was the obvious choice to complete La Sagrada Familia after Gaudi carelessly stepped in front of a tram in 1926 - but he never got the job, apparently too modest to shoulder his way to the front of the queue. Never mind, if you make the effort to get beyond the pickpockets and tat of Las Ramblas, you can discover Jujol's own mini "Sagrada Familias" - and these ones have even been finished.

Modernisme was huge in the early 20th century. Tycoons in Catalonia raced each other to build homes, and factories, in the latest style. Even their fusty country farmhouses were given a modernista makeover. Inspired, villagers in a couple of places near Barcelona decided to keep up with the landowners and turned to local lad Jujol to build them churches . . . on a budget.

Drive west from Barcelona and you are soon in wine country. Columns of vines march across the gentle hills of Penedes and I followed them to the village of Vistabella.

Even from a distance it is obvious that Vistabella is different from the dozens of other little settlements around here. The spire of a church rises high above the village's handful of homes - far bigger than seems probable for such a tiny place.

The church had disappeared behind buildings by the time I'd parked. I walked round a few corners and there it stood - like someone had lopped a bit off La Sagrada Familia and dropped it into this sleepy hamlet. Windows of all shapes and sizes studded the walls and rocks and stones burst out of the walls, like the church's flesh was exploding through its skin. A couple of children took me to the home of the caretaker, Josep Rovira, and roused him from his siesta.

Though he had good reason to curse me for his broken snooze, Rovira gave me a passionate tour of El Sagrat Cor. He explained that it had been built between 1918 and 1924, on a shoestring. The local farmers had collected stones from their fields for its construction. Rovira pointed to a fantastical chandelier and said it had been made out of empty condensed milk tins. Candlesticks had been made from used oil cans.

The cupola soared above us, intricately supported by catenary arches - the backbone of the Sagrada Familia. Rovira explained that Jujol wanted the building to be sin vigas, sin techos (without beams and without ceilings).

Despite some damage inflicted by anarchists during the civil war, many of Jujol's delicate paintings on the walls, from angels to bunches of grapes, survive. Rovira took us into one dark corner to show us a beam marked with Jujol's signature. I signed the visitors' book, just a couple of pages on from John Malkovich - the actor, Google later revealed, is a huge Jujol fan.

I headed north across the Campo de Tarragona and from this plain, near the village of Montferri, rose the second remarkable example of Jujol's dedication to god and the common man. The Santuari de Montserrat sits like a fairytale castle on a hill.

Again, it was built on a budget but unfortunately this time money ran out. Work was started in 1926 but stopped a few years later. The church was not completed until the 90s, long after Jujol's death in 1949 but to his original plans. Hundreds of tiny heart-shaped red and yellow windows circle the walls and dozens of metal gargoyles fit for a Tim Burton film glower menacingly down. Stubby finger-shaped vaults around the central tower are intended to recall the peaks of mystical, spiritual Montserrat, just north of Barcelona.

Sadly, the church was closed and there was no aged caretaker to wake from slumber. It is open on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but I had to make do with peering through its glass door at a series of arches that made it look as though, by comparison, Gaudi had only a GCSE in geometry.

References to wine feature in Jujol's work, but he left it to another modernista architect to create a "cathedral" to the vine. Step inside the Co-operative Winery in L'Espluga de Francoli by Lluis Domenech i Montaner and a church-like silence descends. Buttresses and arches support the roof and light from a giant stained-glass window filters on to the stainless steel tanks of fermenting wine.

I picked up a couple of bottles - but not Penedes. I was now in one of Spain's least-known wine areas, the Conca de Barbera. I wandered the beautiful medieval centre of Montblanc, the area's capital. Its claim to fame is that Saint George (Sant Jordi) slayed his dragon here. Every other bar or restaurant seemed to be themed: think dragon burgers and you get the idea.

A few miles west lies the antidote to modernista overload: the Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet (poblet.cat). In the 12th century the hard-working order instigated an era of austerity that would make George Osborne blush. They loved architecture but tempered their worldly ambitions by stripping their buildings of frills. The monastery is massive, but simple and perfectly executed.

One recent addition made me smile, however. A long iron railing on a staircase was elaborately twisted to resemble the body of a dragon. I suspect the monks would have sucked their teeth in disapproval, but I'm sure Jujol, too, would have smiled.

Way to go:

Accommodation at Hotel Maginet

(calmaginet.cat, doubles from euros 60 a night B&B) in Vilaverd was provided by the Catalan Tourist Board (catalunya.com). Car hire was provided by Rhinocarhire.com and costs from euros 16 a day from Barcelona airport

Captions:

'It sits like a fairytale castle on a hill' . . . Jujol's Santuari de Montserrat


Travel: The Big Trip: Stay a while: Travelling doesn't have to involve moving. Three writers speak of the joy of staying put in one place, starting with Sylvain Tesson, who spent six months in a remote cabin in Siberia

By Sylvain Tesson

I stayed at Lake Baikal for the first time in 2003 . Walking along the shore, I discovered cabins at regular intervals, inhabited by strangely happy recluses. Five years later I chanced to spend three days with a ranger in a tiny izba, a traditional Russian log cabin, on the eastern shore of the lake. At night we sipped vodka and played chess; during the day I helped him haul in his fishing nets. We hardly spoke, but we read a lot. That was when I promised myself I would live alone in a cabin for a few months before I turned 40.

So, two years ago, I left my home in Paris and spent six months in a hut on the Lake's western shore, far from civilisation: it was six days' walk to the nearest village, a day from the nearest neighbour, and there were no access roads.

I wanted to experiment with the simple life and claim back time. I wanted to feel life, and understand how it would look just contemplating the landscape, rather than harvesting kilometres on the road as I was used to when travelling. I have done many great adventures (crossing the Himalayas on foot in 1997, walking the route the gulag escapees took, from Yakutsk in Siberia to Calcutta, in 2003). But it became a disease I wanted to cure.

Lake Baikal is 395 miles long, 49 miles wide, 1,642m (just over a mile) deep, and 25 million years old. I arrived in February, when temperatures drop to -30C and the ice is over a metre thick. I was driven across it in a truck.

Constructed in the 1980s as a geologist's hut, my cabin lay in a clearing of cedar forest in the northern sector of the Baikal-Lena nature reserve. The owners, Volodya T, a 50-year-old forest ranger and his wife Ludmilla, had lived there for 15 years, but they wanted to move to Irkutsk. Other rangers were spaced about 19 miles apart through the reserve.

The cabin had its back to the mountains, at the foot of a slope 1,981m high, surrounded by coniferous taiga and with views of the lake. Snow had meringued the roof; the beams were the colour of gingerbread. It measured nine square metres and was heated by a noisy cast-iron stove. I could put up with the snoring of this particular companion. I had two windows: through one, looking east, I could see the snowy crests of Buryatia, 60 miles away. The winter forest was a silvery fur tossed onto the shoulders of the terrain.

I took a lot of equipment with me: axe and cleaver, fishing poles, kerosene lamp, ice drill, saw, snowshoes, tent, liquor glasses and vodka, cigars, provisions (pasta, rice, Tabasco sauce, coffee) and a library of almost 80 books.

You can't predict the mood you will be in six months later, so I had planned my library carefully. It would be an easy mistake to choose only difficult reading, and think you would only need high-minded, philosophical, idealistic writing. Then after 10 days you want to kill your book and read a detective novel.

I chose a wide range of philosophy, poetry, literature, nature books. Michel Deon for melancholy, DH Lawrence for sensuality, some philosophers (Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, the Stoics), Sade and Casanova to stir my blood. Some books on life in the woods: Daniel Defoe for myth, Grey Owl for his radical stance, Aldo Leopold for ethics. In some respects the whole experience was to put a library in the woods.

If I had not had books, I would have gone quickly mad. A book is a way to have someone with you. For the first time in my life I was able to read a whole book, beginning to end without stopping, sometimes reading for eight hours straight.

I cut my day into two parts. In the morning I did spiritual things: reading, writing, smoking, learning poetry, looking out of the window. In the afternoon I was more physical: digging a hole in the ice, fishing, running around my little kingdom in snowshoes, cutting firewood.

By restricting the panoply of actions, one goes deeper into each experience. The castaway enjoys absolute freedom - but within the limits of his island.

What was pleasant about this life was the repetition of acts. Each day goes by, a mirror of the one before, a rough draft of the one to come. You can find happiness in the possibility of things, but you can also find it in knowing exactly what will happen. It is peaceful, a slow life, but you become rich.

I have a lot of vitality and need to do sports, so I went out and walked every day, climbed the hills around the cabin, and occasionally took a tent and hiked into the wilderness to bivouac in the woods.

I also relied on a few goods from civilisation for pleasure: including vodka and cigars. I liked the idea of living in a very huge remote place but with some real luxury goods. Then you balance your life, moving between the two contrasting experiences, archaic and luxurious. After a day's walking in the snow and fishing at -30C, it is wonderful to read Chinese poetry while smoking a Havana.

Though I lived alone, it was not real solitude. For real hermitude you are alone for years and years. For me it was a relative thing.

I sometimes visited those who lived nearest, and I often had visitors - people I knew, sometimes strangers who happened to be crossing the lake. It wasn't too painful for me as they would only stay for a couple of hours, and it would interrupt the loneliness. And anyway, I didn't want to live a very extreme, challenging, difficult life. It was just an experience.

Through Sergei and Natasha, a couple who ran the weather station 31 miles from the cabin, I met Sasha and Yura, two Siberian fishermen. They were archetypal Russians, very strong, very big, speaking loudly, drinking a lot, very generous people with a lot of energy, who hadn't cut their link with the wilderness.

These people have a rustic life, an intense and important life. They enjoy it, though they are perfectly aware that it has negative and positive aspects. Life is physically difficult. It is hard to live in a forest in the cold. When you are 50 you look 70 years old. But for sure they would not change it for a life in the city. They know that they would lose their freedom there. Better to live joyfully in a wilderness clearing than languish in a city.

Milan Kundera said because Russia didn't have an elite in its history, and no Renaissance, Russians are still in a state of irrationality and magical thinking, like the Middle Ages. I found that with these kind of people. They don't say superficial things, only wise things. They are not blah-blah-blah people, like me. It was good not to have to keep a conversation going. Why is life with others so hard? Because you always have to find something to say. I thought of those days of walking around Paris nervously tossing off "Just-fine-thank-yous" and "Let's-get-together-soons" to people I didn't really know, who babbled the same things to me, as if in a panic.

It's incredible how much mankind hogs its own attention. Solitude is the reconquest of the enjoyment of things. The only way to be free is to be alone. You still have laws, of nature, your own discipline, but the beginning of coercion, compromise, imprisonment begins with just one other person.

Boredom didn't frighten me. There are worse pangs: the sorrow of not sharing with a loved one the beauty of lived moments. Solitude: what others miss out on by not being with the person who experiences it.

I was warned before I left Paris that boredom would be my deadly enemy. I'd die of it! I'd listened politely. People who said such things assumed they themselves were superb entertainment. "Reduced to myself alone, I feed myself, it is true, on my own substance, but it is not exhausted," writes Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the Reveries of a Solitary Walker.

In April I was given two dogs, Aika and Bek, who helped combat loneliness, and would bark if a bear came near, from the end of May when they came out of hibernation.

When the ice broke on 22 May, it happened suddenly: there was a storm and the ice shattered. I have never seen such power. It was like the elements were making war. In the west we talk about the beginning of spring, of entering spring. In Siberia there was no entering, no transition; it was rapid. In 10 minutes winter was defeated.

That month I sat at my table watching the ice die. Water seeped in everywhere, mottling the surface with black blotches. Then ducks who had been living it up down south landed in the open areas, eager for love and fresh water. Eagles soared, geese patrolled in gangs, gulls did nosedives, butterflies, amazed at being alive, staggered through the air.

The month of June, when the animals need their vigour for love, presents a problem in the cycle of life: how to bridge the gap between the awakening of May and the abundance of July? Nature has come up with . . . flies. By July, the air was loaded with bugs.

On 28 July I bade farewell to the lake. I went there not knowing whether I'd find the strength to stay; I left knowing I would return. A retreat is a revolt. In the outposts of Baikal the authority of Moscow holds hardly any sway. The urban liberal, leftist, revolutionary and upper-middle-class citizens all pay money for bread, gas and taxes. The hermit asks nothing from the state and gives nothing to the state. He disappears into the woods and thrives there. His retreat constitutes a loss of income for the government. Becoming a loss of income should be the objective of true revolutionaries.

I couldn't live permanently in the cabin. But I have been back to the taiga a couple of times, and I know I will experience again an act of hermitism, maybe for longer. I discovered the Algerian desert a few years ago, and I think the desert is a good place to do this: taiga without the trees.

I am still wandering, but I am not so obsessed with travelling. My experience made me understand that the best way to stop feeling that time is fleeing is to sit somewhere for a while. I discovered that living within silence is rejuvenating. That the parade of hours is busier than the ploughing-through of miles. That the eye never tires of splendour.

I'm sure more people today will want to do what I did. I think an increasing number will need, at some time, to cut themselves off and escape modern life, then come back later to a more simple life. What I did was a radical acceleration of that. But the return to the forest, you can do it in your own home. Time is the most precious treasure we have. We all have 24 hours a day, but we are all destroying this treasure, especially with electronics. Always being contactable is the beginning of your loss of freedom; it's like an electronic tag. There is always the intrusion of people into your time and it is horrible.

The first act is to throw out your mobile phone. Try to spend three hours in the same action, in the same consultation of time - writing, reading, doing some action.

Russians know that the taiga is there if things go wrong. It's good to know that out there, in a forest in the world, there is a cabin where something is possible, something close to the sheer happiness of being alive. So, refuseniks of every country, take to the woods! Consolation awaits you there.

* Sylvain Tesson is a bestselling travel writer in France. His book about his retreat, Consolations of the Forest, is published by Allen Lane. To order a copy for pounds 12.99 inc UK p&p visit guardianbookshop.co.uk or call 0330 333 6846. This piece is from an interview with Gemma Bowes and includes edited extracts from the book. For Baikal tours contact Alexey Golovinov on agolovinov@gmail.ru (his French-only website is at baikal-lake.org)

PHOTOGRAPHS: THOMAS GOISQUE

Captions:

Reading matters . . . books became companions

Go with the floe . . . Sylvain on the ice with his dogs, Aika and Bek


Travel: Truly, madly, deeply: Many people enjoy a brief idyll on a Thai island. But Torre DeRoche forged a much more meaningful relationship with Koh Tao by living there long term

By Torre DeRoche

Some people, given a month or two to cavort the world, will fill their itineraries with a blur of destinations, experiences and rides. I like to slow down so that I can know a place inside out, smell it, feel its heartbeat. That is why, when my partner, Ivan, and I set off for a long getaway, we pinpointed a single destination.

Koh Tao, a tiny speck in the Gulf of Thailand, is known for its inexpensive Padi scuba training, and since Ivan had always wanted to become an expert diver, this was enough of a reason to call this island home for a while.

On the surface, the main town of Koh Tao looks like any Thai holiday hotspot: palms, turquoise water, beach bums sipping Chang beers and charring their skin pink. Hawkers pace the beach with a selection of Ray-Bans; baby-faced backpackers in string bikinis flirt in beachside bars, drinking cocktails from buckets.

But zipping past palm forests, monks and burning incense on our cheap hired scooter, we discovered a much lovelier beach in the south of the island called Chalok Baan Kao. With only a few hotels, restaurants and bars, this side of the island felt like a private retreat. A walk around the bay took us to a secluded beach with basic bungalows right on the sand, called Taraporn. For 500 baht a night (around pounds 11), we could fall asleep to a warm breeze off the water, and wake to lapping waves.

After a while we decided to search for a property to rent for several months. The thrill of house hunting turned to frustration after six weeks, but finally Ivan returned from a solo hunt and declared: "I found us a place at the top of a hill!"

It was in a breathtaking location - mostly in what it did to my lungs every time I had to hike up to it. The cottage was magnificently ugly, with a well-loved mattress, a rickety fan, a kitchen devoid of cooking facilities, a cold dribble of water for a shower, a hand-flush toilet, a cast of giant geckos poised in attack-crouches (yes, they bite) and snakeskins left on the doorstep each morning. But its centrepiece made up for all that: French windows opening on to a panorama of sea, sky and beach encased by palm-covered hills.

We paid a month's rent in cash, and Casa de Reptile was ours. We decorated it with goods from Bangkok's hellish Chatuchak weekend market, and had some of our own possessions sent over. While Ivan was off diving, I drilled holes, hung curtains and smoothed sheets to create a cottage worthy of a magazine spread. We clinked two cold beers at sunset, celebrating our luxurious retreat with its million-dollar view. The rent? Five dollars a night.

When we weren't exploring, Ivan studied diving while I worked on my book. The island's internet connection was generally solid enough to keep a line of communication between me and my book editor in New York. However, upholding professional standards while living on a Thai island was not without its challenges. One evening, while I was in the middle of an interview booked months earlier, a thunderstorm cut off the power supply. My interviewer was silenced mid-question, and I felt embarrassed at my lack of professionalism until the connection returned . . . five days later.

We found plenty of other things to do, including yoga, sunset beach runs, and diving. Even for me, with my morbid fear of deep water, the island's collective enthusiasm for underwater exploration became impossible to resist. After a few days of instruction, I got my open water licence and then did something I thought I'd never do: a night dive in pitch-black water. So much for that phobia.

With more than 40 dive schools, the island sends home around 50,000 certified open water divers a year, and instructors pour in from all over the world to teach them. Environmental initiatives including underwater clean-up days, long-distance swims for shark conservation, and sustainability meetings brought the diving community together. In the evenings we'd gather at a bar for "big Chang" beers and excited chat about who'd spotted a turtle or a whale shark that day.

Babaloo beachside bar in Chalok Baan Kao became our favourite nightspot. Just outside, along the shore, svelte fire-twirlers would throw their flaming sticks into the air, never missing a catch or losing an eyebrow . . .

To renew our visas for a longer stay, we were required to leave Thailand, so we took a train to Vientiane, capital of Laos, and explored the picturesque Bolaven plateau by scooter before returning to Koh Tao.

I've travelled in many different ways: from whirlwind trips to meditative, immersive travel. I've learned that there is more richness in getting to know one place intimately than many places superficially. Every country has a heart and a soul that you can't find in a guidebook. Like with any relationship, getting to know a place intimately takes patience, mindfulness and time. Give yourself time to be wooed.

* Torre DeRoche's debut book, Love with a Chance of Drowning, is out in July. Read about her adventures at fearfuladventurer.com

Captions:

Cottage on the coast, Thailand


Travel: Stay for a month or three 10 long-stay hideaways: 10 remote hideaways

By Rachel Dixon

Bungalow Bali

Amed is the collective name for a string of fishing villages along the eastern Balinese coast. It is a quiet, laid-back area with lush paddy fields and volcanic beaches, the perfect place to chill out in the sun. Affordable beach bungalows are springing up along the strip: most are small and built in traditional styles. Geri Giria Shanti, for example, is a guesthouse in the village of Jemeluk with four charming bungalows in a shady garden, two minutes from the beach. There are no cooking facilities but plenty of cheap eats locally (tofu tempeh curry and rice will set you back less than pounds 2). There is a diving centre based at the guesthouse - diving and snorkelling are popular in Jemeluk Bay thanks to its deep coral walls, abundant fish and gentle currents.

* +62 81 916 6548 74, geriagirishanti.com, bungalows euros 15-euros 20 a night, B&B

Beach hut Goa

Palolem beach in Canacona, south Goa, is a mile-long crescent of sand between two rocky headlands. In late October, bamboo huts are erected all along the beach, and they can be hired until the end of May, when the monsoon season begins and the huts are taken down. Some huts in the area can be booked in advance, such as Chattai beach huts, built on a hillock 150m from the sea. Most of the huts right on the beach are owned by locals, and are best viewed and hired on the spot. If Palolem beach is too busy, the neighbouring beaches of Agonda, Patnem or Columb are quieter and even cheaper. Local families also rent out houses by the month - again, it is easiest to ask around when in situ. See mypalolembeachgoa.com for more advice.

* +91 98224 81360, chattai.co.in, huts from pounds 7 a night (sleep two), 15% discount for stays of five nights or more

Thatched cottage France

The Rent A Place In France website has a selection of characterful long-term rentals around the country, most available for a minimum of a month. There are some great deals, such as a thatched cottage near the picturesque port of Honfleur in Normandy (sleeps four, from pounds 230 a month), or a converted barn with a garden on the Dordogne river near Bergerac (sleeps two, from pounds 257 a month). Other options include a farmhouse with swimming pool in Poitou-Charentes (sleeps four, from pounds 333 a month); a gite with a tower in Provence (sleeps five, from pounds 393 a month); or a 19th-century wine lodge in the Pyrenees (sleeps two, from pounds 428 a month).

* rentaplaceinfrance.com

Village house Italy

Invitation to Tuscany has self-catering properties across the popular Italian region, some available for longer lets. One is a small, rustic house, La Rondine, with a sheltered garden in the medieval hilltop village of Casole d'Elsa, 25 minutes from Siena. The village has bars, cafes, restaurants, a public pool and a week-long festival in July - a mini version of Siena's Palio horse race (second Sunday in July). The house sleeps four and a month's rent is less than twice as much as a week's.

* 020-8444 9500, invitationtotuscany.com, pounds 1,166 a month or pounds 619 a week, year-round, including heating, Wi-Fi and a gardener

Stone bothy Scotland

The beautiful island of Colonsay, in the Inner Hebrides, has white sandy beaches and a population of just 130, so you'll feel like you're getting away from it all. However, there's also a microbrewery and pub, a tiny bookshop and art gallery, a cafe/bakery and a shop - plenty to keep you happy for a month. The island hosts four festivals (spring, folk, literary and food, see colonsay.org.uk) and is dotted with standing stones, hilltop forts and ruined chapels, so you can spend your days exploring, and spotting wildflowers, rare birds, wild goats, grey seals and otters. Those who are happy to spend most of their time outdoors could choose simple accommodation run by the Colonsay Estate, which owns two traditional stone bothies next to the backpackers' lodge. The sleeping bothy contains three cabins, each sleeping two in bunkbeds, and the dining bothy has cooking facilities, including a Rayburn. The estate also has cottages and apartments, from pounds 200 a week.

* 01951 200316, colonsayestate.co.uk, bothy cabin pounds 15pp a night, including linen

Apartment Spain

Under the Thatch specialises in rural retreats in Wales, but it also has a few properties in France and Spain, including a chic flat in Barcelona. The one-bedroom, top-floor flat is in the Raval district, right in the centre of town, a couple of minutes from Las Ramblas. Its original features - tiled floors and Catalan ceilings - are mixed with modern decor, such as wall murals and designer furniture. Renting the apartment for a month is considerably cheaper per night than shorter stays.

* underthethatch.co.uk, from pounds 227 for a two-night stay or pounds 1,000 a month including bills (ring 0844 5005 101 for the monthly rate)

Log cabin US

Minnesota, "the land of 10,000 lakes", also has 72 state parks, 58 state forests and numerous wildlife reserves, making it ideal for a month in the great outdoors. It offers fantastic hiking, biking, boating and fishing - the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness area alone has more than 1,000 lakes to explore. For a really rustic experience try the state parks' "camper cabins". These one-room wooden cabins come with a table, benches, bunkbeds and a screened porch - a step up from a tent, but still pretty basic. Many have electricity and some are heated for year-round use but bedding, cookware and crockery are not provided. There is no indoor plumbing (although there are "vault" toilets), but the cabins are near each park's campsite, with flushing toilets, showers and drinking water. The basic facilities are more than made up for by the locations, such as the pristine lakes and forests of Bear Head Lake state park, or the rolling prairie lands of Afton state park.

* +1 651 296 6157, dnr.state.mn.us, from 50 dollars a night (sleeps six)

Colonial estate Sri Lanka

The Pantiya estate, in the hills outside Kalutara in south-west Sri Lanka, 90 minutes from Colombo, comprises a colonial-era bungalow and a villa on a working 10-acre rubber, coconut and tea plantation. The properties sleep 12 altogether and are rented out as a whole, with a discount for stays longer than two weeks. The buildings have been renovated in traditional style - antique furniture, shady terraces - and there is a swimming pool in the extensive garden. The coast is a 30-minute drive away. The rate includes breakfast, after which you can opt to self-cater or eat meals cooked by a local chef on a mud stove and log fire. Dinner could be saffron rice with stir-fried fish and pickled aubergines, or appam (rice pancakes) with chicken curry, lentils and coconut sambal.

* 079126 29514, srilankaholidayhome.com, from pounds 25 a night, pounds 750 a month

Lodge Canada

Pow-Wow Point Lodge is on the banks of the Peninsula Lake near Huntsville, Ontario, a beautiful area to explore. It is 20 miles from Algonquin Park, which has 2,000km of canoe trails through wild landscape, lakes that are warm enough for swimming and a network of campsites. This is a real wilderness escape, though Hunstville has lively bars and restaurants, and the all-important outdoors outfitters stores. Guests can swim in Peninsula Lake and use the kayaks and paddle boats, and explore the hiking trails through the surrounding forest. The accommodation is clustered around the main lodge and includes cottages and a converted 1930s boathouse.

* From pounds 3,995pp for a 30-night stay, including return flights from the UK to Toronto, a month's car hire and daily breakfast and dinner, 0800 316 0194, bon-voyage.co.uk

Do you have a favoured long-stay spot? Tell us by adding a comment online at guardian.co.uk/travel

Palolem beach, Goa


Travel: The Big Trip: La dolce vita - all summer: Lara Dunston learns after a few summers that the best way to experience Italian life is to live like an Italian - in rented flats, rather than hotel rooms

By Lara Dunston

The first summer my husband and I went to Italy, we were young, poor backpackers. We did one of those "if it's Tuesday it must be Rome" holidays, visiting too many cities in too short a time, travelling by train, feasting on cheese and salami and cheap red wine, and staying in cheap but far from cheerful two-star hotels. We loved it all the same.

I remember catching the vaporetto down Venice's Grand Canal, gazing up at the obviously more affluent tourists sipping prosecco in glasses (not plastic cups) on palazzo terraces (not windowsills), and I think I actually sighed. I know I thought: "We're going to holiday like that one day."

Smitten with Italy - particularly with its fantastic food - we returned, each time staying longer. We hired a car and drove around, spending longer - several days, sometimes a week - in each place. But still we stayed in hotels, albeit nicer ones. We were a little older, but not yet wiser - because in Italy extra euros might get you a better bathroom and glassware, but it doesn't always buy extra space. We didn't yet realise we could be renting an apartment for a fraction of the price.

We began to seek out more interesting, idiosyncratic and intimate hotels. And that's when we started to think about how we really like to travel. In Italy, small boutique hotels are often on back streets, tucked into forgotten corners of quaint, quiet neighbourhoods. It's amazing what a difference location makes: being in those out-of-the-way spots gave us a taste for everyday life beyond postcard images of washing on balconies and old people gossiping on park benches.

The next year, we took things a step further, booking a studio in a centuries-old palazzo in Venice that I found on an estate agent's website. Located at the end of a skinny alleyway, slap-bang between Cannaregio and Castello, two of Venice's least touristy sestieri (districts), it really felt like a secret. We had to convert our sofa into a bed each night, the bathroom was bigger than the kitchen, and we didn't have that terrace I coveted. In fact, our two tiny balconies weren't much bigger than the two-star windowsills where we'd sipped vino years earlier. But there were frescoes on the walls, antique candelabra, and the Rialto market with its fresh produce was a stroll away.

Each afternoon gondolas would glide down our picturesque little canal with camera-snapping tourists who had no hesitation including us in their pictures. Did they envy us sitting up there with our tumblers of table wine from a hole-in-the-wall shop around the corner where staff filled our empty one-litre water bottles from a wooden barrel for two euros? We didn't care. We got more of a thrill out of saying buongiorno to the guys who manoeuvred their small barges down the same canal to collect our rubbish twice a week.

Ironically, it was participating in the routines and rituals of everyday life - taking the rubbish out, shopping in the markets and cooking, the very things we usually go on holiday to avoid - that gave us the biggest kick. They afforded us an insight into local life that you don't get as tourists. We were hooked.

We spent a summer in Milan in an flat overlooking the Naviglio Grande canal - an arty neighbourhood quiet until after dark, when intrepid foodies descended on the local aperitivo bars and trattorias. That was fine, because we were the ones living there, participating in the locals' early evening sipping and snacking ritual every single day. As in Venice, we took our cues from the little old ladies pulling their vinyl shopping trollies when it came to deciding which specialist vendors to frequent and what produce to buy. And it delighted us no end that our favourite cheese-seller took pride in teaching us how to order in Italian, little by little, each day.

Another year we stayed in a trullo, a whitewashed, conical house among olive groves just outside Alberobello in Puglia. Our caretaker, Maria, would turn up unannounced to hang a bunch of semi-dried tomatoes from the ceiling of our charming little kitchen or show us how to stoke the wood-fired oven attached to the home. One day she brought a wooden board, a rolling pin and a colossal bag of flour and taught us how to make fresh pasta and pizza. We insisted she call her family to come over and we all feasted together by candlelight next to the pizza oven.

But it was our last summer in Venice that was the most memorable. We finally graduated to a sprawling palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal - even if the mezzanine-level bedroom looked like it had been added in the 1970s, the crockery was of the same era, and the wallpaper was peeling. We stocked the fridge with prosecco, Aperol and Campari, and established our own ritual. Each evening we stood at our window - no, we still didn't have a terrace - and sipped our homemade spritz while watching the vaporetto cruise by. And we sighed.

Captions:

Lara Dunston laying the table outside her Puglian trullo

The beach near Colonsay Estate

Ravel district flat, Barcelona


Travel: UK: KEVIN'S UNSUNG CORNERS OF BRITAIN: WENLOCK EDGE, SHROPSHIRE

By Kevin Rushby

Before embarking on a big walk I pay my respects to the local gods. Venturing into a little-known corner, you do all you can to avoid disaster. So in Much Wenlock Museum I bow down before the titan of sport and fitness: William Penny Brookes, who helped revive the Olympic ideal in the late 19th century, and badgered parliament about physical education in state schools. He seems an appropriate spirit to conjure before a 20-mile hike.

At this fine little museum I come across others worthy of propitiating. There's Roderick Murchison, who invented the term Silurian - the geological period, not the Doctor Who monster, and Tim King, curator of the museum and tireless praise-singer of Much Wenlock. He shows me the fetters for criminals under the Guildhall, and grooves in the church walls worn by medieval bowmen sharpening their arrows for battles such as Agincourt and Crecy.

With these sights duly noted I set off with my companion, Wilf the dog. There are two long-distance paths to choose from: the Shropshire Way and the Jack Mytton Way. We choose the latter and are soon deep into flower-strewn beech woods. Wenlock Edge is a ridge, but you are almost always in woods. Views are few and far between. The first, and most famous, is Major's Leap, where . . . No, I'll get to that story later. The second is Ippikin's Rock, named for a robber knight whose treasure is said to be buried in the woods. Wilf tries digging it up, but gets distracted by rabbits.

We switch to the Shropshire Way to enjoy views of Brown Clee, the highest hill in Shropshire. It is said that looking east from the top at 540m, the next geographical feature of such height is in the Ural mountains.

After about eight miles and in incessant rain, we reach Wilderhope Manor (nationaltrust.org.uk/wilderhope-manor), a youth hostel in a perfectly preserved Elizabethan manor complete with oak spiral staircases and walls thicker than Henry VIII, built in the 1580s for one Francis Smallman.

It was his descendant, Thomas, who, returning from battle to find his house looted by Oliver Cromwell's men, set off in pursuit and recaptured his possessions. On the way back he met a larger group of parliamentarians, who held him prisoner in his own house. He used a secret cubby hole to escape and rode out along the Edge. As his pursuers got close he spurred his horse over the cliff and landed in a crab apple tree. His steed was killed but he limped off and made it back to the Royalist army. Hence the name Major's Leap.

The hostel has bunk beds, decent showers, food and bottled beers. Next day the sun comes out and the woods burst into life. Buzzards swoop and a badger crashes away into bushes, pursued by Wilf, who returns looking like he's been given a left hook.

These flowery beech woods are about as beautiful as you could hope to find. Shropshire may not have a single acre of national park but almost a quarter of the county is classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. That clunky title would not have pleased AE Housman, whose epic 1896 poem cycle A Shropshire Lad made him a bestseller.

On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble

His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;

The gale, it plies the saplings double

And thick on Severn snow the leaves

Finally, after eight more miles, the track drops towards the town of Craven Arms. I've spent two days in the woods, scarcely seeing another human, except at Wilderhope, and feel as though I might have been in the Urals.

Craven Arms has the renowned and wonderfully quirky Land of Lost Content Museum (lolc.org.uk), but I'd suggest a north turn and a finish in far prettier Church Stretton, especially if you plan to stop a night. This also allows a connection to the weekend Wenlock Wanderer bus service.

Kevin Rushby

* See shropshirehillsaonb.co.uk. The Wenlock Wanderer (shropshirehillsshuttles.co.uk, no 781) runs until 29 Sept at weekends and bank holiday Mondays. Dorm beds at Wilderhope Manor (0845 371 9149, yha.org.uk/hostel/wilderhope) cost from pounds 18. OS Explorer 217 (ISBN: 978-0319237656, pounds 7.99) covers Kevin's route

Captions:

Down dale . . . (clockwise from above) Hope Dale seen from Wenlock Edge; Wilderhope Manor; lambs on the Shropshire Way


Travel: Readers' Tips...Cheap Holidays In Italy

By Guardian readers

Amalfi Coast

Positano

Rifugio Degli Dei is a family-run farmhouse that you'll only find after walking up 100 or so very steep steps - the view, the warm welcome, the beautiful apartments and the spectacular food (freshly made by mamma from produce grown on site) is worth the exhausting climb.

+39 339 839 0809, rifugiodeglidei.it. Rooms from euros 40 B&B per person

prateekbuch

Liguria

Bussana Vecchia

This is a sun-drenched hilltop village that was devastated by an earthquake in 1887 and brought back to life by a colony of artists who settled here in the 1960s. It has a unique hippy charm, stunning architecture and artist ateliers. Go there now, and you may be able to check out - for free, however donations are appreciated - one of the largest model railways in Italy, with hundreds of metres of tracks winding through tiny stations and mountains. To find it ask locals for the plastico ferroviario, or follow the signs if you are lucky enough to find them. There are also a couple of B&Bs in town, with rooms starting from euros 70. Drive down the hill and you will find some of the best beaches in the area.

robbielondon

Abruzzo

Serramonacesca

Try self-catering with a difference in the beautiful, unspoilt Abruzzo. Bring your own tent or rent one of the gorgeous resident canvas bell tents, sleep in "Rosemary", the retired VW camper van, or select one of the in-house self-catering options. Climb, walk, bike, swim or chill amid the spectacular foothills of the Apennines, with the Adriatic's undiscovered beaches less than 40 minutes away. Serramonesca is two hours from Rome and easily accessible by rail.

+39 333 4636075, kokopellicamping.co.uk, camping from euros 20 a night for two

jillap

Piedmont

Cuneo

La Randoulina is a great slow-food restaurant in the Valle Staura, west of Cuneo. There is no menu, or prices, but they ask your preference of fish or meat, or if you're vegetarian; then they start bringing food to your table. Delicious local food: boar pate, steak tartar, aubergine tart, just for your starters. The bill came to euros 40 for one including a bottle of Nebbiolo d'Alba. Not cheap, but good value for seven or eight courses.

larandoulina.com

relator

Venice

Al Bocon di Vino and Bacareto da Lele

These must be the cheapest drinks in Venice. Wine sells for 80 cents a glass at the Bacareto, and you can have a glass of prosecco for euros 2 at the Bocon. You buy at the bar and there is limited seating at the Bocon, while at the Bacareto you sit on the stepped area at the edge of the canal. Bacareto is in Campo dei Tolentini in Santa Croce, and Bocon is in Campo Santa Margharita, Dorsoduro.

albocondivino.it

logie88

Villaggio Europa, Grado

Grado is a sunny, sandy peninsula between Venice and Trieste. The best campsite is Villaggio Europa, which has its own stretch of beach, a water park, and chalets sleeping six from euros 62 a night.

+39 0431 80877, villaggioeuropa.com

lizbou

Youth hostels

I travelled the length of Italy on my motorbike. Because I was on my own and wanted company in the evenings, each night I stayed in a youth hostel. This turned out to be a great idea and, besides having different people to chat with, I stayed in splendid buildings and ate authentic food. And of course, they're incredibly cheap. Some can be tricky to find: I had no satnav so spent a lot of time asking for directions.

hihostels.com

johnboy47

Winning tip Camping Fusina, Venice

For the design-conscious on a budget, Camping Fusina, created in 1959 by the modernist architect Carlo Scarpa, offers inexpensive camping with a view (and ferries) across the lagoon to Venice (from euros 8.50 a night for a tent to euros 92 for a mobile home). The channel just offshore treats you to a close-up of passing ships en route to Porto Marghera, Venice's industrial secret.

+ 39 041 5470055, camping-fusina.com kessel

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a two-person Jack Wolfskin Eclipse II dome tent worth pounds 140

The Jack Wolfskin Eclipse II is a

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THE GUIDE

The Guide

FEATURES

World Of Lather 4 Filipa Jodelka on who's miserable now in soapland.

TV OD 7 High jinks inside Swansea's third-biggest call centre.

Music 8 Egos, evolution and Elton John: Josh Homme's QOTSA return.

Film 12 30 Rock star Judah Friedlander's celeb trucker hats.

TV 14 Could this show be the new Homeland? Meet The Americans.

Infomania 82 Tilda Swinton.


The Guide: THIS WEEK THE CALL CENTRE

*"We have a motto here," booms Nev Wilshire, twirling ruminatively in his executive swivel chair. "Happy people sell. Miserable bastards don't. So smile as you dial. Right?" Right. Nev is in charge of the third-largest call centre in Swansea. It's a "bloody good" operation, he tells us in the first episode of The Call Centre (Tuesday, 9pm, BBC3), a cheery, snark-free docusoap that follows this deskbound philosopher and his telesales dreamweavers as they interrupt a grateful nation's dinner with calls about PPI refunds and competitively priced cavity wall insulation.

Nev has a head for business and a body for eating scotch eggs hunched over a bin with the blinds closed. He wears brown polyester suits and wants you to call him Uncle Nev. He's 53. Among the self-confessed workaholic's arsenal of motivational buzzphrases are "Swallow that frown" and "Proper planning prevents piss-poor performance" ("PPPPPP!"). While Nev David Brents around the call centre, tickling shift managers and forcing single mothers into headlocks, we meet his employees: an amiable, unpretentious bunch who take a philosophical approach to the astonishing levels of abuse heaped upon them by a largely unappreciative public.

"I'm always being told to fuck off," chuckles Jenni. "It's actually quite funny."

"An old woman once told me she hoped I get killed," adds a man called, inexplicably, Chickenhead. "I thought that was a bit much!"

In a bid to ward off lethargy, Nev organises an array of in-no-way-suggested-by-the-production-team stunts, including speed-dating, Elvis karaoke and clopping across the car park on a horse. Other highlights of this week's opener include: Nev presenting ditzy tea lady Hayley with a new urn, Nev kicking a man with a neck beard up the arse, and Nev leading a singalong at the world's least comfortable staff induction ("Mr Brightside. The Killers. Go.").

"What a character," blurts a startled new employee, seconds after Nev grabs her and charges through the office bellowing, "Good-looking Welsh girl coming throoooough!" while everyone makes faintly weary gestures of encouragement from behind their mugs. "Seems like a good guy," she says, warily. "Um, you know, unless. . ." A pause. "Unless he doesn't stop." And herein squats the problem. Clearly, Nev will never stop. Nev-er. The Wilshire Chuckle OffensiveTM has no off switch. When his telesales empire finally hits an iceberg and the last PPI cold call is outsourced to India/Micronesia/Gallifrey, Nev will still be there, moonwalking defiantly past rows of overturned seats and press-ganging the dust on Hayley's tea urn into a deafening rendition of Sex On Fire. He's exhausting. Everyone who enters the nork's orbit leaves it dazed and slightly deflated, like balloon animals tossed from a speeding clown car. Shy? Introspective? Not hugely keen on having your private life turned into a punchline by a man who buckles his trousers around his thighs? "No room for quiet ones here," roars the enormous Welshman, crashing into your insecurities in his Ford Banter, then reversing over them, twice, while shouting, "Don't yawn when Nev's speaking or he will throw things at you, such as a rissole," for good measure.

There's a fine line between spirited joshing and bullying, and Nev's using it to floss his teeth. Still, his staff seem to like him. Or they're at least resigned to his wrecking ball approach to interpersonal relationships.

"If you're stuck in life he'll help you out," says Hayley, as Nev pulls comedy "Ooh, get her" faces behind her back.

"He is awful," sighs Kayleigh over footage of

Nev hugging her so tightly her nose goes all squishy and her glasses get dislodged. "But what can you do?"

You could denounce it as yet another sentimentalised gander at yet another unremarkable UK workplace. But it's easier to swallow that frown, grab a rissole and join in *


The Guide: AMERICAN LIE

Joe Weisberg was working on sci-fi show Falling Skies in Los Angeles in October 2010 when he heard that the FBI had arrested a group of Russian intelligence service spies posing as Americans. The next thing he knew his phone was ringing.

"The two heads of DreamWorks television called me," said Weisberg, who is in the rare position of being a TV executive that has also trained as a CIA operative."They knew I'd been in the CIA and that I'd produced and written a previous TV pilot with them, based on the CIA station in Bulgaria. When those illegals were arrested, they asked me if I'd be interested in basing a show on it. That was the genesis of this story."

The show is The Americans, a nail-

biting depiction of 1981 cold-war Washington that's the most talked-about drama on US television this year. The story centres on a seemingly upstanding couple (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) who live in the suburbs of Washington DC, with their two beautiful children. The only complication? These Americans are actually Soviets.

The show has been such a smash hit that it was renewed for a second season at an unheard-of speed. Fans have been calling it the new Homeland, and - as with Homeland - The Americans has us rooting for the antiheroes. The FBI is the enemy here, it seems. But, of course, nothing is quite that simple, and there are twists throughout its 13 episodes.

When Weisberg began writing The Americans, the Soviet Union was long gone, but the moles had stayed. They'd proved to be so useful that Russian intelligence services kept using them even after the cold war was over. Weisberg began his research here, looking at the lifestyles of the 10 agents who were arrested as part of what was known as the Illegals Program in 2010, among them the glamorous (but supposedly ineffectual) Anna Chapman. But he decided to go back in time, to the period when sleeper agents were useful during the 1980s arms race.

Rhys and Russell play Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, independent operatives who were sent to the United States as young "married" agents. By the time the story begins they have been in place for well over 10 years and have two children aged 13 and 10. The show depicts their domestic life, as well as the usual parked car and park bench meetings fans of cold war spy stories are used to.

"The difference between the Jennings and regular Russian intelligence workers is that they don't work out of an embassy or anything like that," explains Weisberg. "They have much better, deeper cover and therefore they've the potential to

be much more dangerous and effective."

Unlike their real-life counterparts, who, at that time, took up jobs with defence contractors or military research companies, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings run a small travel agency (the in-joke being that travel services are a common cover for American CIA operatives). In another departure from the mostly mundane activities performed by real-life agents, the Jennings are cold-blooded killers.

The show begins with a night-time chase set to the soundtrack of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. This is the kind of detail that American viewers have appreciated. They wonder what brand of jeans Keri Russell's character would have worn, whether the Pac Man shown is authentic, even if the phrase "hit the pause button" was said back then (it was).

"The period stuff is very important," says Joel Fields, who executive produces the show with Weisberg. "We both grew up in that period. It's been a challenge to find a style for the show without it looking overly stylised."

Everyone connected to the production has found the research compelling, including its male star Matthew Rhys, whose character has fallen in love with the country he is "at war" with. "Philip becomes slightly intoxicated with the more materialistic elements of the US," says Rhys. "The Soviet Union he would have grown up in was an incredibly bleak and stark place. It kind of fed into the justification of why he loves America so much." Watch Philip's face as he sings The Star Spangled Banner at his son's school in an early episode, and you'll get a sense of the conflict Rhys is aiming to convey: "It's an actor's dream, because you're playing parts within parts."

The true star of the show, however, is Keri Russell, formerly known to audiences as Felicity in the JJ Abrams series of the same name, but now portraying a woman who is both beautiful and ruthless. "What interests me about her is the fact that, in a relationship, she is the one who is least likely to cry," says Russell. "In contrast to a lot of things I've done in the past, it feels so relaxing to not have to be charming." Russell even jokes that she wishes she were more like her character in real life. "Her objectives are very clear. To me, she feels very honourable. Her right thing may be very different to other people's right thing, but that is what she believes in."

Some critics in the States have complained that Russell's character swings too drastically from femme fatale to domestic goddess, seducing then betraying her targets, only to return home in time for dinner. But that is exactly why she makes a good double agent. In The Americans, it's the juxtaposition of murder and treason with the trivia of daily life that creates the dramatic tension. Sandwiches are made, kids go to school, laundry is washed and folded. Like Homeland, it's the surface normality that slowly draws you in. Yet nothing is quite what it seems and no one can be trusted.

Those sandwiches can kill *

The Americans starts Saturday, 10pm, ITV

≥⃒


The Guide: film: As Steven Soderbergh's Liberace epic goes straight from Cannes to HBO, John Patterson reckons that Hollywood's loss is the small screen's gain

* Well, this is nice. The new Steven Soderbergh movie rocks Cannes on Tuesday and here's me enjoying it the following Sunday evening on HBO. I usually have to wait a few months, not four days, to see the big contenders for Palme d'Or-related bling, but Behind The Candelabra, the kitschily gruesome story of Liberace and his lover Scott Thorson, hit my TV screen before anyone knew if it had won anything at Cannes.

There's been some controversy about why a movie with performances that were worthy of a win at Cannes - Michael Douglas is a riot and a revelation as the flamboyant pianist - can't also be eligible for nods at the Academy Awards. To which I'd say: so what? Did you see what won Best Picture this year? Do you even remember what won last year? Oscar envy is a waste of time in this instance, as no studio stepped up to back it, presumably because they figured the Red States wouldn't take to its central gay relationship or its queasy 70s Vegas excess. In any case, they had already endured Brokeback Mountain.

That reluctance is sadly reminiscent of the old studios' near-total reticence on racial matters until the late 1960s, for fear of alienating the Jim Crow moviegoers of the Deep South. Hollywood congratulated itself to death over Brokeback Mountain, years after Will & Grace had put a gay man smack-dab in the centre of the primetime lineup and the American living room. The studios are still like the Republicans on gay issues, actively hostile or paying lip-service of the wrong sort; TV is, like the Democrats, open-minded but not unmindful of expanding the demographics and upping the profit margin. All of which suggests that Soderbergh and Douglas should forget about Oscars and start valuing Emmys, those things they give to Mad Men, The Sopranos and The Wire, and not to fluff like Argo.

Are we near the moment when the initiative in American film-making passes from movies to television? TV is getting all the respect these days, and absolutely deserves it. While the studios are fixated on tumescent pubescents and the Comic-Con demographic, cable TV is remembering the rest of us, normals and weirdos alike. And, let's face it, the moviegoing experience has entirely lost any glamour it ever had and become just another fast-food experience.

Soderbergh, never a cinematic purist, has no qualms about the small screen, or with rapid releases. He's had fun on HBO before with K Street, and Bubble was released on DVD four days after its cinema/HDTV release. "Most of the stuff I'm looking forward to seeing is on TV now," he said last week. And with David Fincher directing House Of Cards for Netflix, it may soon be that TV and its web variants will welcome even more directors from what was always considered the senior branch of US film-making. Not for much longer, I fear *

Captions:

As seen on TV: Michael Douglas in the straight-to-HBO Behind The Candelabra


The Guide: Coming soon: Out now: Out from Friday

* Byzantium (15) (Neil Jordan, 2013, UK/US/Ire) Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Sam Riley. 118 mins.

There might be little left to say about vampires, but genre veteran Jordan has a better right (and better actors) than most to say it. This tale of two 200-year-old women hiding out in a coastal town is more mature and less gory than most offerings.

* The Big Wedding (15) (Justin Zackham, 2013, US) Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl. 89 mins.

The bigger they are, the harder they are to laugh at in this formulaic wedding farce, whose flatlining gags and crass stereotypes

give lazy Hollywood remakes of French

romcoms a bad name.

* Populaire (12A) (Regis Roinsard, 2012, Fra) Deborah Francois, Romain Duris. 111 mins.

A secretary's lightning typing skills whisk her to competitive fame and potential romance with her boss in this lightweight French comedy.

* The Purge (15) (James DeMonaco, 2013, US) Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane. 85 mins.

A home-invasion thriller built on the shaky premise of an annual America-wide criminal free-for-all, an unfeasibly short-sighted policy that at least benefits film-makers looking for a novel twist.

* Blood (15) (Nick Murphy, 2012, UK) Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham, Mark Strong. 88 mins.

A murder investigation leads two police brothers to cross the line, then cross each other, in this adaptation of TV drama Conviction. The small-screen origins show, but the cast is solid and the moral conundrum juicy.

* Everybody Has A Plan (15) (Ana Piterbarg, 2012, Arg/Spa/Ger) Viggo Mortensen, Soledad Villamil. 118 mins.

A double, Spanish-speaking role for Mortensen in this moody Argentinian noir, playing a trapped city doctor who assumes the identity of his rural twin brother, and inherits his shady criminal past.

* No One Lives (18) (Ryuhei Kitamura, 2012, US) Luke Evans, Adelaide Clemens, Derek Magyar. 86 mins.

A gang of backwoods hicks kidnap the wrong couple in this genre-mashing horror-thriller; less a proper story than a gleefully gruesome game of cat and mouse.

* Man To Man (18) (John Maybury, 1992, UK) Tilda Swinton. 72 mins.

Pre-Orlando Swinton plays a German woman who poses as her dead husband in this film version of a one-woman/man play.

* Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (PG) (Ayan Mukherjee, 2013, Ind) Ranbir Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Aditya Roy Kapoor. 159 mins.

Thrill-seeking guy meets studious girl in a Bollywood romance.

The Comedian (15) (Tom Shkolnik, 2012, UK) Edward Hogg, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. 79 mins.

There's an uncanny degree of naturalism to this downbeat sketch of a lost London soul, confused over his sexuality, his faltering stand-up career and his place in life. It was made with a Dogme-like set of rules encouraging spontaneous improvisation in real locales. The result is somewhere between Mike Leigh and mumblecore, a meandering slice of life that often hits the truth.

* In two weeks. . . Can Henry Cavill cut it as the Man Of Steel?. . . Joss Whedon updates Much Ado About Nothing. . .

* In three weeks. . . Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reunite for Before Midnight. . . Brad Pitt v zombies in World War Z. . .

* In a month. . . James Franco, Seth Rogen and the Apocalypse in This Is The End. . . Steve Carrell is a force for good in Despicable Me 2. . .

* The Stone Roses: Made Of Stone Shane Meadows documents the band's resurrection. Out from Wed

* Behind The Candelabra Fresh from Cannes, Michael Douglas's triumphant Liberace turn.

* After Earth Will and Jaden Smith play father

and son stuck on our

post-apocalyptic planet.

* Therese Desqueyroux Audrey Tautou plays an unhappily married woman in 1920s France (pictured).

* The Iceman Michael Shannon stars alongside Winona Ryder, playing

an assassin masquerading

as a family man.

* Come As You Are Three disabled Belgian men

travel to Spain in search of sexual gratification.

* 009 Re: Cyborg Superhero-like cyborgs

save the Earth in this Japanese anime.

* The Last Exorcism: Part II Cash-in sequel to the hit 2010 possession horror.

* Aguirre, Wrath Of God Vintage Herzog, with Klaus Kinski as a megalomaniac conquistador with very poor man-management skills.


The Guide: UK green film festival Nationwide

Sponsored by Friends Of The Earth, and taking place in 17 venues around the UK, this festival brings a clutch of environmentally themed documentaries to public attention, split between problems and solutions. On the problem side, Swiss director Markus Imhoof accompanies his authoritative, up-close documentary More Than Honey, on the dwindling global bee population, Jeremy Irons wages war on waste in Trashed, and there's free speech vs corporate might in Big Boys Gone Bananas. More heartening are Valley Of Saints (pictured), a docudrama highlighting the natural beauty and political volatility of Kashmir, eco-road trip Solar Taxi and lyrical futurology doc Future My Love. Each feature is preceded by a short. sr

Various venues,

Sat to 8 Jun, ukgreenfilmfestival.org


The Guide: Seasons In The Sun: The Heyday Of Nikkatsu Studios London

Think of postwar Japanese cinema and you think of Kurosawa, Ozu, and other greats. What you don't think of is girl gangs, go-go dancers and fetishistic hitmen. The west got the arthouse movies, but in the 50s and 60s Japanese audiences were getting their own brand of popular cinema, influenced by American youth movies, gangster flicks, the French New Wave, you name it. Spearheaded by the Nikkatsu studio, it was a time of unbridled experimentation, and this is just about your first chance to see it. Seijun Suzuki's surreal gangster thriller Branded To Kill is probably the best known film here, but there's the girl-gang flick Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, Godardian call-girl drama Monday Girl (pictured); and Pigs And Battleships, Shohei Imamura's drama set on a US naval base. steve rose

BFI Southbank, SE1, Sat to 30 Jun, bit.ly/NikkatsuBFI


The Guide: Terracotta Far East Film festival London

As a sampler for current trends in east Asian cinema, this festival is almost spoilt for choice; hence the 13 UK premieres from Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, China and South Korea. Indonesia comes under special focus in the second half of this festival, led by top director Garin Nugroho presenting his latest, The Blindfold (pictured), a study of radical Islam. Elsewhere, there's a horror all-nighter, Cold War is a Hong Kong crime thriller in an Infernal Affairs vein, from Korea come domestic teen smashes A Werewolf Boy and Young Gun In The Time, and Japan's Sion Sono brings Fukushima-influenced nuclear drama The Land Of Hope. sr

Prince Charles Cinema, WC2 & ICA, SW1,

Thu to 15 Jun, terracottafestival.com


The Guide: The Fog London

As if a screening of a seminal horror movie in a spooky location wasn't enough, this event is also a format-junkie's wet-dream. Cigarette Burns presents a rare chance to watch a 16mm full-Cinemascope print, with mood-enhancing music from "KAB Radio" (it makes sense if you've seen the movie). What's more, punters will be first in line to buy Death Waltz records' new super collectable reissue of Carpenter's own splendidly doomful synth soundtrack, with original cover artwork by

Dinos Chapman. sr

The Nave, N1, Fri,

bit.ly/NaveFog


The Guide: Also out

Wreck-It Ralph

Blu-ray & DVD, Disney

It's usual for CGI animated movies to chuck in a few vintage pop culture references to keep the oldies in the audience awake; this one has so many you'd think it was being targeted at the over-30s. It's basically Toy Story with computer games, though due to the ephemeral nature of video games there aren't equivalents of an Etch A Sketch or a Mr & Mrs Potato Head. Once technology moves on, so does gaming fashion, so this movie is stuffed with characters that were loved in an era when computing bits could be counted on fingers: Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Paperboy, Frogger, even the no-rez paddles from primitive tennis game Pong are included. It's in this herky jerky world (the old sprites still move like 8-bit characters) that we meet Wreck-It Ralph, a video villain (perfectly voiced by John C Reilly) who is tired of his lot and leaves the confines of his game to explore the more popular modern machines he's nestled alongside. Then the film expands to take in more modern games with plenty of wit: the kart-racing release Sugar Rush is an eye-popping riot of sickly candy colours and soppy names, the space soldier shoot 'em-up Hero's Duty is dark, violent and scary. It's a sweet, funny movie, with decent values and a simple message about being yourself; it also manages to cover the entire history of video games. Who knows, maybe children will like it, too. phelim o'neill

* Veep: The Complete First Season Sharp, funny, beautifully performed political comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which everyone gave a hard time because it's not called

The Thick Of It. Their loss.

Blu-ray & DVD, Warner

* The Long Riders Walter Hill's gutsy western casting actual siblings as the notorious James/Younger gang.

Blu-ray, Second Sight

* Flight Denzel as a guilt-ridden, drug-addled airline pilot, a return to live action serious drama

from Robert Zemeckis.

Blu-ray & DVD, Paramount

* True Blood: Season Five Vampire show improves

by concentrating on vampires for a change.

Blu-ray & DVD, Warner


The Guide: music: Choir practice with Gaggle. Theo Parrish's techno 101. Applied ambience with Brian Eno. Ruth Saxelby salutes the artists sharing their knowledge

*Time was when a band's extracurricular activies were confined to guzzling riders and trashing hotel rooms. Today, a new generation of conscientious musicians are swapping self-indulgence for skill-sharing. For 20-strong female choir Gaggle, it was a no-brainer. "We always got asked what we'd do next," says founder Deborah Coughlin. "I used to say, 'Well, we could do anything we want to. We could do a shop, we could be a political party, we could set up our own newspaper.'" Phase one, however, is extending their proactive approach to the general public via a series of workshops on everything from millinery to body percussion to setting up a feminist choir for boys, so they can have the Gaggle experience, too. "You don't need any experience, you just need to want to do it," says Deborah of their six-week Gaggle Cave venture.

Central to the offering are two entry-level studio and live sound engineering courses aimed at women. It's an admirable attempt to redress an imbalance the choir have witnessed throughout their career. "We'd only had one female sound engineer up until this year. We'd never met a female producer or studio engineer."

Gaggle should swap notes with the Knife. Recent album Shaking The Habitual attacked the male-dominated music discourse, and the Swedish duo have been walking it like they talk it this past couple of years by teaching at Popkollo camp for girls in Sweden. "We hope there will be more girls behind the mixing desks, in the DJ booths, by the synth controllers and by the computer composing!" they enthused.

Back in London, Plan B recently talked about discovering "a sense of purpose", supplementing his socially conscious rap career by helping disadvantaged kids find an alternative route into learning with his new trust, Each One Teach One. Also on a philanthropic tip is Detroit techno great Theo Parrish, who recently led a music production masterclass to raise funds for the Steve Reid Foundation. Taking to the podium, Brian Eno and Erykah Badu were two of the icons giving public lectures at Red Bull Music Academy in New York this year. Nocturnal storytellers the xx will be doing their bit to help budding music journalists as part of a Guardian Masterclass at their new Night + Day festival. And physical education is offered by South Africa's Shangaan Electro, whose dancers will lead workshops across the UK this summer to give curious feet the chance to master their high-speed moves.

While music has always brought people together, in these uncertain times it's encouraging to see today's bands go one step further. For Deborah, it's really very simple: "Gaggle's about energy and coming together and sharing with each other our experiences and skills. That's what we do as a group: we help each other out."

Gaggle Cave runs to 22 Jun, see gaggle.tv; find out more about the xx's masterclass at guardian.co.uk/guardian-masterclasses


The Guide: BOOKING NOW

By lanre bakare

Ghostpoet (pictured) is just about to set off on his More Light tour in support of album Some Say I So I Say Light (27 May-15 Jun, tour starts with an in-store at Rise, Bristol, 1pm, wegottickets.com). See him at some presumably well-lit venues soon . . . Things will be a bit darker at the latest Numbers warehouse party, which welcomes special guest Legowelt playing live, with Numbers residents Spencer and Jackmaster supporting (22 Jun, Bussey Building, SE15, residentadvisor.net) . . . If a day out in the fresh air is more your thing then Chagstock might be up your street with the Boomtown Rats headlining with support from Mystery Jets and Billy Bragg (19-20 Jul, Whiddon Down, Dartmoor, chagstock.info) . . . If that's a bit too wholesome then Bingley Music Live welcomes disco pioneers Nile Rodgers And Chic, plus the scuzzy rock of Primal Scream and the Cribs (30 Aug-1 Sep, Myrtle Park, Bingley, bingleymusiclive.com) . . . Finally, Hard Rock Calling has a chalk and cheese approach to its headliners: one is all-time great Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, while the other is Kasabian (29-30 Jun, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, E20, hardrockcalling.co.uk).

lanre bakare


The Guide: Paul MacInnes This week's new tracks

*PICK OF THE WEEK

Foxygen No Destruction (Jagjaguwar) Foxygen love the Rolling Stones like your mum loves cake. They love the Stones intensely, at unusual times of the day, and quite often smear them on their faces. Fortunately, their love is also playful. With No Destruction, you get a song that sounds like Sweet Virginia on the wonk; a stoned choirboy vocal crooning weirdo lyrics about meeting his grandmother, who lost her hands in the war. A duo from LA who have a touch of the psychedelic about them, Foxygen are a cool new band who've been around for a few years. Which, by the way, is a Foxymoron.

Bastille Laura Palmer (Virgin)

God, this is horrible. It's like the soundtrack to a deleted scene from Star Trek: Voyager. So much bombast you could fill a truck with it, enough torrid emoting to boil a sea, all topped by a heart-swelling chorus that will inspire a generation. Inspire a generation to refrain from breeding, that is. "If you had your gun", asks singer Dan Smith of these successful Coldplay wannabes, "would you shoot it at the sky?" No Dan, I think I would aim it someplace a little more tender.

Misty Miller Next To You (Sony)

Of all the videos I have watched this week, most have been set in smalltown America. It really is true. Despite being incredibly boring to look at, there's been skinny dogs, pick-up trucks, and either forests or Mexicans all over the place. Eighteen-year-old Brit Misty Miller is the notable exception. Throughout this roistering four minutes of teenage kicking, the video keeps showing her weeping on an A-road flyover. From these scenes, we realise not only that the UK has a perfectly decent transport network, but also that Misty is not some phoney baloney. She's a real girl. She backs this up with an exasperated list of all the considerate things she's done for her boy, only for him to pay no attention. The boy is patently a fool. Or playing the long game, one of the two.

Kowton And What (Broadwalk)

I don't think this is out this week, and I haven't a clue when it will be, so really I'm just writing this to get back at the Soundcloud commenters who said it was rubbish when, in fact,

it's highly badass bass-driven techno that sounds like the AGM of the Samurai Robot Society.

Phillip Phillips Home (Interscope)

It's about time America made its own Mumford & Sons, that banjo business being nicked from them in the first place, after all. And so here he is: Phillip Phillips, 5' 11" of all-American lunk, clad in plaid and whooping him up some old-time musical fervour.

The song is utterly banal, of course, and could even come over a bit - to coin a phrase - phoney baloney. Fortunately, Phillips won last year's American Idol, so any fears of this being a machine-tooled money-spinning exercise can be put to bed right this very minute *


The Guide: Grant Hart Galway, Sligo

In Husker Du, Grant Hart supplied the pop, while it was left to the band's frontman, Bob Mould to provide the gravitas. Since that band's disastrous break-up in the late 80s, the two have essentially swapped positions, Mould becoming ever more pop in his ambitions (culminating with Modulate, his disco-rock album of 2002) and Hart edging towards ever more esoteric rock. He still has plenty of tunes, but Hart's solo career has offered up an erratic, infrequent and, at times, downright shoddy selection of recordings. His latest album, The Argument, suggests a new chapter is beginning. An ambitious piece based on the fall of man, and drawing inspiration from Milton's Paradise Lost, it finds him sharing a label with the Arctic Monkeys, and writing high-concept pop that often sounds like a certain David Bowie, his eccentricity and melodicism both present and correct. jr

The Townhouse, Galway, Sun; McGarrigles, Sligo, Fri; touring to 18 Jun


The Guide: Jeff Williams UK Quintet London

By john fordham

Ohio-born Jeff Williams is the kind of drummer who energises bands without drawing attention to himself. After a long career on the American scene in which he performed with artists as classy as Stan Getz and Joe Lovano, and worked in Dave Liebman's pioneering 70s jazz-rock group Lookout Farm, Williams now splits his time between the US and Britain, and is as likely to be found in a London pub room jamming with students as he is propelling an A-list UK outfit like that of composer Mike Gibbs. He waited four decades to become a leader, but was widely praised for 2011's album Another Time, a cannily updated and very musical homage to Miles Davis's and Ornette Coleman's 60s groups.

john fordham

The Vortex, N16, Tue


The Guide: Olof Arnalds On tour

There's an argument that Olof Arnalds (cousin to the tasteful nu-classical guy Olafur Arnalds) might be playing a dangerous game. A singer-songwriter in the introspective, Nick Drake vein, her third album, Sudden Elevation, finds her abandoning Icelandic for English. Might the change reveal Arnalds to be a purveyor, rather than anything more interesting, of song ordinaire? As it turns out, while most of the reference points here are familiar to the point of being self-evident, there's still plenty to enjoy in the clarity of her voice and the deceptive simplicity of her arrangements. On the new record she reveals an interesting diction and good eye for detail,

a valuable commodity

in any language. jr

St John On Bethnal Green Church, E2, Tue; Broadcast, Glasgow, Wed; Takk, Manchester, Thu; Brighton Unitarian Church, Fri


The Guide: The Perfect American London

By andrew clements

No other contemporary opera composer comes close to matching Philip Glass's productivity. When it comes to commissions for new works, he's the hottest property around, and it's a real coup for English National Opera to have a share in The Perfect American - first performed in Madrid in January - following its outstanding production of his Satyagraha in 2007. In fact, The Perfect American, based upon Stefan Jungk's fictionalised account of the last months of Walt Disney's life, is being staged by Phelim McDermott, the director responsible for Satyagraha. His production was also seen at the Teatro Real earlier this year, and some of that cast are repeating their roles at the Coliseum. In particular Christopher Purves is once again the dying Disney, with Janis Kelly as Hazel George, his nurse, companion

and confidante.

andrew clements

Coliseum, WC2, Sat & Thu to 28 Jun


The Guide: Nicolas Meier Group On tour

Swiss guitarist Nicolas Meier made his mark with a world-jazz sound steeped in Turkish music, coloured by flat-out improv lines, catchy fusion grooves and

lyrical rhapsodies. He also found the perfect partner for voyages like these in the impassioned

sound of saxophonist

and clarinetist Gilad Atzmon. Journey, in 2010, took the trip further, and with this year's From Istanbul To Ceuta With A Smile, Meier imaginatively mingled jazz with oriental and flamenco songs and dance forms in a musical diary of his travels in Turkey and Spain. Atzmon is crucial to this chemistry once again, and the most striking episodes in the current repertoire are the ones that foreground the two of them, such as Memories, for Meier's late cousin, which throbs with Atzmon's emotional power on clarinet. jf

Beaver's Inn, Appledore, Mon; The Western Hotel, St Ives, Tue; Dempsey's Irish Bar, Cardiff, Wed; Fleece Jazz, Colchester, Fri; touring to 9 Jun


The Guide: Mudhoney On tour

A band of great wit and commitment, Mudhoney are for many the definitive grunge act. True enough, they never enjoyed a taste of the riches dropped at the feet of Nirvana or Pearl Jam, their closest cousins, and never enacted the emotional catharsis of the era. But this was still a band of extremity and dynamism, whose punk rock nous and sense of 70s excess remained in perfect alignment. Too smart for drugs, too wise to grab the quick buck, their endurance is a long-running adventure from

a time of depressingly short stories. jr

Concorde 2, Brighton, Tue; O2 ABC, Glasgow, Wed; O2 Academy, Newcastle upon Tyne, Thu; Academy, Manchester, Fri; touring to 10 Jun


The Guide: Games news

Famed for his enthusiasm and an unfortunate habit of getting carried away and promising slightly more than his development team could deliver, industry veteran Peter Molyneux has left Microsoft to set up an experimental games company, whose first title was Curiosity: What's Inside The Cube? In it, players collectively chipped away at a vast onscreen cube with a promise that there was a prize in the middle that only one of them could win, which would prove "life-changing". After tapping away 25bn little pieces of cube, players finally discovered what the mysterious object of their curiosity had been: the chance to be digital god of all other players in Molyneux's upcoming game, Godus. The winner will also receive a share

of profits, which, depending on its success, may or may not actually turn out to be life-changing. ng


The Guide: The Starship Damrey Nintendo 3DS

Your character wakes up with amnesia (a surprisingly common complaint in video games) on board a spaceship. Without instructions or advice of any kind, you have to figure out what's going on. The sparsity of its interface forces you to experiment, at first falteringly and eventually using the tools and items you discover in the ship. It's deliberately mysterious, but also feels oddly incomplete, with plenty remaining unexplained even after you finish. ng

Nintendo, pounds 7.19, 3DS eShop


The Guide: Frozen Synapse iPad

Frozen Synapse is a magnificently detailed strategy game that takes place only partially in real time. Your job is to micro-manage each five-second slice of action for your team of armed insurgents. You then watch the action unfold as a helpless observer, your carefully laid plans often going appallingly awry at the hands of unpredictable enemies. At the end of a hard-fought round, watching your plan's outcome is one of the most nail-biting five seconds you'll experience in videogames. With or without human opposition, it's a captivating process and one that translates to touchscreen. ng

Mode 7, pounds 4.99


The Guide: Grid 2 PS3 & Xbox

By nick gillett

Grid 2 goes back to basics with its approach to racing, which means no plot, no customisation and a soundtrack that only kicks in on the last lap of championship races, leaving tormented tyre rubber the sole accompaniment. Its races demand drifting: screeching semi-controlled power-slides around corners, with crash damage that affects your car's performance adding to the feeling of danger. From the mist that clings to forest roads, to the way exhaust pipes judder in their fittings, it's a beautiful game to look at, and one that delivers an absorbing sense of speed and competitive glory.

nick gillett

Codemasters, pounds 22-pounds 36


The Guide: Francesca Martinez: What The **** Is Normal?! On tour

Disability has moved from being a taboo subject in comedy to being a rich (if sometimes questionable) source of humour, with performers including Larry David and Ricky Gervais regularly milking laughs out of society's many anxieties on the topic. It's a kind of comedy that plays a big part in the (sat-down) stand-up of cerebral palsy sufferer Francesca Martinez, who finds the way other people react to what she describes as her "wobbliness" an endless source of comic delight. While her disability animates a lot of her material, she's much more interested in the hilarious minutiae of life rather than in making grand statements about equality and prejudice. Her latest show sees her embarking on a quest to find out whether there is such a thing as a normal person; and as if to prove that there isn't, she's accompanied by the resolutely abnormal topical comic Jeremy Hardy. james kettle

City Limits, Cork, Sat; Dolan's, Limerick, Thu; Whelan's, Dublin, Fri


The Guide: The World Champion: Judah Friedlander London, Edinburgh

It's testament to how much the world of US network sitcom has broadened its palate that it's found a place for Judah Friedlander. It's hard to imagine his 30 Rock character Frank Rossitano appearing in a primetime comedy in years gone by: a perpetually horny, wildly unattractive dirtbag with questionable hygiene and little personal morality, best known for wearing hats bearing suggestive phrases. Now that 30 Rock is done and dusted, Friedlander's bringing his stand-up set over to the UK. Live, he's got plenty in common with his sitcom alter ego (including the hats), being shambling and delightfully slackerish. He claims to be "World Champion" as well as master of martial arts, supreme athlete and sexual dynamo, despite the vast amount of overwhelming visual evidence to the contrary. Watching him, it's easy to work out what Tina Fey saw in his offbeat, blunt and overwhelmingly funny comic mindset. jk

Soho Theatre, W1, Tue to Thu; The Stand, Edinburgh, Fri


The Guide: Kevin Eldon London

People always talk about sketch shows being hit and miss, but Kevin Eldon's recent BBC2 series It's Kevin was hit and miss in the right way: with such a high level of creative ambition, it was inevitable that not everything would come off. But when it all gelled, the results offered material that pushed boundaries while not neglecting the task of being properly funny. Eldon's certainly earned his place in the solo spotlight, following years as one of the most valuable utility players in British comedy. His mastery of comic acting has raised the level on plenty of already-great shows (I'm Alan Partridge, Brass Eye, Big Train, Fist Of Fun, Spaced, etc) and this (relatively rare) live gig will provide an outing for several of his own inspired, off-the-wall characters including the extremely unamused (though highly amusing) performance poet

Paul Hamilton. jk

Union Chapel, N1, Sat


The Guide: Thick As Thieves Exeter

Such is the mammoth scale of this Friday session that Thick As Thieves have roped in fellow Devon compadres Exit, Beats & Bass and Our House to help out. The cause of all this commotion is a link-up with Claude VonStroke's Dirtybird label, which has been dishing out fine cuts of US house and is now signing up Europe's finest. Leading the charge on Friday are four such artists. Watch out for UK-based producer of the fine String Thing track, Shadow Child; Belgian booty house specialist Kill Frenzy; and UK-based underground players Kry Wolf, as well as labelmate Friend Within showcasing his debut Dirtybird release, The Game. TAT residents Tonic, Budos and Simba complete the main room lineup. Three further rooms should satisfy the 800-capacity crowd. There's a D&B, jungle and dubstep showcase courtesy of the Beats & Bass Society; while Exit's OFJ, Josh Toogood and Wonka take command

of the Cellar with

a dose of uplifting house. john mitchell

Exeter Phoenix, Bradninch Place, Fri


The Guide: Sub Club Soundsystem at Rockness Nr Inverness

For the fifth year running, Glasgow clubbing institution Sub Club is charged with supplying the electronically enhanced entertainment at the Rockness festival. Despite being up against the likes of Basement Jaxx and Fatboy Slim during their two-day tenure, the crew are confident that their stage can compete. No wonder they're positive, with Detroit techno legend Carl Craig (pictured), Bristolian bass bod Julio Bashmore, house pioneer Kerri Chandler and a live set from Henrik Schwarz all on offer. Sub Club residents Harri & Domenic (who are close to celebrating 20 years at the helm), head up the Scottish contingent, which also includes Numbers mainstay Jackmaster. patric baird

Clune Farm, Loch Ness, Fri to 9 Jun


The Guide: Pauline Boty Wolverhampton

Pauline Boty has become a legendary art world figure. She's known for her charismatic beauty and tragic death in 1966 at the age of 28. Diagnosed with leukaemia during pregnancy, she refused chemotherapy and died soon after giving birth to her daughter. Mixing with such male luminaries as Bob Dylan, Peter Blake and David Hockney, she had been a darling of the swinging 60s scene. So it's about time that her work as an artist is now, at long last, being reassessed in a show that reveals art not seen for 40 years. How Boty would have developed creatively had she lived into artistic maturity is hard to imagine, yet there is an open-ended experimental spirit in her surviving paintings and collages that indicates a sensuous touch rare amid the more clinical pop art clan. robert clark

Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Sat to 16 Nov


The Guide: Merlin James London

In Merlin James's paintings, traditional subject matter such as wispy sea scenes, nudes or railway bridges, get an unconventional treatment. He mines art history, drawing on work by famous names such as Courbet, Titian or Poussin alongside under-sung talents like French-Russian painter Serge Charchoune. There's no straightforward quotation or homage; he puts his medium through its paces, from stripping it back to bare-bones materials or applying pigment so thick it threatens to overwhelm its filmy support. Summing up this Glasgow-based artist's output can feel like a fool's errand; what unites it all, though, is

his interest in the stuff

of painting. ss

Parasol Unit, N1,

Thu to 10 Aug


The Guide: Sophie von Hellermann: Elephant In The Room Colchester

Sophie von Hellermann's paintings are loose, dreamy creations where a haze of pastel watery pigment might depict celebs from magazine pages, literary heroes or subjects from theoretical science alike. At first blush they can seem as light-headed as pink fizz. Make no mistake, though, the girlishness hits hard: a sort of lipstick in the eye to a male-dominated tradition where sanctified subjects get a laborious treatment. This show takes figures of speech as its starting point, including the eponymous overlooked elephant (pictured). Things get more cryptic with Cold As A Witch's Tit, a 7.5 metre, 3D pyre of paintings depicting hundreds of women killed by Essex's notorious Witchfinder General. skye sherwin

First Site, to 26 Aug


The Guide: Tom Pitt: Between Object And Place Derby

Tom Pitt stood out in last year's prestigious Liverpool John Moores Painting Prize exhibition for his modest-sized yet engagingly mysterious image of a flight of steps seemingly suspended in an abstract void. This, his first solo show, should further establish his reputation as a painter of illusionistic intrigues. Working on board, he builds up subtly coloured surfaces in layers that are often sanded and scraped back to evoke the wear and tear of time passing. Pitt sets up perspectives that trick our eyes into believing these are three-dimensional views, although the places he pictures remain virtually abstract in their lack of familiar props. There are unmistakable paths, passages and gate-like structures but the overall atmosphere is of a disorienting dream. rc

Tarpey Gallery, Castle Donington, Sat to 13 Jul


The Guide: Anthony Caro London

When it comes to art world peaks and troughs, even Britain's greatest living sculptorTM doesn't always have it easy. Anthony Caro's grand plan for a three-block-long public sculpture on New York's Park Avenue fell by the wayside. Not one to let good work go to waste, he's turned sections from the project into sculptures in their own right. These hulking rusted metal girders, pipes and pieces of agricultural technology have evolved from designs meant to be seen while travelling along the street, and - as with all of Caro's work - things evolve as you move along and around. Thrusting slabs of slanted steel suggest a cityscape of skyscrapers and construction sites. Meanwhile, a huge pronged form looks ready to dig, like the lost tool of an ancient race of gardener giants, now warped and eroded having spent aeons in the ground. ss

Gagosian Britannia Street, WC1, Fri to 27 Jul


The Guide: Gary Hume, Patrick Caulfield London

Twenty-five of Gary Hume's gloss-on-aluminium paintings, as brilliant as a freshly waxed car bonnet and as flat as a billboard, chart the artist's career to date. For all the apparently impersonal surface gleam, Hume's approach is quirky and idiosyncratic. A painting inspired by Angela Merkel abstracts the German chancellor to something resembling a lemon against an oval expanse of mint green. Hume's painting is paired here with that of 1960s upstart Patrick Caulfield (work pictured), who shares his love of line and bold, flat colour. Particularly inspired by the Spanish cubist Juan Gris's treatment of still lifes and interiors, Caulfield turned his surroundings into stylised images with strong black outlines. ss

Tate Britain, SW1, Wed to 1 Sep


The Guide: Moda WK Newcastle upon Tyne

The WK of the exhibition title refers to the little-known early 20th-century British painter Winifred Knights. Here, Holly Antrum, Nadia Hebson and Titania Seidl (work pictured) try to rescue Knights's reputation by using their own paintings, photographs and texts as a kind of collective mixed-media biography. So three contemporary artists pay tribute to one who lived and worked through a period in which becoming a successful woman artist was far from easy. Knights's most known painting, now in the Tate collection and referred to here, is The Deluge (1919), an angulated take on the biblical scene set against a backdrop of Clapham Common. It's a haunting image, all overcast greys with hints of impending menace. In their own individual ways, Antrum, Hebson and Seidl cast back over almost a century to share Knights's apocalyptic dread in a spirit of female fellow feeling. rc

Vane Gallery, to 29 Jun


The Guide: Walk On: 40 Years Of Walking Art Sunderland

It is a century and a half since the symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire celebrated aimlessly wandering about the streets of Paris as a form of creative exploration. His flaneur (stroller) was a precursor of the surrealist spirit of much radical 20th-century art and the work in this delightful show picks up the story of artistic walking from the 60s onwards, a period increasingly inflected by cross-cultural migrations and ecological concerns. For Richard Long, the countryside trek became a way of paying homage to the disappearing wilderness, but the most intriguing work here extends the tradition of Baudelaire's proto-surrealist wanderings into an age of high-tech recording gadgetry. rc

Northern Gallery For Contemporary Art, Sat to 31 Aug; touring to 12 Dec


The Guide: Bracken Moor London

Shared Experience and director Polly Teale team up once again with the Tricycle for the world premiere of Alexi Kaye Campbell's Bracken Moor, set in Yorkshire during the 30s depression. Unsettling and suspenseful, it highlights the plight of the workers as victims of a system powered by profit and industrialisation. At its heart are two wealthy families who come together after years apart, and during the reunion a buried tragedy is revealed. Among the cast are Joseph Timms, Simon Shepherd and Sarah Woodward. Author Kaye Campbell won an Olivier award for his debut The Pride, which went on to Broadway, where it starred Ben Whishaw, Andrea Riseborough and Hugh Dancy. mark cook

Tricycle Theatre, NW6, Thu to 20 Jul


The Guide: Two's Company festival Harrogate

In an attempt to adapt in a challenging climate, regional theatres are booking smaller-scale productions, hoping to deliver more intimate experiences for their audiences. That's very much the idea behind the Two's Company festival, now in its third year, which offers a chance to see either one-on-one work or shows created for small audiences. There are some crackers this year, including the atmospheric and tender My Heart Is Hitchhiking Down Peach Street (Fri) and the mind-boggling and dizzying

The Great Spavaldos (pictured, Fri to 8 Jun), in which you launch yourself into thin air. There are also new shows from Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe. lg

Harrogate Theatre,

Thu to 8 Jun


The Guide: Let The Right One In Dundee

It's all change for National Theatre Scotland, with Vicky Featherstone now at the Royal Court in London and this adaptation of the cult Scandinavian novel possibly marking the final NTS production from John Tiffany, who gave the company its biggest hit, Black Watch. Tiffany's career has really taken off with the huge success of the multiple Tony award-winning Once in New York, and you'd think it likely that Jack Thorne's adaptation of this wonderful modern fairytale - about the unlikely friendship between a bullied boy and a vampire who moves in next door - will be looking for a further life. Even if vampires are not for you, this should be an intelligent look at bullying, otherness and what happens when you let someone in. lg

Dundee Rep, Wed to

29 Jun


The Guide: Some Other Mother Kirkcaldy, Edinburgh

AJ Taudevin is being hailed as one of the future stars of Scottish theatre, and this play, inspired by her work with Glasgow's asylum seekers, is clearly close to her heart. Set at the top of a Glasgow tower block, it tells the story of 10-year-old Star, who is trying to keep things together as she and her increasingly fragile mother wait to hear the result of their asylum application. Offering a child's eye view of the world as Star falls back on the fantastical and the poetic in her quest for survival, the show comes with a terrific cast and a great team, including Kieran Hurley (who wrote Hitch and Beats) and director Catrin Evans.

lyn gardner

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy, Thu; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri; then touring


The Guide: Northern Ballet Mixed Bill Leeds

By judith mackrell

Mixing up dance, art installation and music theatre, the Clod Ensemble can always be guaranteed to transform whatever space it performs in. Zero creates a world of shape-shifting turbulence in which men and women morph into animals and family relationships veer into dark, transgressive terrain. Suzy Wilson's choreography is inspired by influences as varied as King Lear and Hurricane Katrina and driven by a marvellous-sounding live score, in which Paul Clark teams up with blues harmonica great Johnny Mars, trombonist Annie Whitehead and lyricist Peggy Shaw.

judith mackrell

Sadler's Wells, EC1,

Tue & Wed

The Leeds-based company is best known for its repertory of popular story ballets

but in this new mixed bill it revisits and replenishes its stock of one-act works. Headlining the evening is the company's performance of Concertante, Hans Van Manen's 1994 setting of Frank Martin's Petite Symphonie Concertante. The work's clever layering of aggressive and comic dance contrasts with the sweetness and light of Mark Godden's Angels In The Architecture. The final work comes from one of the ballet's own dancers, Kenneth Tindall, whose Luminous Junc.ture is his second work for the company. jm

Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Wed to 9 Jun


The Guide: Pulse festival Ipswich

An essential date on the theatrical calendar, this annual event offers an opportunity to see some small-scale shows that have already proved their worth, as well as a chance to get a first glimpse of Edinburgh-bound work. Look out this weekend for family shows such as The Wrong Crowd's lovely fairytale, The Girl with Iron Claws (Sun), and Talking Birds' The Whale (Sun). Some of the country's most innovative companies are on the Pulse programme, including Action Hero, Made In China and Chris Goode, and you can see new shows from rising stars including Francesca Millican-Slater, Daniel Bye and Victoria Melody (pictured). lg

New Wolsey Theatre, Sat to 8 Jun


The Guide: Sweet Bird Of Youth London

Kim Cattrall can't seem to keep away from the British stage, having already starred in Antony And Cleopatra, Whose Life Is It Anyway? and Private Lives, among others. Now the former Sex And The City sex symbol tackles Tennessee Williams and the suitably diva-esque role of Alexandra Del Lago in the febrile 1959 drama of lost youth and fading stars. With her comeback film bombing, the ex-Hollywood legend seeks solace in drink, drugs and a gigolo called Chance Wayne (aptly named as he's a chancer with an opportunistic eye), hitching a ride on her fame while also trying to win back his childhood sweetheart. He's played by Seth Numrich, a star on Broadway in War Horse. That play was directed, as is this production, by the award-winning Marianne Elliott, whose credits include The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. mc

Old Vic, SE1, Sat to 31 Aug


The Guide: Festival Of The North East

This cultural festival covers everything from industrial heritage to street theatre. A Foghorn Requiem is one of the intriguing musical events on offer, with lighthouses and local ships paying a noisy tribute to a now largely obsolete safety device. But you can also enjoy mining songs, Lindisfarne and Kathryn Tickell alongside an array of classical concerts. A History Of The North East in 100 Objects leads you around the region's galleries, and there's a great selection of walks that take in Blaydon Races, Victorian tunnels and Saltburn beach.

iain aitch

Various venues, Sat to

30 Jun, festivalne.com


The Guide: JFest International Leeds

Snappily renamed from Leeds International Jewish Performing Arts Festival for its 13th year, JFest International draws together culture from the Jewish diaspora. But it's time, not distance that's spanned by Danny Braverman's storytelling slideshow WOT? NO FISH!!, a bittersweet animated whirl through decades of East End London life. Toronto's Alon Nashman stars as both Franz and Hermann in Kafka And Son (pictured), a tensely comic adaptation of a cathartic undelivered letter from Kafka Jr to his domineering father, while Los Desterrados serve up flamenco spiced with Balkan and north African folksong. abi bliss

Carriageworks Theatre, Sun to Thu, leedsjewishfestival.com


The Guide: The World Custard Pie Championships Nr Maidstone

By clare considine

Bugsy Malone's flan flinging involved lots of pre-pubescents playing at being grown-ups. Kent's World Custard Pie Championships flip the script on the concept, with a bevy of adults doing their darndest to unlock their inner kiddy. Teams of four dressed as everything from bananas to tigers do battle in the custard pie arena (pub car park), hurling paper plates of gloop at each other in a brave attempt to reign supreme. The highest points are awarded for a direct face hit - SPLAT!

clare considine

Coxheath, Sat, worldcustardpie championship.co.uk.


The Guide: Out & about

SATURDAY

CAMBRIDGE

Strawberry Fair

Jam out at this free music and arts fair, featuring local music, film, craft stalls and food.

Midsummer Common, strawberry-fair.org.uk

SATURDAY

LEEDS Veg Out!

There's much more

than Quorn at this

veggie and vegan food, music and arts party.

Wharf Chambers, wharfchambers.org

SATURDAY

LONDON No Dark Places

Enlightening arts shindig with stages in empty swimming pools and something called

the Mega Hypno-Rhythmic Party.

The Albert, Queens Park, NW6, nodarkplaces.com

TO SUN

HARROGATE Children's Festival

Mega-fun for kinders in the Spiegeltent with games, crafts, immersive storytelling and Vikings.

Crescent Gardens, harrogateinternational

festivals.com

SUNDAY

LONDON An Evening With Al Pacino

Onstage interview and audience Q&A with the feted Scarface and Godfather actor.

London Palladium, W1F, aneveningwithalpacino.co.uk


The Guide: tv&radio: the planner 44 films 46 listings 48≥⃒

*The Americans Much raved-about in the US, this period thriller about a pair of Soviet sleeper agents living in picket-fence America finally reaches our screens.

Saturday, 10pm, ITV

*Don't miss Channel 4's Comedy Gala Loads of British comedy stars share the O2 stage to help raise money for Great Ormond Street Hospital in the fourth annual Comedy Gala. Michael McIntyre, Jack Dee, Jo Brand, Jonathan Ross, Warwick Davies, Russell Brand, Miranda Hart (see, we told you there were loads) and more will be aiming the laughs squarely at your belly. Friday, 9pm, Channel 4

*Preppers UK It's the end of

the world and they know it; another batch of survivalists prepare for the apocalypse . Wednesday,

9pm, National Geographic

PREVIEWS BY Bim Adewunmi (BAA), Ben Arnold (BA), Rachel Aroesti (RA), Lanre Bakare (LB), Ali Catterall (AJC),

Hannah J Davies (HJD), Mark Jones (MJ), Andrew Mueller (AM), Gwilym Mumford (GM), Julia Raeside (JNR),

John Robinson (JR), Stephanie Soh (SS), Martin Skegg (MS), David Stubbs (DS), Hannah Verdier (HV)


The Guide: Watch with... Jo Brand

UNMISSABLE SHOW?

Newsnight. It gives people enough time to hang themselves. I have delighted in Paxman for years. I like the barkiness of Paxman.

BRING BACK. . .

I'd like to see Pulling brought back. It was absolutely revolutionary in showing women as these horrible, pissed, manipulative characters, who just have a laugh and get on as mates. They're making a US remake. I'm not sure "pulling" is a term used in America, though.

ON THE DVR?

I want to watch Homeland, but I haven't got around to it. I would have watched Broadchurch, but I heard who the murderer was on the radio. Pissed off about that.

TV TURN-OFF?

I'm not keen on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. I find it prurient and exploitative. A lot of people are watching this and going, "God, look at those chavs." Chavs is one of my most hated words. Those shows pander to individuals who want to put people down, because of their culture or their poverty.

COME DINE WITH ME LINEUP?

Harry Potter. He's a really lovely character. Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist, who basically wrote about stuff which didn't appear until the 20th century. Betty Smith, the American jazz singer who was just appallingly behaved! She was drunk and liked fighting, and someone annoyed her at a party once so she stabbed them. You need a hellraiser at a dinner party. And I'd like to settle the dispute about who Shakespeare was, so whoever he was, I'd like to have him there.

PITCH US A TV SHOW. . .

I'd like a TV show where you could force very powerful people to account for their actions, to a panel of judges. So I'd like Paxman, Helena Kennedy and then a comedian who's very intelligent, Frank Skinner, to balance it out. It would be Putin on week one, Assad on week two. The ideal would be that you could arrest them at the end. Peter Tatchell could do some sort of citizen's arrest. It's Leveson crossed with Big Brother! *

Jo Brand's Great Wall of Comedy,

16 Jun, 7.30pm, Gold

Captions:

Brand loyalty: Pulling,

(right) My Big Fat Gypsy

Wedding, and Paxman


The Guide: Saturday 1 June

The Other Boleyn Girl

(Justin Chadwick, 2008)

9.35pm, BBC2

Adapted from Philippa Gregory's novel, this account of the Boleyn sisters vying to be Henry VIII's favourite mistress is a handsomely made bodice-ripper. Scarlett Johansson is a Snow White-like Mary, Natalie Portman sister

Anne, whose machinations

would make Lucrezia Borgia blush. Eric Bana is the king who thinks with his codpiece.

Perrier's Bounty

(Ian Fitzgibbon, 2009)

12.40am, Channel 4

This lighthearted Dublin-set crime drama has Cillian Murphy's Michael on the run from gangsters with his nervy neighbour Jodie Whittaker and his dad Jim Broadbent. The wacky characters keep the action whizzing along with Brendan Gleeson stealing the show as the local kingpin.


The Guide: Sunday 2 June

Nine

(Rob Marshall, 2009)

9pm, ITV

Marshall's energetic musical, based on an 80s Broadway show, is a Fellini-lite approximation of the maestro's 8 1/2. The dazzling original is reduced to an insipid tale, but cleverly dressed up with some sumptuous song'n'dance, and a majestic cast. Daniel Day-Lewis is a fluid mover as movie auteur Guido Anselmi (AKA Fellini), as are the women in his life - wife Marion Cotillard, mistress Penelope Cruz, muse Nicole Kidman, mother Sophia Loren, new lover Kate Hudson, and costumier Judi Dench.

The Road

(John Hillcoat, 2009)

10.30pm, BBC2

In a desolate, post-apocalyptic America, a father and son trudge through a land devoid of colour and hope, evading the bestial gangs searching for victims. Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winning novel is bleak, sombre and moving, with compelling performances from Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Man and Boy.

Dreamgirls

(Bill Condon, 2006)

11.15pm, Channel 4

Adapted from a 70s Broadway show, Condon's musical follows a Motown group through the heyday of soul and disco. The best of an energised cast, including Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson, is Eddie Murphy as raunchy soul man James Early.


The Guide: Monday 3 June

Buffalo '66

(Vincent Gallo, 1998)

11.15pm, Film4

Gallo's Billy, straight from jail, goes home to Buffalo, NY and kidnaps Christina Ricci's Layla so she can pretend to be his wife in a meeting with his feckless parents (Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston). One of the most touching screen romances is thus born. Gallo's directorial debut, with its faded and poignant imagery, is fresh, funny and individual.

Heartbeats

(Xavier Dolan, 2010)

1.25am, Film4

Talented young director Dolan also stars in this diverting, Quebec-set comedy about a menage-a-trois. His Francis is a gay man who, with best friend Marie (Monia Chokri), falls for the beautiful, self-regarding Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Articulate and humorous, in some ways it looks like an update of Jules Et Jim.


The Guide: Tuesday 4 June

Went The Day Well?

(Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942)

11.40am, More4

Second world war propaganda thriller, in which a platoon of German paratroopers invades a small English village. Based on a Graham Greene story, it's one of a kind among flag-wavers - the sort of British chap who usually knocks Jerry on the head is likely to wind up dead here, while the women do their share of killing the invaders - but still packs a patriotic punch. With Leslie Banks and Marie Lohr.

The Iron Lady

(Phyllida Lloyd, 2011)

9pm, Film4

Even if you loathe Margaret Thatcher and all she stood for, there's no denying this stunning performance from Meryl Streep. It's a portrait of Thatcher in her dotage: reclusive, mind failing, haunted by memories of her dear Denis (Jim Broadbent), with flashbacks to the Iron Lady in her political prime (though there's little politicking here). She is presented like a character from a Shakespearean tragedy; and it's deeply moving, not out of sympathy, but in recognition of simple human frailty.


The Guide: Wednesday 5 June

Three Colours: White

(Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994)

10pm, Sky Arts 1

The second in Kieslowski's Colours trilogy is an ironically black comedy on the theme of equality, with Zbigniew Zamachowski as a Polish hairdresser doing fine in Paris, except that he's impotent with his wife, a cool Julie Delpy. Soon he's ruined and busking on the Metro, and later, back in Warsaw, an act of revenge on his wife only makes him sadder. One minute bouffant, the next cropped down; life was hard for Kieslowski.

Memphis Belle

(Michael Caton-Jones, 1990)

3am, ITV

Old-fashioned second world war story with a familiar plot: the American crew of a B-17 bomber run into trouble in their final mission and face a dangerous lame-duck flight back to base in East Anglia. Matthew Modine as the pilot leads a fine cast, including Eric Stoltz and John Lithgow; and in all the excitement, it somehow rises above the cliches.


The Guide: Thursday 6 June

Starter for 10

(Tom Vaughan, 2006)

9pm, BBC4

As the title suggests, the TV quiz University Challenge frames this enjoyable and soft-centred social comedy based on David Nicholls's novel. Set in the mid-80s, it stars James McAvoy as a working-class student settling in at Bristol University, making his way on to the gameshow team. His heart oscillates between posh teammate Alice Eve (whose parents, including a droll Charles Dance, steal the show a little) and rebel spirit Rebecca Hall. It's the romance that wins through in this funny, charming, nostalgic tale.


The Guide: Friday 7 June

Marley

(Kevin Macdonald, 2012)

7.40am, 10.20pm, Sky Movies Premiere

Macdonald's long, loving documentary about Bob Marley follows the reggae legend from his birth in a remote Jamaican village to his untimely death of cancer at the age of 36. A huge amount of testimony is amassed from family, friends, girlfriends, Wailers and all sorts to create a vivid portrait through the ganja haze.

The Bourne Legacy

(Tony Gilroy, 2012)

4pm, 8pm, Sky Movies Premiere

Gilroy, screenwriter of the original trilogy, oversees this attempt to continue the series in the absence of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne. So it picks up with the exposed CIA dirty tricks unit out to terminate its staff, including Jeremy Renner's assassin Aaron Cross and scientist Rachel Weisz. The action whizzes to, and all over, Manila, and Renner is a convincing action star, but with no Bourne present it's like a Batman movie without you-know-who.

Point Break

(Kathryn Bigelow, 1991)

11.55pm, BBC1

Bigelow's superb, ferociously-paced action movie stars Keanu Reeves as fed Johnny Utah, who is on the trail of a gang dubbed the Ex-Presidents, in reference to the rubber caricature masks they wear during hold-ups. Reeves infiltrates, then finds himself bonding with the charismatic gang leader-cum-surfboard-guru and skydiver-dude, Bohdi (Patrick Swayze). Their bromance packs a terrific punch, as the zen vibes of surf culture chafe against the chaos of cops and robbers, and the elemental footage of churning sky and sea is thrilling.


The Guide: Pick of the day: Pick of the day

The Americans

10pm, ITV

Utterly brilliant and engrossing new US drama about two KGB spies posing as a married couple in suburban Washington DC at the start of Reagan's presidency. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are the spies with a complicated relationship and two kids who know nothing of their real jobs. Noah Emmerich is the fed who moves in across the street. Coincidence or have they been rumbled? It's slick, peril-packed brilliance right from the off. A television event you should absolutely plan to stay in for. JNR

Les Dawson: An Audience With That Never Was

8.30pm, ITV

There have been some surprising hosts for Audience With specials over the years, but this promises something even more unusual

than Sooty or Donny Osmond:

a 3D holographic projection of the Collyhurst comic himself. At the time of his death, Dawson was weeks away from doing his own Audience With; thanks to some tech wizardly, a virtual Les can tread the boards in front of a contemporarily star-stuffed audience, performing content first planned for the show. MJ

*

Henry VIII: Patron Or Plunderer?

8.35pm, BBC2

Was Henry VIII a philistine or impassioned patron of the arts? That's the question historian Jonathan Foyle is asking in this two-part doc, first shown on BBC4. He attempts to align the two sides of the Tudor king's character, as Henry silences writers and destroys ancient treasures, while fostering the beginnings of the English renaissance with his decisions on art and architecture. In Monday's concluding episode, Foyle looks for hints about the king's state of mind from the art he favoured in the tumultuous year of 1530. RA

Arne Dahl

9pm, BBC4

If we know anything about the Sweden of the "Nordic noir", it's that it is a place in which nationalist feeling runs very high, and where cabals of sinister oddballs conspire to preserve some demented idea of racial purity. Tonight's episode pitches its tent in that territory with the obligatorily baroque murder of

a Jewish scientist. The themes that

A Unit go on to explore while solving the crime - questions of legacy, inheritance, history and responsibility - illustrate again how good this show can be when it hits its stride. JR

Beyonce And Friends Live

At Twickenham

10.50pm, BBC1

Despite the title - which sounds like a CBeebies special - this is actually a fundraising gig for the Chime For Change campaign, which raises awareness about female empowerment projects around the world. In an act of startling work ethic, Beyonce (who also sits on the founding committee of the campaign) will be joined by her titular "friends", who just happen to be established and rising music acts: Ellie Goulding, Jennifer Lopez, Florence And The Machine, Haim and many more. BAA

Andre Rieu: Live In Sydney

8pm, Sky Arts 2

Dutch violinist, conductor and composer Andre Rieu (AKA the King of Waltz), recorded at the Acer Arena in Sydney in 2009. Highlights include rousing versions of Seventy-Six Trombones, I Could Have Danced All Night and the Overture from Carmen. However, he's rather upstaged by a certain adoring First Lady of Australia - the one and only Dame Edna - who, after screeching out the theme from Neighbours, manages to accidentally crush Rieu's priceless Stradivarius:

"I think the wedding might be off now, possums." AJC

The Real King's Speech

10pm, More4

A companion to the lauded The King's Speech, which was a fine movie, but essentially a Richard Curtis version of history. This documentary, first shown in 2011, reveals a story less cosy but nonetheless compelling. With access to the correspondence between the stammering George VI and his Australian speech therapist, this film builds a narrative at least as gripping as its fictionalised version, plus it's an affecting portrait of a king who didn't want the job but, unlike his equally reluctant brother Edward VIII, chose to step up. AM

*

*SPORT CHOICE

Live Rugby Union: Barbarians

v British & Irish Lions

12noon, Sky Sports 1

Hong Kong is the setting for this clash, a curtain raiser for the Lions' summer tour of Australia. The "Barbarians" remains a wonderfully self-deprecating moniker, effectively meaning "assorted foreigners", but they'll represent a formidable force from 10 nations, including South Africa, Fiji, Italy and Samoa. The Lions, meanwhile, will comprise the cream of the British Isles, with Wales particularly well represented, including captain Sam Warburton. DS


The Guide: FACT-CHECKING THE: FAMOUS: TILDA SWINTON: Her favourite films of all time: Just how posh is Tilda?: *DATA: JOHNNY DEE SOURCES: CELEBITCHY.COM, DAILYBEAST.COM, GUARDIAN.CO.UK, MUBI.COM, SCOTSMAN.COM, WIKIPEDIA.ORG

INFOMANIA

'I'D RATHER BE HANDSOME FOR AN HOUR THAN PRETTY FOR

A WEEK'

NAME KATHERINE MATILDA SWINTON AGE 52

FAMOUS FOR ACTING, MODELLING, SLEEPING IN GLASS BOXES

WHY TILDA SCARES PEOPLE

TILDA'S TOP 5

CLASS ACT

POLYAMOROUS PRIVATE LIFE 5%

ANDROGYNOUS STYLE 5%

PALE SKIN 5% EXTRATERRESTRIAL DEMEANOUR 5% MIGHT ENCASE YOU IN A COFFIN OF ICE 80%

TRIPLE THREAT

HOW TILDA CAPTIVATES AUDIENCES ACROSS

THE BOARD



GUARDIAN WEEKEND PAGES

Weekend: Starters: Tim Dowling: I cannot express how threatened I feel by the fake shopping trolley coin

By Tim Dowling

It's rare that I find my existence circumscribed by traditional notions of masculinity. Perhaps it's because the acceptable boundaries of behaviour and attire for men have expanded over the years, or perhaps it's because my existence is already circumscribed by other stuff.

I would probably still refuse to wear white ice skates, but that's a hangover from childhood, when gender was a sharply delineated territory, and it's not a dilemma I've had to face since. I suppose I avoid using the mug in the cupboard that says "Lady Muck" on the side, but I'm not phobic about it. It's just that there are other mugs in there that I prefer.

For the most part, I don't worry about these things. If you need someone to ride into town on a bicycle with a wicker basket at the front, carrying a shopping list that reads, "Tampons, nail varnish, Grazia", I'm your man. I'm that settled in my masculinity. Or that broken. Your choice. I don't care.

So when something comes along to unsettle my masculinity, at my age, no one is more surprised than me.

"I bought you a present," my wife says, resting several bags on the kitchen table.

"Is it pants?" I ask. "Because I'm in a bad way, pants-wise."

She hands me a small, silvery object. "It will change your life," she says.

I turn the object over in my hand. It's a small metal disc, pierced by a ring, evidently so it can be attached to a key chain. "It's a fake coin," she says. "You know, for shopping trolleys."

"Oh," I say.

"Don't you like it?" she says.

I pause in order to shape my words with precision. "Yeah. . . It's just that I'm not sure I can carry something like that," I say. "As a man."

"Don't be stupid."

"It has a picture of a shopping trolley on one side," I say.

"So what?" she says.

At that moment I cannot express how threatened I feel by the fake shopping trolley coin. I've found myself in Sainsbury's car park with empty pockets countless times, but the idea of being prepared for the eventuality strikes me as deeply unmanly. "Thank you," I say, attaching the fake coin to my key ring.

Over the next few weeks, I continue to use actual pound coins to liberate shopping trolleys from the stack. For a time the strange feel of the fake coin in my pocket is enough to remind me not to leave the house without change, but eventually the day comes when I arrive at Sainsbury's poundless. I have no choice.

Rolling through the aisles with all my keys dangling from the trolley handle, I feel completely denatured. I consider filling the trolley with extra meat to counteract the effect, but I know I would only be fooling myself. I simply resolve never to go abroad without a pound coin again.

Two weeks later, my wife and I are in the car park of a DIY superstore. I need gravel, sand, soil - heavy stuff - so I approach the queue of flatbed trolleys, hand in pocket.

"Are you going to use your thing?" my wife asks.

"Oh, yeah," I say.

She goes in ahead of me. By the time I find her in the aisles, she already has her arms full and deposits her items on the empty flat bed. As she stands up, I'm sure I see her eye snag on the crescent slice of pound coin protruding from the slot.

"It didn't fit in properly," I say. "So I had to use a real coin."

She doesn't say anything; she just raises an eyebrow.

"Seriously," I say. "It didn't fit."

Seriously. It didn't.


Weekend: Starters: Ask a grown-up

By Bill Bailey

WHY DID WE CHANGE FROM APES TO PEOPLE?

CHARLOTTE, 6

Comedian and ape enthusiast Bill Bailey replies: Scientists have worked out how we changed from apes, but why is more interesting. Why would you want to be a human and not an ape? Apes are pretty cool. To be honest, sometimes I wish I was an ape, because I wouldn't mind having slightly longer arms to be able to scratch that bit of my back I can't reach. I'd love to be able to leap about in the branches screeching - maybe in my back garden, so it wouldn't be so embarrassing for my family.

Perhaps we changed from apes because we realised that walking upright meant we could travel to new places to get food. Or maybe we changed because our ancestors developed bigger brains that made them think that all that running around and screeching wasn't quite enough. They wanted to paint and dance and sing, and write poetry, music, novels and quantum theory, and become dentists and all the other brilliant things about being human.

If you're 10 or under, and have a question that needs answering, email ask.a.grownup@guardian.co.uk, and we'll ask an expert for you.


Weekend: Starters: Your view Letters, emails, comments

Patti Smith was too patient with Simon Hattenstone, who spent the article ("I Didn't Expect To Live A Long Time", 25 May) moaning about his expectations, making snide remarks or asking about her personal life. Smith is a major musician, yet questions specifically relating to her songs were almost totally absent. Small wonder she rebuked him for "not being very inquisitive".

Matthew Caley

London SE19

Patti Smith: proof that just because someone is good at something, it doesn't necessarily follow that they know anything about anything else.

Josie Harral

London SW4

Last night I bought my first Daft Punk album. Next week I turn 41. They can't be "hip" (Le Cool, 25 May).

Jo Shaw

London W13

So The Returned is Channel 4's "first foreign drama for 20 years", is it? Funny - I can remember at least one or two US imports during that time.

Graham Stratford

Oxford

I love the photographs in Weekend, but you excelled yourselves with Tim Walker's images (A Fashion Fairytale, 25 May). The news is medicine, but photos such as these are the spoonful of sugar that make the bitter truths of humanity palatable.

Alison Goldie

London E8

"What we don't do is post false reviews on behalf of the company because it's a game you're never going to win" (A Clean Sheet, 25 May). Pragmatism 1, Business ethics 0.

Les Telford

Kendal, Cumbria

The lesson is to look at the third page of Google results first - that's probably where the critiques of major companies are. And, Tim, for pounds 10,000 a month, I'm very happy to type "Tim Dowling Sex God" into Google eight hours a day. Rather than doing it for free as I am now.

John Rogan

Penarth, Vale of Glamorgan

I'm sorry, Jonny Steinberg, but I did not lose my self-esteem through the events surrounding Oscar Pistorius (The End Of The Rainbow, 25 May). In fact, even to suggest there were a "collective South African self-esteem" is delusional. If we had that as a nation, it was 19 years ago when Mandela became our president. Any collective "self-esteem" we may have had began to crumble when the ANC reinstated Zuma as leader, and when he inevitably became president in 2009. This is a man who allegedly raped someone (found not guilty), embezzled trillions of rands (case thrown out), had a child with his best friend's almost teenage daughter, has about six wives (the constitution does not allow bigamy or polygamy). Now please tell me what Pistorius has to do with South Africa losing its collective self-esteem.

G Strauss

Cape Town, South Africa

Somebody needs to tell Jess Cartner-Morley that, if we had pounds 968 to spend, we wouldn't spend it on those trousers in a vain attempt to be "punk" (How To Dress, 25 May).

Layla Haidrani

London NW1

If you want an illustration of why emergency medical services are buckling, look no further than Tim Dowling's wife's abuse of an emergency GP appointment to obtain unnecessary antibiotics for her son and a letter in case his cold should affect his exam performance (25 May).

Dr Dan Noble

Bristol

In yet another miserable week, how refreshing to read about Nancy and Donald Featherstone (Experience, 25 May). Cockle-warming isn't the word.

Kevin Quinn

London N7

Write to Guardian Weekend,

Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU (weekend@guardian.co.uk), or comment at guardian.co.uk. A full name and postal address (not for publication) must be supplied. For inclusion on Saturday, letters should reach us by midday on Tuesday, and may be edited.


Weekend: Starters: Twitter fiction

By Val McDermid

A short story in 140 characters or fewer. This week: Val McDermid

He couldn't work out why she'd grown interested in TV DIY shows. Then he leaned on the fatally weakened balcony wall of their highrise flat.


Weekend: Starters: Big picture: Band Riders, by Henry Hargreaves

By Hannah Booth

Outrageous backstage requests - known as "riders" - from rock stars are the stuff of legend and, by association, cliche: sliced white and Dom Perignon for Axl Rose, a tub of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (among other things) for Billy Idol and, most famously, Van Halen's M&Ms with the brown ones taken out. Taking these dressing room demands as his inspiration, Henry Hargreaves, with stylist Caitlin Levin, has recreated them in the manner of Dutch still lifes - a high-brow aesthetic to depict low-rent requests, such as Busta Rhymes' fried chicken, Guinness and condoms.

Today, female divas outdo the rock gods of yore for plain silliness. Mariah Carey - who else? - asks for Cristal champagne and bendy straws; Lady Gaga - again, who else? - cubes of cheese on ice. Rihanna enjoys a sort of all-day brunch involving hard-boiled eggs, turkey bacon and turkey sausage "at any time throughout the day". Only Beyonce strikes a refreshing note with her baked chicken, garlic, sea salt, black and cayenne peppers, and Pepsi.

Hargreaves has made something of a name for himself with eye-catching food projects. He staged and photographed prisoners' last meals, and recently created celebrities' faces in mosaics made from toast burned with a kitchen blowtorch. "Food is a cheap material to work with," he says, matter-of-factly.

Riders are usually so daft, they are beyond parody. It would actually be braver for a rock legend or R&B goddess to order something sensible, such as a pot of tea and some sandwiches. It would take someone so secure in their status at the top of the tree that they don't need to display diva-ish behaviour. Ozzy Osbourne, say, whose backstage meal comprises fruit, water, assorted teas, bagels and steamed fish. Mind you, this was probably after his bat-head-biting days.


Weekend: Starters: Lucy Mangan: There's going to be blood on the carpet when Mum finds out

By Lucy Mangan

I am at my parents' house for Sunday lunch. Mum is out with her grandson, doubtless forcing the heads of unwary passers-by into the pram to admire his infinite beauty and ceaseless talent for blinking and having teeth. Dad is cooking. I am reading on the sofa. Toryboy has stayed at home. All is well with the world.

"Emily?" says Dad, standing at the doorway between the sitting room and kitchen.

"Lucy, Dad. Lucy," I say without looking up.

"Ah. You're probably right." A pause. "Are you at the end of a chapter?"

I flick through the pages. "Not really, no."

"Oh. Well, when you are, do you think you could give me a hand?"

"What with? Not cooking?"

"God, no. You are to edible food what your mother is to low blood pressure. No, give me a hand with. . . well, my hand."

I look up. He is holding up his right hand. Blood is flowing freely down his arm from the neat, circular wounds where once had dwelt three unremarkable but very serviceable fingertips.

"Jesus," I say, scrambling up off the sofa and barrelling him back into the kitchen. "Don't get blood on the carpet! You know the rules: 'Severe bleeding: find the nearest linoleum floor and stay on it. Call for assistance and a category 4 towel from there.'"

"I'm sorry," Dad says. "I panicked."

I grab a towel - it's a category 3 (non-best, non-guest, faded,

non-frayed), but I'm hoping that the cloud of grandson worship will cling long enough to obscure this fact from Mum when she returns. I wrap it round his coppiced fingers. "How did you do it?"

"Slicing potatoes," he says. "I were using that mandoline your sister gave me for my birthday."

"Oh, Dad," I sigh, shaking my head. "We told you not to try to master new technology at your time of life."

"I took a notion," he says sadly. "I wanted to strike out."

"What's the family motto?" I say as I sit him down and prop his elbow up on the table.

" 'Take no notions,' " he says. " 'Don't strike out.' "

I nod and tie the ends of the towel firmly round his forearm.

"What should we do with them?" he says, gesturing to the counter. Three discs of flesh loiter palely by the chopping board.

"They're no use to anyone," I say. "I'll put them in the compost bin. Or do they count as meat?"

I fetch him a medicinal whisky and he stares thoughtfully into its golden depths. "I'm the first in the family to have kept all his fingers to 70. We lost that many in the weaving sheds, nobody learned to count to 10 until after the war."

"There's progress for you!" I say brightly, because I am an optimist at heart, albeit one slightly concerned by how quickly a square yard of makeshift bandage has gone bright red.

Just then, Mum comes home. "He was brilliant," she shouts as she lifts the princeling from his pram. "So much blinking! And having teeth! One woman tried to tell me about her granddaughter, but I smote her! I smote her to the ground!"

She comes through to the kitchen and takes in the scene. "What happened? Who chose that towel? And" - she grabs the luminol spray and UV light from under the sink, drops to a crouch and starts for the sitting room - "there had better not be any blood on the carpet."


Weekend: Starters: Q&A: Sinead O'Connor: What is the worst thing anyone's said to me? 'Your mother has been killed in a car crash'

By Rosanna Greenstreet

Sinead O'Connor, 46, was born in Ireland. She released her first album in 1987, followed in 1990 by the multi-platinum I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. Old Lady is the new single from her ninth album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? She's been married four times, has four children and lives near Dublin.

When were you happiest?

When I am performing, and when my kids make musical mayhem.

What is your greatest fear?

Anything bad happening to my kids.

What is your earliest memory?

John Lennon's voice on my mother's eight-track.

Which living person do you most admire and why?

Muhammad Ali. I never liked him boxing; offstage, he was an archangel.

What is your most treasured possession?

My copy of the Tanakh and a locket holding a relic of the priestly garment (supposedly) of Pope John Paul I.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

I love my glorious appearance!

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?

God.

What is your least appealing habit?

Sleeping in my clothes, wearing them next day, sleeping in them. . .

What is your favourite book?

My brother Joseph's novel, Redemption Falls.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?

Agent Provocateur.

What is the worst thing anyone's said to you?

"Your mother has been killed in a car crash."

To whom would you most like to say sorry and why?

To myself, for telling myself I was a piece of shit for so many years, when in fact I'm wonderful.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

I don't do guilt.

What is your favourite smell?

A man called Jamie.

What or who is the love of your life?

My children.

What does love feel like?

Like you're home.

Which living person do you most despise and why?

The O'Connor family motto is, "I neither fear nor despise."

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Dave Chappelle and Robert Downey Jr (and there'd be nothing on the table but me and them).

What has been your biggest disappointment?

That so far none of my children has told me they're gay.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?

I'd have a non-violent childhood.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

To the Apple roof with the Beatles.

How do you relax?

I skank, Rootsman.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

If Dave and Robert came to dine.

What keeps you awake at night?

The possibility that my forensic accountant might not be mistaken about various people badly using me.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Bob Marley's Ride Natty Ride.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

To be yourself, no matter what.

Where would you most like to be right now?

With Dave and Robert.

Tell us a secret

There's a fantastic app coming out that will let anyone make a record with any musician. It's going to change the face of music.


Weekend: Starters: Experience: I had a worm in my brain

By Joanna Rossiter

I was three months into my stay in India when I realised that something unusual was happening to my mind. I had travelled alone to a remote area of Tamil Nadu in order to research my novel and teach at a local school.

I am used to having command of my words, but I began to find that simple ones would slip from my memory and I would be left speechless in front of a classroom of expectant pupils. Instead of "ran", I would say "runned" and "slept" would become "sleeped".

In the evenings, when I tried to write, my thoughts were frustratingly blank; I couldn't concentrate on anything for very long. I spent a lot of time crying: in spite of all the new experiences I was enjoying, I could not seem to keep myself emotionally steady.

After five months, I woke up early one morning to find my whole arm numb: the tingling that had started a few days earlier had spread from my thumb up to my neck. There was a wedding in the village next to ours and music was echoing around the hills outside. I knew I would not be able to get back to sleep, so I picked up a pen and jotted down the first sentence that came into my head: "It is there before I know about it, being born. . . My wave, heavy, like death." As it turned out, my words were an eerily prescient description of what was going on inside me.

In the afternoon, I walked to the children's home connected to the school to take my mind off the sensation in my arm. I was sitting with a group of girls when I felt one side of my face start to droop. My arms and legs began to flail, and I was thrown backwards on to the floor, where I fell into a fit.

I regained consciousness after a few minutes, but could remember very little of what had happened. When the girls tried to explain what they had seen, my first thought was that I had suffered a stroke - frightening given that I was only 21.

An hour after I recovered from the first fit, the drooping in my face returned and I fitted again. This time, I stayed unconscious for longer. The nearest hospital was a five-hour drive on potholed, unlit dirt tracks, but I knew I needed medical help. The family who ran the children's home wasted no time in driving me there.

At the hospital, I was given a brain scan and diagnosed with a tapeworm, which had become lodged in my brain tissue and formed several cysts. Left untreated, it would continue to develop and eat away at my brain cells, and the seizures would become increasingly serious.

I had known for a while that something was wrong, but now the problem gained shape in my imagination: I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that there was a foreign body inside me, feeding off my ability to write and speak.

It was only after I was flown back to the UK that I realised how lucky I was to have been treated by a local doctor familiar with the condition - he knew exactly how to kill the worm. He told me that pigs play a role in the parasite's life cycle, but given that I had not eaten meat, I had most likely inhaled an egg.

I took epilepsy medication to control the seizures and the worm was killed using a combination of steroids. In total, the treatment lasted a year and a half, during which time I could not drive or drink.

The disease is unheard of in Britain and without the medical notes given to me by the Tamil doctor, I would probably not have been diagnosed in time. The British doctors had no idea how to treat an illness that was so specific to the area in which I was staying.

I no longer suffer from the seizures and, while the scarring in my brain means I sometimes struggle to recall certain words, the worm and the cysts are gone for good. It was frightening as a novelist to realise that my language - the very medium I work with - was under threat. But it has made me more determined than ever to put words on to paper: they seem more precious now - as if, like youth or loved ones, they won't be with me for ever.

The words that I wrote in my notebook on the day of my first seizure went on to form the opening sentence of my first published novel - a story about the intimate knowledge that landscapes lend their inhabitants. It was this knowledge, shown by the Tamil doctor who treated me, that saved my life and my language.

Do you have an experience to share? Email experience@guardian.co.uk


Weekend: Sarko and me: He was rightwing. She was bohemian. He was president. She was a supermodel. No one expected the romance between Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy to last. But six years after they first met, the couple are married with a young daughter. The former first lady of France talks to Decca Aitkenhead about having a baby in her 40s, making 'Amour Nicolas' her musical muse and why she's not in any hurry to return to the Elysee Palace

By Decca Aitkenhead

When Carla Bruni ceased to be first lady of France last year, many thought that was the last the Elysee Palace would see of the former supermodel and her President Bling husband. It was said that with Nicolas Sarkozy no longer in power, Bruni was bound to leave him; monogamy, she once famously observed, "bores" her. And, of course, Sarkozy would be bored to tears by a wife who knew nothing about politics. They had both, it was whispered, already taken lovers since their improbable whirlwind wedding four years earlier. Besides, even if they did stay together, Sarkozy's political career was over. Following defeat last May by his socialist rival Francois Hollande, he himself had declared, "C'est fini."

Fifteen months on, with Hollande the most unpopular president in French history, Sarkozy has already said he may be "forced to return", to save the nation from economic ruin. The couple continue to live in Bruni's house in Paris's 16th arrondisement, with her 11-year-old son Aurelien and their 18-month-old baby Giulia, while Sarkozy practises law and makes speeches and she resumes her music career. Her latest album, Little French Songs, was released in April and reached number two in France, possibly assisted by speculation that one of the tracks is a veiled attack on Sarkozy's successor, and she has been on an energetic publicity blitz ever since. But Bruni seems to be promoting her marriage as much as the album, and unless she is a much more accomplished actor than an earlier movie appearance would suggest, she is quite comically besotted with her husband.

He calls her within minutes of her arrival at a Paris hotel. Everyone recognises her at once - even though she is in jeans and a low-brimmed hat, without a trace of makeup - and the thought occurs that had Kate Moss married the prime minister, or Cherie Blair released an album, they would be unlikely to give an interview in the bar of a busy hotel, unchaperoned by publicists or minders. But Bruni is almost implausibly relaxed, joking around as if we were old catwalk friends as she pulls out an electronic cigarette ("I don't like to smoke cigarettes in the daytime"), with the faintly camp intimacy common to star fashionistas who have spent much of their lives among gay men.

Everything about her manner is unguarded and complicit. She is generous with sweet if wildly far-fetched compliments, and her sentences are often completed with a gesture or expression, so that it feels as if her whole body is making conversation. Despite laughing all the time, and contradicting herself quite often, she still conveys an impression of discerning substance - which must owe something to her background, scion of a vastly wealthy and cultured Italian family, and something to the psychoanalysis she has been in for years - though when her phone rings and the name "Amour Nicolas" appears, she dissolves into kittenish delight. "A tout a l'heure, a tout a l'heure," she purrs down the line, a finger to her lips. See you soon, see you soon. . .

Hanging up, she spots a nearby couple drinking champagne and exclaims, "Shall we? Oh, no no no!" She orders us Coca-Colas, but keeps eyeing their table. "Champagne - lucky them, look at them. Oh, and rose champagne - mmm, I love it."

Let's order some, then? "No no no, we shouldn't, no! No, I can't drink so early! I'm only allowed to have a drink when I've finished work at the end of the day, and not more than half a beer." That's not very rock'n'roll, I say. "Well, my man doesn't drink, so I'm not going to open a bottle of wine."

Sarkozy, she explains, has never even tasted alcohol. "He doesn't like the smell, and he never tasted the great pleasure of being slightly drunk, you know?" She laughs. "So he just finds it smells bad, and makes people behave funny, so he doesn't like it. And now that he's 58, he says he's not going to start drinking now. That's just ridiculous, he says." Wasn't she tempted to try to persuade him? "No, because, first of all, he's not a man who does things in a half way, so I'm afraid if he likes it, he's just going to want to. . . you know. And anyway, he doesn't want to start."

When the couple met at a dinner party in 2007, Bruni didn't even notice he was teetotal. "He doesn't really need it - he is full of fun." She had recently split from the father of her son, Raphael Enthoven - a philosopher whose father she had previously dated - and Sarkozy's second marriage had just ended. That evening she read him some lyrics she had written. "I wanted to show him I was a poet, eh?" she laughs self-mockingly. "Poet he never had, hah hah. Third marriage, but with a poet, no? I'm not Yeats, but I still try, you know, I try to write my poetry." She gave him the lyric sheet, "And he kept it, you know? Kept it. He still has it." It was, she has always said, love at first sight.

It was also a political sensation. Sarkozy was a rightwing politician, whereas Bruni had dropped out of the Sorbonne at 19 to become a supermodel, and soon the mistress of Mick Jagger, before moving on to Eric Clapton. The political classes of Paris were agog at this profoundly unlikely presidential consort - glamorously bohemian, essentially apolitical - but she thinks her celebrity was helpful for her new role.

"I'd been famous since I was 19, and so you get used to it, you know? You have, like, this other person who has your name, who does all these strange things you don't do, and says all these strange things you never said," she giggles. "So I was actually happy, because that famous thing really helped me through the time that my husband was the president."

The couple wed in February 2008, just before Sarkozy's first state visit to Britain. "When I came to England as the wife of the French president, I had a fantastic time - because English people, they like when you respect their protocols. They thought I was going to come and be provocative, right, because of my past. But I studied what to do in front of the Queen, and I tried to do it very well."

She can still quote the fawning headlines from Fleet Street's coverage - and says she didn't even mind that a tabloid published an old nude photograph of her on the day they arrived. "Well, I was kind of happy, because I was 24 in the picture," she grins. "Always pleasant - being 39 when it happened. I thought, OK, this is a bit embarrassing - but I am 24, and slim," she laughs. The photo had been shot for an Aids campaign, and featured several other supermodels - "But they didn't marry the president, obviously," she giggles.

"I'm glad they didn't publish a [nude] picture of me aged 39 - which I don't do any more, obviously," she adds quickly. "I mean, of course I wasn't wearing clothes. But I didn't really feel funny about artistic nude pictures. You know, the fashion world is not very erotic. It's not about sex at all, it's completely unsexy. It's related to some other kinds of desires, not sexual desire." Did Prince Philip flirt with her during the visit? "No, no, not at all. No, no one flirted with me - apart from my man."

In addition to Bruni's son, there were already three sons from Sarkozy's earlier marriages, but the couple longed for another baby. "I tried and tried and tried, and as usual how it happens, you stop trying eventually and then boom. I thought I had a disease or something, a bad disease, because you know how the beginnings [of pregnancy] are funny: you smell people, and I got this craving for sugar, you know? And I kept falling asleep. I would go up the stairs in my house and be really out of breath" - she feigns panting - "so I went to the doctor and they did blood tests and radiography, which is completely forbidden when you are pregnant. These treatments, they are so toxic for the baby, but I didn't know I was pregnant."

A week later, the possibility dawned. "I did a test at home. I couldn't believe it!" She mimes open-mouthed shock, pretending to gaze at a pregnancy test stick. "I was, like. . ." and she hyperventilates. "So I did it again. I bought three tests! I thought maybe they did a mistake."

When the pregnancy was confirmed, did any part of her panic? "Nah, I was 43. I was like, oh my God, there is a God! He exists! I should have prayed!"

The pregnancy wasn't easy, nor were the early months. "When she was born and I used to nurse her, we used to call her Pol Pot, because she would eat every hour. Every two hours at night," and she feigns exhausted despair. "After five months I had to stop. I was just, I can't, I can't do it."

In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, she sounded distressed and depressed by the media criticism of her pregnancy weight gain, but she says her comments were exaggerated. "I just said, 'Oh well.' I was tired, I was fat, I felt fragile and vulnerable - and every woman would be the same. But [the journalist] probably wanted to write something new, and I understand that. I don't fight systems. I never go against the system."

Becoming a politician's wife taught her one thing, she says. "That there is no way to be funny any more. Fun doesn't really work with this kind of position, so I couldn't play around - and me, I like a lot to play around for fun, you know? I don't take it very seriously. I mean, I take life very seriously, but not myself or the situation."

Even so, some comments have landed Bruni in hot water. She jokes with me that women could do with wives to take care of them - "Yes, we need wives! You know, we should live together. Then the men can come and have fun and make love, you know?" - but had to apologise last year for telling Vogue that "We don't need to be feminist in my generation."

"I said I'm not a feminist, meaning I'm not a militant," she protests. "Because I'm not! I'm not very militant about anything. Either you're militant or you're not. I just said I admire the feminists, but I'm not myself a feminist because many women who came before me gave us rights. I'm allowed not to be, right? I never was politically militant, never socially militant, you know. I'm a bubble person," and she starts to laugh again. "At home with my guitar, reading a poem. I'm not militant. I know I should be, but I'm not. I'm not someone who would go and fight for something."

She maintains the same innocent bewilderment when I bring up the song on her album called Le Pingouin. She reportedly told friends it was about Hollande, and the lyrical allusions seem unambiguous: the rightwing critics' nickname for him, Mr Neither-Yes-Nor-No, appears to be echoed by the line, "Neither ugly nor beautiful, neither tall nor short, neither hot nor cold, the penguin, neither yes or no", while another appears to mock his official portrait, taken in the Elysee Palace gardens: "You look all alone in your garden." So is the song about her husband's successor?

"It's not, no no no, not even a little bit," she protests. "Because I never really write like that. It's hard to explain, but when I write, I don't have such a precise idea in my head. I don't say, OK, I'm going to write a song about X."

In fairness to Bruni, the French media's claims that a line about Sofitel in another song alludes to Dominique Strauss-Khan's alleged rape of a maid in a Manhattan hotel owned by the chain cannot possibly be true, for it was written a year before his arrest. The track Mon Raymond is, however, unequivocally dedicated to her husband, and casts him as a pirate and an atomic bomb.

"I think he likes it," she grins. "But they're not used to being muses, men. They're used to being the artist. The minute you put them in the muse position, they go: what? Especially Latins." She laughs. "See? I am a feminist! This is a feminist act, to write a song about your man. Of course it is feminist, because what is more free than that?"

She jumps to her husband's defence when I bring up one of many legal cases he is currently fighting. Sarkozy has been accused of "abusing the frailty" of his country's richest woman, the L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, by demanding and receiving campaign donations from the then 84-year-old. The charge of "elder abuse" is, Bruni urges indignantly, ludicrous. "I mean, my man, you should see. He has something with women - very old-fashioned, right? So he would never come here and let us pay for our Coca-Cola. If you walk into a room, he would never stay seated."

Does she like that? "I like it very much. It reminds me of my dad. A little Freud," she adds as an aside, smiling. "I like men to be gallant. Maybe because his mother got divorced when he was very young, and was alone with the three kids, and at the age of 30 she studied, became a lawyer, she's really, really strong, really intelligent and strong. And he sees the woman, my husband, he sees the woman in general like the mother," and she gasps, a sharp intake of reverence to make her point. "He's always taking care of my mother, my aunt, so he would just never do anything to a woman. It's just unimaginable. You can't think about it when you know him! You can say, 'Oh, I don't like Sarkozy, I don't like his policies.' Or even 'I don't like the way he talks.' Or whatever, you know? Taste is taste. But you can never say Sarkozy does something to a woman, never! Never never. It's impossible when you know him."

While Sarkozy was president, Bruni continued to write songs, but very rarely performed. Commentators were dumbfounded by her apparent transformation from permissive free spirit to doting bourgeois housewife, with critics divided between suspicion and disappointment. Early on, she tells me, "I would stay home and be a mum at home. I would love that." But later she volunteers, "I love family life, but I get slightly depressed when I stay only with the children. I mean, don't you? Like, just a little bit depressed. I know it's not politically correct to say that, but it's true - that's how I feel. After three weeks doing only children and my man and the house, children, the house and my man, children, the house and my man. And I think women that do that are very useful." She throws herself back in the chair. "I think they should be paid! It's such a hard job - and on top of that they are not admired. You go to a dinner party and someone says, 'What are you doing?' 'Oh, I take care of my three children' - and they turn away." She pauses to reflect. "But then again, I also like quiet. I think most women are like me, contradictory and ambivalent."

In fact, she says, she used to suffer crippling stage fright - and still does. "It's a little better now. The problem is that it doesn't really show, so people don't believe it. But it's physical - I get a little ill. But then you're stuck - people are sitting there, they've bought a ticket, so what are you going to do? Escape? You always hope something happens - the ceiling falls in, the floor explodes, someone is sick in the audience, and the show is cancelled. Or maybe I die from fear, and they just go on stage and say, 'Carla Bruni is dead.' But then you don't die. So you've got to go on."

So why do it? "You know, everything in life feels like that to me. I am very fearful by nature. I'm just an anxious type. So I am full of fear." Of what? Criticism? Failure? Death? "I'm afraid of death, yes," she agrees quickly, with feeling. "You know, age, death, death of other people, disease. Urgh." She shudders. "So I try to fill up life, you know. I think I try to put as many things between me and death as I can. A lot of life, change life, change country, change language, who cares?"

There have been so many rumours about cosmetic surgery that I ask if she has also changed her body. I've certainly never seen a 45-year-old without a single line around the eyes before; but then again, I've never met a woman who's had facial work but wears no makeup. "No," she says firmly. "I would do surgery if I was sure it would work, but I'm not sure it does. They look strange, the women - they don't look younger, so I'm just not sure it works. I wouldn't have any moral judgment about it - but if it goes wrong, it's for ever!" Her eyes widen with fright. "So those kind of things I don't really trust yet."

And how would she feel about becoming first lady again? She sinks back in her chair, her expression fixed in an almost theatrical despond. "It was really, like, a great honour, but it doesn't really depend on me, and it's not something I think about. And an election campaign, it's a little bit like a war - a small warso the thought of going through that again. . ." She shudders. "I'm not a warrior, I'm not a fighter, I'm not a boxer. He is."

Does she think France needs another Sarkozy presidency? She offers an airy, rueful shrug. "I'm not qualified to judge that. Of course I think he's the best. But then, I'm in love with him." *

Carla Bruni's new album, Little French Songs, is out now on Decca Records.

Captions:

'I try to fill up life' (from left): At Galliano's 1994 Paris show; in Yves Saint Laurent for the 1998 World Cup; with Karen Mulder, Linda Evangelista and Gianni Versace in 1992; with Vincent Perez in 1993

Stand by your man (from left): With Eric Clapton in 1989; at the Rainforest Foundation fashion show in 1992; with John Galliano in 1997; with Sarkozy in Martinique in 2011. Bottom: at the Dior show, 1995

Carla's world (from left): With the Queen, Sarkozy and Prince Philip at Windsor in 2008; arriving at Heathrow the same year; at Radio City Music Hall in 2009; and with Owen Wilson in Midnight In Paris


Weekend: Secrets of the blue zone On the Greek island of Ikaria, life is sweet... and very, very long. Andrew Anthony reports. Photographs: Eirini Vourloumis

By Andrew Anthony

Gregoris Tsahas has smoked a packet of cigarettes every day for 70 years. High up in the hills of Ikaria, in his favourite cafe, he draws on what must be around his half-millionth fag. I tell him smoking is bad for the health and he gives me an indulgent smile, which suggests he's heard the line before. He's 100 years old and, aside from appendicitis, has never known a day of illness in his life.

Tsahas has short-cropped white hair, a robustly handsome face and a bone-crushing handshake. He says he drinks two glasses of red wine a day, but on closer interrogation he concedes that, like many other drinkers, he has underestimated his consumption by a couple of glasses.

The secret of a good marriage, he says, is never to return drunk to your wife. He's been married for 60 years. "I'd like another wife," he says. "Ideally one about 55."

Tsahas is known at the cafe as a bit of a gossip and a joker. He goes there twice a day. It's a 1km walk from his house over uneven, sloping terrain. That's four hilly kilometres a day. Not many people half his age manage that far in Britain.

In Ikaria, a Greek island in the far east of the Mediterranean, about 30 miles from the Turkish coast, characters such as Gregoris Tsahas are not exceptional. With its beautiful coves, rocky cliffs, steep valleys and broken canopy of scrub and olive groves, Ikaria looks similar to any number of other Greek islands. But there is one vital difference: people here live much longer than the population on other islands and on the mainland. In fact, people here live on average 10 years longer than those in the rest of Europe and America - around one in three Ikarians lives into their 90s. Not only that, but they also have much lower rates of cancer and heart disease, suffer significantly less depression and dementia, maintain a sex life into old age and remain physically active deep into their 90s. What is the secret of Ikaria? What do its inhabitants know that the rest of us don't?

The island is named after Icarus, the young man in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun and plunged into the sea, according to legend, close to Ikaria. Thoughts of plunging into the sea are very much in my mind as the propeller plane from Athens comes in to land. There is a fierce wind blowing - the island is renowned for its wind - and the aircraft appears to stall as it turns to make its final descent, tipping this way and that until, at the last moment, the pilot takes off upwards and returns to Athens. Nor are there any ferries, owing to a strike. "They're always on strike," an Athenian back at the airport tells me.

Stranded in Athens for the night, I discover that a fellow thwarted passenger is Dan Buettner, author of a book called The Blue Zones, which details the five small areas in the world where the population outlive the American and western European average by around a decade: Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia, the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California and Ikaria.

Tall and athletic, 52-year-old Buettner, who used to be a long-distance cyclist, looks a picture of well-preserved youth. He is a fellow with National Geographic magazine and became interested in longevity while researching Okinawa's aged population. He tells me there are several other passengers on the plane who are interested in Ikaria's exceptional demographics. "It would have been ironic, don't you think," he notes drily, "if a group of people looking for the secret of longevity crashed into the sea and died."

Chatting to locals on the plane the following day, I learn that several have relations who are centenarians. One woman says her aunt is 111. The problem for demographers with such claims is that they are often very difficult to stand up. Going back to Methuselah, history is studded with exaggerations of age. In the last century, longevity became yet another battleground in the cold war. The Soviet authorities let it be known that people in the Caucasus were living deep into their hundreds. But subsequent studies have shown these claims lacked evidential foundation.

Since then, various societies and populations have reported advanced ageing, but few are able to supply convincing proof. "I don't believe Korea or China," Buettner says. "I don't believe the Hunza Valley in Pakistan. None of those places has good birth certificates."

However, Ikaria does. It has also been the subject of a number of scientific studies. Aside from the demographic surveys that Buettner helped organise, there was also the University of Athens' Ikaria Study. One of its members, Dr Christina Chrysohoou, a cardiologist at the university's medical school, found that the Ikarian diet featured a lot of beans and not much meat or refined sugar. The locals also feast on locally grown and wild greens, some of which contain 10 times more antioxidants than are found in red wine, as well as potatoes and goat's milk.

Chrysohoou thinks the food is distinct from that eaten on other Greek islands with lower life expectancy. "Ikarians' diet may have some differences from other islands' diets," she says. "The Ikarians drink a lot of herb tea and small quantities of coffee; daily calorie consumption is not high. Ikaria is still an isolated island, without tourists, which means that, especially in the villages in the north, where the highest longevity rates have been recorded, life is largely unaffected by the westernised way of living."

But she also refers to research that suggests the Ikarian habit of taking afternoon naps may help extend life. One extensive study of Greek adults showed that regular napping reduced the risk of heart disease by almost 40%. What's more, Chrysohoou's preliminary studies revealed that 80% of Ikarian males between the ages of 65 and 100 were still having sex. And, of those, a quarter did so with "good duration" and "achievement". "We found that most males between 65 and 88 reported sexual activity, but after the age of 90, very few continued to have sex."

In a small village called Nas at the western end of Ikaria's north shore is Thea's Inn, a bustling guesthouse run by Thea Parikos, an American-Ikarian who returned to her roots and married a local. Ever since Buettner set up with his research team here a few years back, Thea's Inn has been a sort of base camp for anyone looking to study the island's older population.

It's a good introduction to Ikarian life, if only because the dining table always seems to bear a jug of homemade red wine and dishes made from garden-grown vegetables. Whatever household we enter over the next four days, even at the shortest notice, invariably produces the same appetising hospitality. Yet Ikarians are far from wealthy. The island has not escaped the Greek economic crisis and around 40% of its inhabitants are unemployed. Nearly everyone grows their own food and many produce their own wine.

There is also a strong tradition of solidarity among Ikarians. During the second world war, when the island was occupied by the Italians and Germans, there was substantial loss of life through starvation - some estimates put the death toll at 20% of the population. It's been speculated that one of the reasons for Ikarians' longevity is a Darwinian effect of survival of the fittest.

After the war, thousands of communists and leftists were exiled to the island, bringing an ideological underpinning to the Ikarians' instinct to share. As one of the island's few doctors told Buettner, "It's not a 'me' place. It's an 'us' place."

Nearly all elderly Ikarians have a story of suffering, though few are keen to tell it. Kostas Sponsas lost a leg in Albania, when he was blown up by a German shell. He was saved by fellow Ikarians, without whose help he would have died from loss of blood. "'Be strong,' they told me," he says. "'Have courage!'"

He turns 100 this month and is more mobile than many younger men with two legs. Each day he pays a visit to the office of the shop he set up decades ago. "If I feel tired, I read. It rests my mind."

He was determined not to get depressed after losing his leg as a young man, instead remembering his grandfather's advice. "He used to say to me, 'Be grateful that nothing worse has happened.'"

In terms of longevity, it was wise counsel. Depression, sadness, loneliness, stress - they can and do take a decade off our lives. Sponsas's own tips for a long life are that he never eats food fried with butter, always sleeps well and with the window open, avoids eating too much meat, drinks herb tea - mint or sage - and makes sure to have a couple of glasses of red wine with his food.

Sponsas's son, a large middle-aged man with a broad smile, is with him when I visit, fixing a broken door. Family is a vital part of Ikarian culture and every old person I visit has children and grandchildren actively involved in their lives. Eleni Mazari, an estate agent on the island and a repository of local knowledge, says, "We keep the old people with us. There is an old people's home, but the only people there are those who have lost all their family. It would shame us to put an old person in a home. That's the reason for longevity."

Sponsas agrees: "To have your family around you makes you feel stronger and more secure."

Just a minute's walk from his house in the picturesque port of Evdilos is the spotless home of Evangelia Karnava. In Ikaria, if you ask people their age, the answer they give is the year they were born. Karnava, a tiny but formidable woman, was born in 1916. She radiates a fierce energy, gesticulating like a politician on the stump. She lost two baby girls to starvation during the war but she's not someone haunted by tragedy. Instead, she speaks of her three children, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and her great-great-grandchild. "I'm going to live to be 115," she tells me. "My grandmother was 107."

She certainly looks as if she's fit for a good few years yet. She cleans her own flat and goes shopping every day. What's her secret? She pours out glasses of Coca-Cola for her guests. "I can't live without it!" she says.

Buettner appreciates the irony. He has been studying the diets of the various "blue zones" he's visited for clues to a healthier lifestyle that can be transported to postindustrial western societies. Cigarettes and Coca-Cola were not meant to be part of the programme.

The phrase "blue zone" was first coined by Buettner's colleague, the Belgian demographer Michel Poulain. "He was drawing blue circles on a map in Sardinia and then referring to the area inside the circle as the blue zone," Buettner says. "When we started working together, I extended it to Okinawa, Costa Rica and Ikaria. If you Google it now, it's entered the lexicon as a demographically confirmed geographical area where people live measurably longer." So what does it take to qualify? "It's a variation," Buettner says. "It's either the highest centenarian rate, so the most centenarians per 1,000. Or it has the highest life expectancy at middle age."

All the blue zones are slightly austere environments where life has traditionally required hard work. But they also tend to be very social, and none more so than Ikaria. At the heart of the island's social scene is a series of 24-hour festivals, known as paniyiri, which all age groups attend. They last right through the night and the centrepieces are mass dances in which everyone - teenagers, parents, the elderly, young children - takes part. Kostas Sponsas tells me he no longer has the energy to go on until dawn. He will now usually take his leave by 2am.

One evening, the island's star violin player, whom we met at Gregoris Tsahas's favourite cafe, invites Buettner, me and several others back to his house to hear him play. He says he often grows exhausted while performing at festivals, but the energy and enthusiasm of the people keep him going. He plays some traditional folk tunes, full of passion and yearning and heart-rending beauty, and mentions with pride that Mikis Theodorakis, the composer of Zorba The Greek, was among the leftists exiled on the island in the late 1940s. Theodorakis later recalled the experience with pleasure. "How could this be?" he asked. "The answer is simple: it's the beauty of the island in combination with the warmth of the locals. They risked their lives to be generous to us, something that helped us more than anything bear the burden of the hardship."

One of the things Buettner has found that unites the elderly inhabitants of all the blue zones is that they are unintentionally old: they didn't set out to extend their lives. "Longevity happened to these people," he says. "The centenarians didn't all of a sudden at 40 say, 'I'm going to become 100; I'm going to start getting exercise and eating these ingredients.' It ensues from their surroundings. So my argument is that the environmental components of places such as Ikaria are portable if you pay attention. And the value proposition in the real world is maybe a decade more life expectancy. It's not living to 100. But I think the real benefit is that the same things that yield this healthy longevity also yield happiness."

I ask a number of men in their 90s and 100s if they do any keep-fit exercise. The answer is always the same: "Yes, digging the earth." Nikos Fountoulis, for example, is a 93-year-old who looks 20 years younger. He still has a smallholding in the hills of the island's interior. Each morning he goes out at 8am to feed his animals and tend his garden. He used to dig charcoal as a younger man. "I never thought about getting old," he says. "I feel good. I feel 93, but on Ikaria that's OK."

The island's greatest charm is that it is an unselfconscious sort of place. That could soon change: the spread of tourism is bound to have an effect. The island is protected by its remoteness and limited access, but is now at the mercy of blue zone tourists, those relentless hordes of blue-rinsed travellers looking for the secret elixir of eternal life. Buettner is doubtful that his book will lead to plane-loads of Floridian retirees crowding the island. "What are they going to do?" he asks. "They're not going to be able to descend upon the woman milking a goat."

On the day I leave Ikaria, I come across a man in a baseball cap sitting in a chair outside his house in Evdilos. He is called Vangelis Koutis and he's 97. He had left the island when he was 14 to join the merchant navy. He travelled all over the world, including Middlesbrough, and finally settled in Canada. But, like a lot of Ikarians, he decided to return home in later life, in his case when he was 70. I ask what brought him back.

"Fresh air," he says, "the best climate in the world and the friendliest people I've ever met."

With that, he returns to enjoying the sunshine on a beautiful spring afternoon. It's hard to imagine Middlesbrough, or many other places, offering quite so pleasant a time for a man in his 90s. Life in the blue zone is good. And that may be the real secret of why it's also so long *

Captions:

Evangelia Karnava (left), 97, at home in Evdilos (above)

Ionna Melis, 80, walks through her land in Nas

'Fresh air, the best climate in the world and the friendliest people I've ever met,' 97-year-old Vangelis Koutis (below) says about Ikaria. Above: Gregoris Tsahas, 100

At one of Ikaria's 24-hour festivals, in St Isidoros, everyone - teenagers, parents, young and old - dances through the night (below) and shares a feast of goat (above)


Weekend: 'I don't mind coming second to David in a Who's Witty competition because, frankly, so does everyone else': Heard the one about what you're meant to do after 20 years in one of Britain's most popular double-acts? Robert Webb's not yet sure of the punchline, finds Alexis Petridis. Main portrait by Peter Guenzel

By Alexis Petridis

Robert Webb arrives at the pub not looking much like a man who's later having his photo taken for a national newspaper: there's a hole in the knee of his jeans and two more in the elbow of his cardigan. He suggests we sit outside so we can smoke, which endears him to me enormously. When I offer to go to the bar, he eschews mineral water, instead asking plaintively, "Can I have a proper drink?" and ordering a pint of lager, which endears him to me even more.

Webb is friendly and funny and extremely likable, but he seems unnecessarily worried about how he's going to come across in print. He says he doesn't like the kind of interviews in which journalists probe comedians for the hidden darkness that drives their urge to make people laugh. Not that there seems much in the way of hidden darkness. While his long-term comedy partner David Mitchell cuts a vaguely eccentric figure - at least until his recent marriage to Victoria Coren - at 40, Webb seems the height of normality: happily married to fellow writer and comedian Abigail Burdess (they worked together a couple of years ago on the BBC2 Dickens parody The Bleak Old Shop Of Stuff), resident in a nice part of north London, two daughters aged two and four. At one point, he uses the phrase "tempered by", which is hardly the most pretentious in the English language, but it causes him to sink his head in his hands. "'Tempered by'," he sighs. "I'm going to come over as such a wanker."

Still, it all comes as something of a relief. I don't know why I thought Webb might be hard work, but I did. Perhaps it was down to his TV persona. On the one hand, a few years ago he made a fantastic documentary about his love of TS Eliot, for which he interviewed Andrew Motion and Clive James, read out a beautiful poem written by his wife, and came across as thoughtful, clever and charming. On the other, he presents and narrates an awful lot of clip shows - 10 Things I Hate About, Great Movie Mistakes, Pop's Greatest Dance Crazes - ostensibly as himself, but in fact as a character based vaguely on the one he's spent 10 years playing in Peep Show: sneering, superior, smug. Apparently, I'm not the only person to make this mistake. "I'm not going to do any more Movie Mistakes, because I think people have started to think that I am this . . . cunt," he frowns. "I do get quite well paid for two days in front of a camera and one day doing a voiceover, but I think that's enough now."

Or perhaps it was because his career looks, from the outside at least, to have been pretty gilded. At school, he studied to get into Cambridge with the intention of becoming a comedy writer-performer: "It looked to me aged about 15 or 16 that lots of the people I really loved watching on TV, like Fry and Laurie, had all gone to the same place, and what you did is you got some quite good A-levels, and then you go there, and then you try and meet someone funny, and then you do Edinburgh. Yeah, I had a plan. It was kind of sick like that."

The plan appears to have worked almost from the start, despite what must have been the shattering impact of his mother's death from breast cancer midway through his A-levels: he dropped out of school, returned the next year and got the grades. He wasn't intimidated by Footlights' illustrious history, regardless of the fact that he was the first person in his family to go to university - "We came from a village in Lincolnshire and, without wishing to use the phrase 'working class', read the Daily Mirror and watched Blind Date" - and had feared it would be full of "public schoolboys in white silk ties singing librettos about Proust". Instead, he met Mitchell and they ended up vice-president and president, respectively. Within a few years of leaving university, the pair had their own TV sketch series, That Mitchell And Webb Look, which eventually won a Bafta, and the lead roles in Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain's Peep Show, which grew from an idea to create a kind of live-action Beavis And Butthead into the longest-running sitcom in Channel 4's history.

Indeed, the only notable disaster in his career to date seems to have been an ill-starred attempt to write a column for the Daily Telegraph, where he took terrible offence at negative comments from the barmier, climate-change-denying fringes of the paper's online readership, and ended up getting fired after a year. "I wasn't particularly busy at the time, so what I should have been doing in three hours, I was taking a day and a half to do, while getting drunk. I'd sit in the garden, drinking and talking to myself, then go back upstairs, write another sentence, go, 'Oh, this isn't right.' I'd make such a meal of it. If I'd been more professional, I'd have just done it and got on with my life. But because I'd turned it into this three-day psychodrama, and then the bastards hated it, that was quite hard to take." He laughs. "And now they're the official opposition in most councils, it seems."

His next role is in an upcoming episode of Agatha Christie's Marple called A Caribbean Mystery. Superior Sunday night fluff, it has a good script by Charlie Higson, a cast that includes Anthony Sher, and is Webb's first ever straight acting role. "I was wandering around privately thinking, 'So what is it actors do when they don't have to get a laugh at the end of the line?' And it turns out they just fiddle with their props a bit more."

I had assumed that straight parts were where his ambitions lay, partly because, the clip shows notwithstanding, so much of his work outside Mitchell and Webb involves acting - from a West End appearance in Neil LaBute's Fat Pig to umpteen sitcoms and comedy dramas: The Smoking Room, Fresh Meat, even Ben Elton's ghastly Blessed, which was put out of its misery after one series and seemed an odd choice for someone so meticulous about his own writing that he and Mitchell would come up with 500 sketches for each of their series, then abandon 400 of them. "Well," he says, "if the co-writer of The Young Ones and Blackadder says, 'Do you want to come and audition for this?', you say yes."

He certainly seems more interested in acting than in the world of the comedy panel show, which Mitchell seems to have colonised. "It's always a bit nerve-racking. I don't really relax and enjoy it the way David does. I don't mind coming second to David in a Who's Witty competition because, frankly, so does everyone else, so I don't turn up as often on those."

But he shakes his head vigorously when I suggest he has a desire to pursue serious acting. "No! I mean, I wouldn't mind it. I get asked every now and again, and it's nice to be on those lists, but I get slightly chippy about the idea that you're 'moving up' in some way. I'm not particularly itching to be 'taken seriously as an actor', because I've been taken very seriously for the stuff I've been doing up to now."

Nevertheless, he has been thinking about his future. "I'm feeling around for what happens in a post-Peep Show world. Technically, we've got a commission for series nine next year, but there's a vague feeling that it's winding down a bit." He recently had a conversation with one of the writers that led him to the conclusion they might not be making any more. "I wouldn't expect them to go through a billboard on the edge of a cliff in a double-decker bus and explode - we're never going to shoot it in the head quite like that - but it might be time to plan for what happens afterwards. I've been sort of coasting on Peep Show. So now it's kind of, 'When I grow up, I'm going to have to be an actor if I'm not careful.'"

In addition, while his partnership with Mitchell isn't over - they just completed a new series called Ambassadors, in which they play two British diplomats in eastern Europe, alongside Keeley Hawes, Matthew McFadden and Tom Hollander "as a sort of Prince Andrew-type trade envoy" - their collaborations are becoming more sporadic, which has had a positive effect on their friendship. "Now I hardly see him, it's the most cloudless relationship you've ever seen."

When they met, Webb says, they'd been drawn together because they seemed quite similar. "He slightly reminded me of me, being an upstaging little shit. I mean, I was appalling at that point, because I'd gone to enormous trouble to get to university, my mother had died, I'd gone back to school for a year, and there was just a sense of 'I'm here now, and it turns out I do know what I'm doing', so by my second year at university I was really quite grand." But at the height of the sketch show's success, when they went on tour, they were barely speaking: "I was getting married that Christmas and David was the best man, and he had to stand up and say nice things about me. He says in his autobiography that he was really worried, because we really weren't getting on. It was getting a little bit pathetic. We'd just seen so much of each other. It's a lot for two people who are not in love and don't have sex. It's a sort of tetchy marriage."

It's easy to forget just how big That Mitchell And Webb Look was partly because, unlike a lot of their contemporaries, they didn't really go in for heavy marketing or spin-off merchandise, but their tour ended at Brixton Academy, as big a venue as you can play without getting into the realm of arenas. He doesn't give the impression of missing that kind of thing much. Instead, he finds himself "pottering about". He has an idea for a novel and a semi-autobiographical book about masculinity - "It's basically the only way I'm going to get to do an autobiography unless I get cancer or survive a high-speed car crash" - and a "half-idea" for a film, despite the fact that his experiences in the world of cinema thus far have been a little mixed. He's proud of the Mitchell and Webb film Magicians and last year's British romcom The Wedding Video, despite their meagre returns at the box office. "They spent a fortune putting adverts for it on ITV during the Olympics," he says of the latter, "when no one was watching ITV." By contrast, he so hates 2006's Confetti, an improvised comedy in which he and Olivia Colman played a naturist couple, that he once upbraided the film critic Mark Kermode for saying it was good: "He likes Confetti and he doesn't like Star Wars. I think that just relieves us from the burden of ever having to take Mark Kermode seriously again." Making it was "just an unhappy experience. Improvising, in May, while naked, standing around in a garden. So cold." His misery was compounded by the fact that, he says, the director assured him his genitals would be pixellated in the finished film, but then declined to do so. "I should cover myself, because she's a bit litigious, by saying that is not how she remembers it. But it is what I remember." He sighs. "I knew I was going to be naked, but I wasn't expecting eightto nine-second shots where I'm just competing with my own cock for the attention of the audience. And losing."

You would think the experience of unexpectedly seeing your own penis on a movie screen might render you impervious to anything life might throw at you. But apparently not. Despite the ongoing success, Webb says he's still bothered what people think of him, which explains the business with the Telegraph commenters and his concern about how he appears in print. "People go, 'You shouldn't care', and you go, 'But I can't help how I feel.'" He drains his pint and corrects himself. "I shouldn't be grumbling because everything's going fine," he smiles. "I sort of think, doing the voiceovers for adverts and Movie Mistakes and things like that are on this side of the ledger and then, if you can do a documentary about TS Eliot and the odd play, then people won't think you're a complete twat. And it turns out I care whether or not they think I'm a complete twat." *

Captions:

Webb design (from left to right): With longstanding partner David Mitchell in 2012 film Magicians; in Peep Show; in the new Miss Marple; and on stage in Fat Pig


Weekend: 'It just went for me...': From the woman who had to have 18 years of reconstructive surgery and the dog-lover who needed 50 stitches in her face, to the father who went to the park for a kickabout with his kids and ended up in hospital: victims of dog attacks tell Lena Corner their stories. Main portrait: Felicity McCabe

By Lena Corner

Sarah Barron, 41, a full-time carer for her disabled son, from Stubbington in Hampshire

It was January 2010 and we were visiting my fiance's family one Sunday evening. His brother's girlfriend had just found out she was pregnant, so we were celebrating. We were all sitting around chatting and their dog, a staffordshire bull terrier, was curled up on the sofa next to me. She was a great dog, a typical staffie: boisterous, very loving and fabulous with children. We must have been there for about an hour when suddenly, without warning, I heard this awful snarling. Next thing I knew, she was on top of me.

First, she went for the side of my face near the hairline, but she couldn't get any purchase, so she went for my mouth. She tore my face in a jagged line from the Cupid's bow across the cheek. My top lip was left hanging off; there was blood everywhere. It was over in seconds.

I can't remember much about it. All I can recall is the horrible snarling and then the weight of her as she pushed me into the back of the sofa. After she bit me, I remember somehow walking towards my fiance, Neil, who was by the door.

He rushed me to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth. They gave me morphine, so I don't even recall being in that much pain. My mum arrived later, and when she took me to the toilet I peeled back the bandages to have a look. I had been in and out of hospital most of the previous year with my 19-year-old son Liam, who has profound mental and physical disabilities. This was the final straw. I remember seeing my face and saying to Mum, "I feel like a monster. I don't want to be here any more."

The next day they put 50 stitches in my face and the day after that I was sent home. I couldn't really eat. In the days that followed, I was in such shock, I would wake up in the morning and think it hadn't actually happened. I had nightmares for two years - visions of the dog on top of me. When I went out, people would gawp and make comments, but having Liam, that was one thing I was used to.

I was in and out of hospital every few months. The skin on the top of my lip had died, so they did a graft. It left a great big lump on my lip, and because the corner of the mouth was tucked in and turned down, it made me look as if I was miserable all the time. I tried facial massage and also got some makeup done by a Harley Street beautician. She did semi-permanent lip-liner. She basically drew my lips on for me. It made all the difference.

Who knows why the dog bit me? I was sitting on the sofa between her and her owner, so maybe she was just being protective. My fiance's family were devastated. They all apologised, but no one was to blame. The dog was put to sleep. No one told me for a long time, because they knew I would never have wanted that. I love dogs - I have two of my own. She was a beautiful dog. It broke my heart. It left me with huge guilt.

Justin Eronimus, 43, a retail consultant from Grove Park, south London

It was a sunny evening during the 2010 World Cup. My children were so excited by it, my wife and I decided to take them for a kick-around in Northbrook Park, near Lewisham. We had our two sons, who were four and five, and our five-year-old nephew.

I was just setting up the goalposts when my wife started screaming. I turned to see her sprinting as fast as she could towards the children. There were three big terrier crossbreeds running straight at them. My wife got to our four-year-old, grabbed him and held him as high as she could above her head, still screaming. All three dogs jumped up, trying to grab him.

I ran over and pulled my nephew behind me. I found myself face to face with the dogs. They showed their teeth - like a pack of wolves.

We got the children into a fenced-off play area. Other parents were also shielding their children in there. I called the police. While I was on the phone, I heard another commotion and turned around to see the dogs' owner running after my wife waving a dog chain at her. As he caught up with her, she crouched on the floor and put up her arms to protect her head. Luckily, another parent grabbed the other end of the chain just in time. I realised he was attacking my wife because she had taken photos of his dogs.

He told us we would be dead next time he saw us, and ran off. I was still on the phone to the police and they asked which road he had gone down. So I went after him. Suddenly he ran at me and punched me in the head. The next thing I knew, all three of the dogs came at me at the same time. One went for my back, another my hip and the other my hand. I felt like they were trying to tear me apart. I was left with a big rip in my back and two deep bite marks. I'm absolutely certain he instructed those dogs to attack. Then he hit me one more time and they all ran off.

I was still on the phone to the police, and they told me to go back to the park where an ambulance was waiting for me. I was taken to Lewisham hospital.

The police took custody of the dogs and the case ended up going to crown court. His lawyer argued we were overprotective parents and we lost. Then it went to magistrates' court and he pleaded guilty. By that time he was in prison for another offence. Two of the dogs were put down and the other was given to his parents and ordered to be muzzled. I was glad. The police told us it had cost pounds 17,000 to hold on to those dogs during the year that it took for the trials to take place.

This whole thing wasn't about me and my injuries. It was about what could have happened to the children.

Alison Edmonds, 44, a university administrator from Cawood, North Yorkshire

It was 1970, cup final day, and I was 18 months old. We had gone to my grandmother's house in Oxfordshire to watch the match, so my mum could break the news that she was expecting a second child. My mum, my grandmother and I were sitting in the garden. I was on my mum's knee and she was reading me a story. All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, my grandmother's puppy, a labrador cross, jumped up and took a large chunk out of my face.

It was bad. The right-hand side of my face was ripped open. I'm not sure how many stitches I had, but I suspect it was more than 100. As the ambulance drove me to hospital, my grandfather took the dog to the vet to be destroyed.

My poor mother was devastated. As she was pregnant, it must have been so much worse. I have no idea how horrendous I looked. I have never asked and she doesn't talk about it. I know my grandmother has never forgiven herself.

I ended up with a scar that starts at the top of my nose and travels in an arc to the outside edge of my eye and down to my mouth. People didn't know how to deal with those things back then. If anyone asked what happened to my face, my mother would say, "Tell the lady what happened, Alison", as if she was protecting herself from having to say it. I also remember having to wear prescription foundation. When I went to parties, my mum would sit me on the kitchen table and spend 20 minutes smearing it on. I hated it.

I spent 18 years under a consultant surgeon having reconstructive, cosmetic and plastic surgery. Three of my nerves were severed in the attack, which meant that until I was about 15, I couldn't really smile.

Having my photo taken became one of the horrors of my life. I have a heap of family snaps in which everyone is having a lovely time and I'm looking like the world is about to end.

I can't remember anything of the attack, and I've never tried to. I am OK with some dogs, but if you put me in a room with one, I'll tell you within seconds if I'm staying or going. It's not even whether it's a big dog or dangerous breed; it's just a feeling that I'm not able to define - a sense that I need to leave. I also really dislike tied-up dogs. Dogs that are tethered think they are at a disadvantage and are likely to be more of a problem.

Ten years ago I started work for a charity called Changing Faces, which believes that people with facial differences shouldn't hermit themselves away. I suspect the attack made me a lot shyer than I would have been, but I have a lovely husband, two lovely children and a good job. I think it has probably shaped my entire life, but it hasn't stopped me from doing anything.

Denis Davies, 34, a PR consultant from Reading, Berkshire

It was Bonfire Night and I had gone to my friend's house down the road for a barbecue. I was seven. My parents weren't there, but there were lots of other families. I grew up in South Africa, and we used to do this sort of thing a lot.

I remember going into the kitchen and seeing the family dog cowering. She was a rottweiler. I had known her all my life. I felt sorry for her, because she was obviously terrified of the fireworks, so I went over to reassure her. Without hesitation, she launched at me. She threw her entire weight at me and knocked me on to my back on the kitchen floor. I stuck out my hands to protect my face and she just went for me, mauling my arm.

A friend's dad came in and somehow got her off - but she came at me again. This time, she went for my other arm. I ended up with four big bite holes on each arm and 32 tooth marks. I was hysterical.

My mum's friend rushed me to hospital. This was the 1980s and the era of rabies, so everyone was very worried. I was given five or six injections directly into the wounds. They had to scrape the top layer of skin off each bite wound to clean it. That was just awful.

Afterwards, it didn't bother me that much. When you're a kid and you go through something like that, you get a bit of kudos. I had cool scars to show my friends. It's only now that I'm in my 30s that it has really hit home. I guess it has slowly dawned on me what could have happened. Now when I see a dog that's taller than my knee, I'll have a minor panic attack and do everything I can to stay away from it. And when I see a rottweiler, I start to shake - they terrify me. I just think they look so angry. I avoid parks, because I know they're places with dogs on the run. I gravitate towards places I know dogs aren't around.

Nothing ever happened to the dog that attacked me. We could have pressed charges, but they were family friends, so we were never going to do that. I certainly never went back to their house again. We're not really in touch any more. We moved back to the UK in 1990 and eventually, over time, the friendship between our two families died.

If I ever have children, I would never get a dog. I just think you can never really trust them. The dog that attacked me was well cared for, I had grown up with her, she was a family dog, yet look what she did to me. You can never tell for certain what they are thinking. I'd get a cat, though. You know where you stand with a cat.

Susan Gowland, 43, a market manager from Windsor, Berkshire

I was out shopping with my two sons in Windsor town centre. We were walking through one of the pedestrianised areas on our way to the Sony shop when we saw a jack russell tied to a drainpipe outside one of the stores. My nine-year old son walked past it first and then Harry, my 12-year-old, went past a couple of steps behind. The dog lunged and sunk its teeth into his leg.

I did what any mother would do - I grabbed Harry and got him out of the way. I can't really remember how I did it - I think I may also have used my hand or foot to force the dog off him. A couple of shop assistants came running out and a lot of people stopped. Harry was hysterical. I said to someone, "Try and look at its tag." The dog was still snapping, but a member of the public managed to read the phone number. They rang it and the woman who owned the dog was in Fat Face trying on clothes.

I asked the shop's security people to get her driving licence from her and they photocopied it for me. Then I half-carried Harry to my local doctor just around the corner. He said we should go to hospital. Harry had three very clear puncture wounds and was bleeding.

If I could go back and get hold of that woman with her stupid dog, I probably wouldn't be so polite. She had a vicious animal in a town centre with small children around. I think if you've got an animal that has a propensity to be nasty, you muzzle it. I was fuming. I have a dog - we have always had dogs - but I would never in a million years tie it to a lamppost and go clothes shopping.

For two weeks after the incident, my son wouldn't leave the house. His grades dropped drastically and he was wary of walking to the shop at the end of our road. Even now, two years later, he is in therapy.

I wanted the owner prosecuted. I thought it would make an enormous difference to Harry - it would be a clear message that what happened wasn't right. But the CPS weren't interested. I thought, "She's not getting away with this", so I went down the private route. I hired solicitors and they contacted the woman whose dog it was. I had her driving licence, so she could hardly deny it.

Because she's admitted liability, it's fairly straightforward and now she is paying for all Harry's therapy. The counsellor is a lovely woman - she comes at weekends and takes Harry out and puts him in situations with dogs to try to help him overcome his fear. He's doing really well *

Captions:

'I remember seeing my face and saying to Mum,

"I feel like a monster" ': Sarah Barron (left) needed

50 stitches after she was mauled by a staffordshire bull terrier. Above: shortly after the attack

'One dog went for my back, another my hip and the other my hand,' recalls Justin Eronimus. 'It felt like they were

trying to tear me apart'

'Having my photo

taken became one of the

horrors of my life,' says Alison Edmonds, who was savaged as a baby. Below: Edmonds in 1971

'If I could go back and get hold of that woman with her stupid dog. . .' Susan Gowland with her son Harry

'When I see a rottweiler, I start to shake,' says Denis Davies. 'They

terrify me. I just think they look so angry'


Weekend: weekender: Valerie June, singer, 30

By ecky Barnicoat

I am a boring loner. I enjoy Friday nights at home in my rocking chair with no arms, rocking and relaxing. It's not uncommon for Netflix to be involved. Records are a possibility, but most of it is spent in silence. The phone rarely rings. Nobody knocks on the door. I might run a long bath with herbs, oils and salt. I will stay in the bath until I look like a prune and then fall into my soft, cloud-like bed to sleep like a baby.

It's different if I'm in Memphis. Then I'll round up some buddies and hit this juke joint called Wild Bill's at about 1am. It's a tight, small and sweaty venue where all ages, colours and kinds go to hear the best blues music in town.

Saturdays are set for antique shops. Williamsburg in Brooklyn has some good ones. I get in there and start meddling around with dusty boxes and rickety, worn-in stuff. I like it when I find something with someone else's name on it. It's a mighty rush if it's in their handwriting.

My number one style requirement is to have fun getting dressed. Nothing is too old, expensive, cheap, cute or ugly for me. I heart Beacon's Closet in Brooklyn, a vintage clothes shop that never lets me down. I grew my dreadlocks 12 years ago because they give me the freedom to roll out of bed and not spend hours on my woolly, thick hair. I get tons of dropped jaws and compliments, so I reckon folks like them all right.

Interview by Becky Barnicoat

Are you a Weekender?

Email a photo and a brief description of how you

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Weekend: FASHION: Loud and proud: Turn up the volume this summer with bold prints and patterns. Pictures: Sven Jacobsen. Styling: Simon Chilvers

Take it lying down

T-shirt, pounds 180, by Christopher Kane, from matchesfashion.com. Trousers, pounds 453, by Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci, from selfridges.com.

Beat about the bush

Jacket, pounds 195, and shorts, pounds 145, both youmustcreate.com. T-shirt, pounds 145, by Alexander Wang, from liberty.co.uk. ≥⃒

Out on the tiles

Top, pounds 150, acnestudios.com. Jeans, pounds 350, by Christopher Kane X J Brand, from matchesfashion.com.

King of the jungle

Shirt, from a selection, by Balenciaga by Nicolas Ghesquiere, balenciaga.com.

Stylist's assistant: Camilla Holmes. Hair: Michael Harding at Radiohairandmakeup using Bumble and bumble. Model: Travis at Supa Model Management.


Weekend: FASHION: All ages: Simple pleasures

1 Tracey wears shirt dress, pounds 255, by Richard Nicoll, from urbanoutfitters.co.uk. Waistcoat, from a selection, antipodium.com. Leather culottes, pounds 210, by Boutique, from topshop.com. Clogs, pounds 55, office.co.uk.

2Sabrina wears shirt dress, pounds 75, by Boutique, from topshop.com. Sandals, pounds 35, riverisland.com.

3 Samantha wears silk dress, pounds 295, by T by Alexander Wang, from harveynichols.com. Shoes, pounds 15, marksandspencer.com.

4Pam wears mesh top, pounds 440, by Stella McCartney, from net-a-porter.com. Skirt, pounds 55, cosstores.com. Courts, pounds 199.90, gannistore.com. Vest top and jewellery, Pam's own.

5Shalke wears blouse, pounds 149, antipodium.com. Trousers, pounds 490, by Chloe, from brownsfashion.com. Courts, pounds 45, asos.com.

Photographer: David Newby.

Stylist: Priscilla Kwateng. Stylist's assistants: Salome Bakpa and Genevieve Torabi. Hair: Jamie McCormick using Kerastase. Makeup: Lisa Stokes using Chanel Les Beiges and S2013. Makeup assistant: Hannah Parkin. Models: Tracey at Bookings Models, Sabrina and Samantha at Elite, Pam at Ugly, Shalke at Nevs. Shot at oldshoefactory.co.uk.


Weekend: Fashion: The Measure

GOING UP

Skinnies Nope, not jeans. Astley Clarke's term for its ultra-slim and totally affordable summer friendship bracelets.

Haim hair Very long, centre-parted, wavy at the ends only: the festival look of the summer. Get growing.

Mario's T-shirts Sceptical about the snapper as a charity T-shirt designer? We were. But they totally work.

'I have notes' Beyonce-speak for: I have feedback, and you should totally be scared. So alpha.

Elephant cord The Jarvis Cocker favourite is back at Gap next season. Wear oversized with stacked heels.

GOING DOWN

Cheap chandeliers The main issue with Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby, as everyone knows.

Posting selfies of your toned abs Do we really have to spell out the utter wrongness of this?

Playsuits Ousted by dungaree shorts, and now only for tweens. It's brutal out there.

Off-the-peg headgear New Era now offers customisation services at JD Sports. It's your chance to invent your own baseball team.

Champagne on the rocks Teenage models at Paris fashion week believe this to be the height of sophistication. They are mistaken.


Weekend: FASHION: How to dress: A leopard can change its spots

By Jess Cartner-Morley

Twenty years ago, you could probably have smoked a cigarette at your desk, but you wouldn't have got away with wearing leopard-print. That would have been outrageous. How things change. Smoking, these days, is socially transgressive, while animal prints are as genteel and normal as a lunchtime cocktail was in 1963.

Leopard-print is everywhere. We identify with it, and are drawn to it. It is the clan tartan of modern womanhood. From being something that sluttish women wore after dark, it became something that everyone wore after dark. Then it became daywear. And now it has crossed the final frontier and become officewear.

There are still rules about leopard. After a decade of painstaking research, I think I'm close to compiling the definitive guide. Rule number one: you can't wear it for a job interview, not because it is slutty, but because it shows, as they say in Westminster, questionable judgment. But once you've got your feet under the desk, you can bring your leopard with you.

Rule number two: don't get your animals mixed up. The reason no one blinks an eye at leopard-print is that it has become so common that we have stopped seeing it as an animal print. It has become no wilder than a polka dot. The same does not apply to zebra stripes, or even giraffe spots: these will still be read as a bit crazy, and so are less useful for the office - but all the more impactful out of it.

Rule number three: filters may be used liberally. Turn a leopard-print sepia, or snow leopard monochrome, and it is more elegant and refined than the full-fat gold and black version.

The last of the leopard-print rules applies out of the office. To the old adage that you should never show both cleavage and leg, leopard-print can be added as a third either/or element. If you want to play it safe, then out of the three, pick just one. Of course, I'm not saying you do want to play it safe. Perhaps you don't. With leopard, legs and cleavage, you can apply the famous line about Martinis: one is just right, two is too many - and three is not enough.

T-shirt, pounds 198, by Equipment, and trousers, pounds 225, by Milly, both harrods. com. Heels, pounds 60, topshop.com.

Get the look:

1 Cotton dress, pounds 299, by Moschino, my-wardrobe.com.

2 Blouse, pounds 17.99, zara.com.

3 Jacquard trousers, pounds 315, by Kenzo, matchesfashion.com.

4 Scarf, pounds 16.99, missselfridge.com.


Weekend: What I see in the mirror: Gavin Turk

By Gavin Turk

There's a lovely Roland Barthes essay about the face you put on when you're photographed, to try to control how the image will come out. And it's the same when people look in the mirror. Like everyone, I put on a certain face, and I worry that what I see in the mirror is a construct. Also, my reflection is back to front, so it's not what anyone else sees.

I always get a shock when I look in the mirror because what I feel like on the inside doesn't correlate to what I look like on the outside. My mental image of myself changes daily. For instance, if I've got toothache, I feel like my face is totally swollen and that I am one great big tooth, but I look in the mirror and you wouldn't know. Or, if I've a nervous eye tic, I feel that I am a huge twitching eyeball, but I don't look like that in the mirror.

I've used mirrors in my art. I made a work called Your Authorised Reflection - a portrait-sized mirror that I signed back to front on the inside of the glass. The idea is that people look in it and their reflection is authorised or signed by me.

Then I made some clay busts of my own head and invited people to distort and change them. Somehow we ended up with something that felt close to a self-portrait.

It's strange: as an artist I work with notions of self-portraiture, but I find looking in the mirror a challenge. If I see a picture of myself in the newspaper, I don't like to look at it.

Limited-edition Gavin Turk works will be on sale at Vauxhall Art Car Boot Fair on 9 June (artcarbootfair.com).


Weekend: BEAUTY: Get the look: Sali Hughes on eye creams

By Sali Hughes

I am asked for eye cream recommendations more than anything else, yet I am somewhat reluctant to endorse them wholesale. I think marketing and beauty advertising has caused people to place undue expectation on eye treatments as some magical cure to skin ageing, and while I certainly agree it's important to treat the eye area (it's usually the first to wrinkle), I don't always think we need a dedicated product to do it.

I'm not convinced that eye cream is anything more than a tiny pot of anti-ageing moisturiser (which I like, by the way), and I don't think all skins need the extra product and considerable financial outlay. If you have dry skin and have no reaction (eye-watering, puffiness) to putting your regular serum and day cream all around the eyes, then do that.

If your eyes are sensitive or your skin is on the oily side, then an eye cream will generally offer a lighter feel and no sun protection, which can aggravate. Whatever you choose, apply after cleanser and serum with your ring finger (it's the weakest), working from your lower outer eye clockwise for your right eye and anti-clockwise for your left, to cause minimal drag. Here are six eye creams I rate.

Prevage Eye Ultra Protection Anti-Aging Moisturiser SPF15 (main image), pounds 76.50, johnlewis.com

Offers UV protection and feels velvety and smooth. I love it.

Benefit It's Potent! Eye Cream, pounds 24.50, benefitcosmetics.co.uk

A great first eye cream for young skins. Stays moist and makes skin look a lot brighter.

Kiehl's Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado, pounds 33, kiehls.co.uk

Excellent on very dry, flaky or sensitive skins. Gentle tightening effect from a rich, cosseting cream.

Zelens

Triple-Action Advanced Eye Cream, pounds 75, thisisbeautymart.com

I know skin experts who say this is the best anti-ageing eye cream. I agree it's one of them.

Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler Eye Cream, pounds 21.96,

boots.com

Keeps skin hydrated and moist all day with no mascara smudge. Fills in wrinkles temporarily.

Sunday Riley Start Over Eye Cream, pounds 65, uk.spacenk.com

I adore the whole range, but this is the star turn, giving depuffed skin and a reduction in fine lines.


Weekend: FOOD: Super bowl: There's a scrumptious soup to suit every season, says Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

By Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Soup is always in season. In winter, warming and hearty; in high summer, chilled and refreshing (or, should the weather let you down, heated up to be warming and hearty again). Whatever the season, making soup is always worthwhile. And at this time of year it's particularly flexible and fun - a melting pot for the very best early-summer produce.

Proportions needn't - shouldn't - be exact. Just grab plenty of what's good and fresh, such as delicious new broad beans, sweet, earthy potatoes or handfuls of parsley, and muddle together without worrying too much about precise quantities.

That doesn't mean being slap-dash and using second-rate or sad ingredients: always use top-quality veg. Take care with your soup's base - the liquor in which you simmer the other ingredients - and the finishing swirls, sprinkles and seasonings, and you'll produce something not merely good, but outstanding.

Many soups are built on chicken stock - savoury and flavoursome enough to give body and depth without being too assertive. Other meat stocks have their place, but can overwhelm lighter ingredients such as herbs or summer vegetables. My standard chicken stock method is given below. All I'd add is that, if possible, make stock with more than one chicken carcass, increasing the veg quotient, too (you can freeze carcasses, saving them for a stock-making session). For the same, minimal amount of work, you'll get two or three times as much delicious liquor. It freezes well and, once you've got a hoard stashed, you can make soup at a moment's notice.

A light fish stock can also be put into service for summer soups. If made with very fresh fish trimmings, aromatic veg and herbs, and simmered lightly for just half an hour or so, it makes a subtle liquor that will contribute little or no "fishy" flavour to the finished dish, just a winning, well-seasoned base.

Sometimes I prefer a vegetable stock for summer soups, particularly when using delicate veg such as peas and beans. I'm no stranger to stock cubes and granules, and these can save the day when you're in a hurry (my favourite is Kallo's yeast-free organic). But a homemade veg stock is more subtle and complex, and also very easy. Make a good, speedy one by coarsely grating an onion, a carrot, a celery stick and a garlic clove, frying them in a little oil with a few peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves and some thyme, then adding a splash of white wine, covering with boiling water, simmering for 10 minutes or so, then straining.

When it comes to finishing your soups, be bold. It's amazing how a shot of high flavour can bring the bowl alive: punchy herbs, shards of fried garlic, crisp bacon, gratings of pungent cheese, a shake of paprika or cayenne, garlicky croutons, little chunks of fruit (grapes or melon, say), preserved lemon rind. All are good cushioned on a swirl of something rich - a spiral of cream, a blob of yoghurt, a trickle of virgin oil.

View your soup as a trinity of sound seasonal alchemy: base, bulk and bits on top. If they all get love and attention, you can't go wrong.

SPRING ONION AND NEW POTATO SOUP WITH CHORIZO

This soup has few ingredients, so be sure they're top-notch. Serves four.

For the chicken stock

1 roast chicken carcass

1-2 peeled onions, roughly chopped

1-2 large carrots, roughly chopped

3-4 celery sticks, roughly chopped

1/2 large leek, roughly chopped

A few black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 sprig fresh thyme (optional)

For the soup

350g very fresh new potatoes, cleaned and cut into small dice

250-300g spring onions (ie, about 2 bunches-worth)

1 tbsp olive oil

150g chorizo (or bacon), diced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tear the chicken carcass into fairly small pieces and cram into a large pot with any skin, bones, fat, jelly or burnt bits from the roasting tin, and all the stock vegetables, peppercorns and herbs. Add enough water just to cover everything - you should need no more than 1.5 litres - bring to a very low simmer and cook, uncovered, for about three hours. If need be, top up the water once or twice. Strain the stock through a fine sieve - you should have about a litre of it - and leave to cool. Skim off excess fat, then chill or freeze.

To make the soup, put a litre of chicken stock into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the diced potatoes and return the broth to a simmer. After four minutes, add the spring onions and cook gently for two to three minutes more, until the potatoes are nicely done.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the chorizo and fry until crisp.

Season the soup, then ladle into bowls. Top each serving with a spoonful of hot chorizo and a trickle of oil from the pan.

WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH NEW-SEASON GARLIC AND PARSLEY

New-season or "green" garlic is harvested when the cloves are still tender and barely formed, and their skin still soft. It's milder than later-season garlic. If you've got really nice young bulbs, simply peel away the outer skin, then slice whole, like leeks. More mature examples will have tougher skins, which are best removed: just slice off the bulb's top and base, and remove the tender cloves one by one. If you can't get new-season garlic, use six to eight cloves of mature garlic. Serves four.

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 whole bulbs new-season garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1,200g canned white beans (ie, 3 tins), such as cannellini, drained

500ml chicken or vegetable stock

1-2 bay leaves

1 sprig fresh thyme (optional)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 medium bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped

Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large pan over a low heat. Add half the thinly sliced garlic and let it sweat very gently for a minute or two, until it just starts to colour. Add the drained beans and enough stock just to cover them (top up with water if necessary). Add the bay and thyme (if using), bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes.

With a slotted spoon, scoop half the beans, and any garlic that comes with them, into a bowl; take out the bay and thyme, too. Use a stick blender to puree the beans and liquid left in the pan. Return the reserved beans and heat gently. Season to taste, then stir in most of the parsley.

Heat the remaining oil in a small pan over a low heat and add the rest of the sliced garlic. Cook as before, very gently, until it starts to turn golden, then remove from the heat.

Ladle the soup into bowls, spoon some garlic and its oil over each serving, and finish with a scattering of yet more parsley.

BROAD BEAN AND LETTUCE SOUP

This gorgeous green bowlful is light but satisfying. Skinning the beans takes time, but is worth it to get the best taste and texture. Serves four.

500g podded broad beans (around 1.5kg in the pod)

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive or rapeseed oil, plus extra to serve

1 knob butter

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 tender inner stems of celery, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced

500ml light vegetable stock

2 large little gem lettuces, shredded

2 tbsp double cream, plus a little more to serve

Sea salt and black pepper

About 1 tsp chopped thyme, to serve

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add the beans, cook for four to five minutes, then drain in a colander. When cool enough to handle, slip all the beans out of their papery skins. As you work, put a third of them - the smallest ones - in a separate bowl.

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic, cover and sweat for 10 minutes. Add the stock, cover again and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the veg are soft, then add the lettuce and simmer for five minutes more, until it has wilted. Remove from the heat, add the larger broad beans and puree. Stir in two tablespoons of cream and season to taste.

Reheat the soup gently if necessary, then ladle into warmed bowls. Swirl a little more cream over each serving, then drop the reserved small beans over the top - the soup should be just thick enough to stop them sinking. Dust with a little thyme and serve *

guardian.co.uk/hughfearnleywhittingstall

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Weekend: Wine: Big bottles, big bucks: Fiona Beckett on the new roses

By Fiona Beckett

What on Earth has happened to rose? It used to be the kind of inexpensive plonk you took on a picnic or sat quaffing in the sun on a summer's afternoon. Now, all of a sudden, it's being packaged in ridiculously blingy bottles and fetching the sort of prices you pay for a bottle of Krug. Have Russian oligarchs developed a taste for it?

Y