Life and Style

Modern London is a city in turbulence, a cosmopolitan cauldron in which more things change than stay the same, where all the world comes to throw a tantrum, get rich through property and complain about schools. Its restaurant scene has generally kept up.

The point of ... loneliness

BEING lonely is frequently judged an extremely bad idea. Yet we should perhaps learn to appreciate the benefits that indirectly flow from this uncomfortable emotion. There would be no relationships without it. There are no greater romantics than those who don't have anyone to be romantic with. It is when we are in the depths of loneliness, without the distraction of work or friends, that we are in a position to grasp the nature and necessity of love. It is after a weekend in which the phone has not stirred, in which every meal was prised from a can and consumed in the unconsoling presence of a gravel-voiced BBC narrator - outlining the mating habits of the Kenyan antelope - that we can appreciate why Plato should have declared (The Symposium, 416BC) that a person without love is like a creature with only half its limbs.

Country & Garden: A tree is not just for life... ...

...but for several lifetimes. Or it should be, if it isn't murdered in the meantime.

John Walsh on Monday: Lost in the menacing streets of Ledbury

SATURDAY NIGHT in Ledbury, Herefordshire. The handsome old market town has gone all frisky for its annual poetry jamboree. Though established only three years ago, the Ledbury Poetry Festival has grown like a bolted Parnassian cauliflower until it has taken over the town where John Masefield was born. It has, to vary the metaphor, carved such a distinct niche for itself in the huge wall of seasonal literary events that, if you ever think of the words "poetry festival", it is the word "Ledbury" you think of next. And it reaches beyond the ambit of verse readings and versifying workshops to become a celebration of international cultural jollity.

Letters: Ron Davies' courage

Sir: Your report of the resignation of Ron Davies from his Welsh Assembly post again trots out the old chestnut of his alleged "moment of madness" on Clapham Common.

Why a salmon, a horse chestnut and a little old lady in Surrey are the difference between... ...a bank holiday weekend like this, or like that

For the past 50 years or so Jean, a spinster in her seventies who lives in Surrey, has documented a few simple facts about the countryside around her. In particular, she records the dates when four species of tree - oak, ash, horse-chestnut and lime - come into leaf. It's the sort of trivial task that machines aren't much good at, but which humans enjoy. She started doing it as part of a diary. Then she kept on doing it. For decades.

Shopping: Six Of The Best - Incense and incense burners

Aluminium stand, pounds 1.50, and cedarwood sticks, pounds 1.95, Muji (0171- 323 2208)

Gardening: Cuttings

News From The Gardeners' World

Travel for mind, body and spirit: Nose The smells of Italy

There are many reasons to choose Florence in the autumn: the city is cooler, it's less crowded and the hills around are blazing red and gold. But the most irresistible reason of all is truffles. Or rather, the smell of them.

Midweek Money: The Trader - I wouldn't recommend mango with the sprouts

CHESTNUTS ROASTING on an open fire, Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" on the gramophone, smiling friends and family coming round to wish us good cheer - no, our Christmases aren't like that either. Perhaps you can only have them like that in black and white. Anyway, this year I can guarantee it'll be more like a Bruce Willis film, with snipers and shouting and the occasional explosion. The reason? We're spending the weekend with Uncle Edward and Aunt Julia.

Eating out: Taste of things to come- Hot, happening and opening soon

Belgo, the Belgian-themed group specialising in moules, frites and 101 different beers, has opened its first branch outside the capital. Belgo Bristol (0117 905 8000) is in a 19th-century granary in the old docks area, but inside the design is futuristic, with metal stairs and loos, spot-lighting, communal tables and benches. And the waiters are dressed as Trappist monks, as usual. It may sound off-the-wall, but the London branches are packed nightly.

Gardening: Prickly Characters

As holly comes inside for Christmas, Nigel Colborn traces the dark, pagan roots of this festive symbol, and selects the plants with the brightest berries

Right of Reply: Jeremy Isaacs

A campaigner for a monument to Oscar Wilde replies to Tom Lubbock's criticism of the new sculpture

Travel: Walks - The lane in Spain

Edward Blincoe steps out in pioneering spirit along the unmarked farm tracks and smugglers' trails of Andalucia, returning at night to a feast...and an electric blanket

Racing: Stravinsky's talents in demand

THE BOOKMAKERS were unimpressed yesterday following Raise A Grand's victory in the Solario Stakes at Sandown. Like the thoroughbred racehorse who forms the centrepiece of the action, the modern bookmaker was taking no chances with a prospective predator in in the form of Stravinsky, winner of a York maiden on Thursday and now the 4-1 favourite for the 2000 Guineas next May.

Ringo gets a little help from friends

FIRST NIGHT Ringo and his Pedigree Chums Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
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Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
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X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
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James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
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File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
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Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
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Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
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Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
Lake Como St Moritz & the Bernina Express 7 nights from £809pp
Vietnam
Lake Maggiore, Orta & the Matterhorn 7 nights from £939pp
South Africa
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Prices correct as of 19 December 2014
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick