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.

How the horse chestnut conkered Britain

It is sometimes pointed out to the British that they have wonderful things growing wild which they completely ignore. We read about French chefs combing our woods for rare fungi. We see fishermen catching langoustines and spider crabs to be exported to places where they like eating these things better than we do. The Romans introduced the sweet chestnut tree into Britain 2,000 years ago, and we are still not particularly grateful for its fruit.

Paperbacks: Reviewed by Emma Hagestadt and Christopher Hirst

Blake by Peter Ackroyd (Minerva, pounds 7.99) The assiduous Ackroyd has conjured up a wonderful life of the ''Cockney visionary'', as vivid and eidetic as the work of Blake himself. Biographer and subject are ideally matched, both ardent believers in the ''infinite London...seen within mundane London''. This impassioned portrait of an angry, transcendental genius will send enthralled readers to Blake's vast poetic output - but how many will make it to the end of Vala or the Four Zoas is a matter for conjecture.

A coming-together of ensembles

The way people write menus evolves as fast as the way cooking evolves, perhaps even faster.

Racing: Branston Abby equals record

Branston Abby equalled the post-war British record for the number of wins by an equine female when gaining her 22nd career success in the listed Dallmayr Delikatessenhauses Grosser Sprint Preis at Munich yesterday.

Where have all the woodlands gone?

Britain was once covered in trees. But today natural forests occupy a tiny proportion of our land area.

BOOK REVIEW / Suburbia's lonely hearts club band

Emma Hagestadt enjoys a spooky tale of mating rituals and dating nightm ares; Dance with Me by Lousie Doughty Simon and Schuster, pounds 9.99

Christmas dinner: facing up to the uncomfortable facts

It really is possible to enjoy all the trimmings without succumbing to unhealthy overindulgence. Sarah Edghill explains what not to eat. Right: expert advice on how to deal with a hangover

Solitary joys and crosswords

THE BURNT CHAIR 5 Duke Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1HP. Tel: 0181-940 9488. Open for dinner Mon-Sat, 6-11, and for lunch by arrangement. Two-course set menu, pounds 12.50; average a la carte, pounds 18 for three courses. Access and Visa accepted

A waxy crassula isn't just for Christmas

Anna Pavord suggests presents for the green of finger

Escapes

Nuts; It began with the pilgrimage to the sweet chestnut tree...

A little local trouble

A weekly round-up of rural rumpuses

Conkers plonkers

First there was the sprinkler ban, which reduced grown gnomes - sorry, men - to tearful mourning for their raddled lawns. Then the car's weekly wash and polish had to go, turning Saturday morning into an empty wasteland of waiting for the start of Grandstand. Now the long hot summer of '95 has made a final assault on masculine pleasures: the nation's supply of conkers is in crisis.

Harris the guiding light for a revelation named Vindaloo

When he goes into Vindaloo's box, Jimmy Harris can tolerate the gelding nibbling at the tyres of his wheelchair. He has had worse. "I used to have this thing called Pollock Fair," he said. "When I wasn't looking the bugger used to grab hold of a handle and tip me out."

Pennies from heaven: Golden Hand brings Devon townsfolk news of the season's first fruit

Joseph Lake (above, right), the town crier of Honiton, Devon, carrying the Golden Hand through the streets to the start of the Hot Pennies ceremony, in which heated coins are thrown from upper windows of the town's inns (above left) in a tradition dating back to the 13th century.

Portrait of the artist as a young horse

KINGSLEY AMIS: A Biography by Eric Jacobs, Hodder & Stoughton pounds 17.99
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