Arts and Entertainment

The idea of The Great American Novel feels like an albatross around the neck of that country’s literature. Sooner or later every white middle-class male writer with any kind of reputation feels obliged to have a stab at it, usually with limited success. Eventually they think it’s time to pack away all the fun stuff like storytelling, energy and plot, and make some big state-of-the-nation address, telling people exactly how things stand in the good ol’ US of A. Interestingly, America’s women writers don’t tend to feel the obligation to grandstand so strongly, and their novels are usually all the better for that.

Royal Marines in Lympstone, Devon, above right, joined volunteers to clear the area of the rampant Himalayan balsam

Himalayan balsam: Call the Marines! It’s an alien plant invasion

Scientists, and now the military, are battling the spread of Himalayan balsam

Love blooms: Aldo Di Toro as Nemorino and Sarah Tynan as Adina in L’elisir d’amore

Classical review: L'elisir d'amore - Plant-food and pesticide make a knock-out elixir

Holland Park's Donizetti is set on an industrial farm and its hero wears a boiler suit, but the warmth of the singing still melts hearts

Go green: Mark's bolting herb soup

Bolting herb soup

Serves 4-6

The Conversation: Roja Dove, perfumer

When did you decide perfumery was for you?

Martha-Renée Kolleh, runs her Yeanon Cafe in the market square in the old West Yorkshire mill town of Ossett

Extraordinary life of the café owner who took on the racists

Martha-Renee Kolleh overcame a tragic upbringing in her native Liberia to build a life here. No wonder she had the courage to stand up to prejudice

Fiona Maddocks: Her life of Hildegard is both scholarly and very readable

Paperback review: Hildegard of Bingen, By Fiona Maddocks

Every woman needs some turbot liver

The English abroad: the legacy of British gardens on the Italian Riviera

The Italians have been no slouches in creating steep, cliffside gardens with spectacular drops to cool, glistening blue-green water

Weekend work: Cut back early-flowerers

What to do

Long or short, use the summer holidays to get kids playing outside

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, over the last couple of decades the children have disappeared from our streets

Blaze destroys £4m Kensington mansion that was under renovation

Mother and her daughter are pulled to safety as firefighters try to contain the fire

The 10 Best patio heaters

From Mexican chimineas to outdoor fireplaces, we look at ways of keeping warm and toasty on cool summer evenings

Designer digs: One of the Four Rooms

B&B and Beyond: Four rooms, Porto - Discreet elegance in Portugal’s lovely second city

This converted townhouse offers design fans a serene and stylish stay in Porto’s old fishermen’s district, says Katie Monk

Weekend work: Time to tidy up plants

What to do

Weekend work: Time to prune plants

What to do

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exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
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A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
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Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
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Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
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techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
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Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
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Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
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Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – MS Swiss Corona - seven nights from £999pp
Lake Maggiore, Orta and the Matterhorn – seven nights from £899pp
Sicily – seven nights from £939pp
Pompeii, Capri and the Bay of Naples - seven nights from £799pp
Istanbul Ephesus & Troy – six nights from £859pp
Mary Rose – two nights from £319pp
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor