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Conservative halve Labour’s poll lead

I is an Other, By James Geary

We say one thing but mean another far more often than we realise, and, paradoxically, rely on this figure of speech to make ourselves clear

At large in Thailand: Trunk callers

The setting is stunning, the spas superb, the Thai cuisine tasty – but the elephants are what make this the perfect family holiday

Ten UK Summer Cottage Deals

1 Cornwall: Take a late-summer break from 26 August at Dove Cottage, sleeping four. It's available through Classic Cottages (classic.co.uk) for £450 for a seven-night stay.

It's Wind in the Willows Part II

Radio 4 is to broadcast a sequel to the children's classic The Wind in the Willows. A Change in the Willows, by Ian Buchan, will star Stephen Mangan as Toad, Andrew Sachs as Badger, Tim McInnerny as Toad and Julian Rhind-Tutt as Ratty.

Business Diary: A new dividend at Bank of America

Who needs real dividends when you can have peace dividends (otherwise known as a period of enhanced returns thanks to afailure to conduct misguided M&A)? That appears to be the message from Brian Moynihan, the chief executive of struggling Bank of America, who welcomed analysts to an investor day at the bank with this little gem ofwisdom: "I can't stress enough to you how much of a peace dividend we'll get without mergers; that peace dividend is effectively apermanent dividend."

Midwife toads under attack from deadly fungal disease

A rare species of toad in the French Pyrenees is the latest variety of amphibian to be threatened by a deadly fungal infection that scientists have so far been unable to cure.

It's a right carry on ... up the jungle

Explorer Benedict Allen reveals that nature documentaries are as tricksy as any other kind of filming, and we collude in the deceit

Migrating toads to disrupt Bundesliga game

Migrating toads will force thousands of Freiburg fans to find a different way home when they leave their stadium after Saturday's Bundesliga game against VfL Wolfsburg.

Letters: multiculturalism

I am alarmed that David Cameron denigrated multiculturalism, to the applause of European Union ministers, some of whom are from right-wing parties. It was in Munich that Hitler held fascist rallies.

Hella Jongerius: Misfit, Phaidon £29.95

Misfit is an impressive monograph celebrating the work of the contemporary Dutch designer Hella Jongerius.

The Stranger in the Mirror: A Memoir of Middle Age, By Jane Shilling

I felt like a soft-boiled egg, a dissected frog, a jellied blob of sea anemone pecked by the cruel beaks of seabirds": Jane Shilling's memoir is an exuberant epitaph on youth, a girlie chat, an album of memories and reflections on identity, memory, the ageing female body and that other woman over there in the mirror who is not myself. Just cannot be. And is. Je est un autre. The book is a lovely, easy read: Shilling's style, dashingly cavalier and artfully artless, bubbles with wit and brio. Never was a lament less lugubrious.

Outside the Box: Cold comfort as Bradford set club record – 73 days without a home game

Now it is official that last month was Britain's coldest December since details were first collated, how many unwanted new football records will be set because of this winter's weather? One already created, which may be further extended this week, is at Bradford Park Avenue, the Evo-Stik (former Northern Premier) League club, who have not played at home since losing to Frickley Athletic on 30 October. They have suffered seven consecutive postponements from snow, frost, waterlogging – everything bar plagues of frogs – and in so doing they set a new club record. A League Challenge Cup derby at home to AFC Halifax Town is due on Tuesday, which would be 73 days since the previous home game. The previous record was set in the long winter of 1962-63, when Avenue went 61 days without a home game, between Third Division home fixtures against (coincidentally) Halifax Town on 4 January and Peterborough United on 6 March. The pile-up proved costly and they were relegated on goal average, joining neighbours Bradford City in Division Four. Replaced as a League club in 1970, they went into liquidation before reforming in 1988.

It's raining birds and frogs: Animal phenomena are surprisingly common but why do they happen?

Worm showers, falling fish – these animal phenomena are surprisingly common. But why do they happen?

Bagpuss, Soho Theatre, London

This season's crop of Christmas shows proves that most inner-London venues are seriously under-used in the rest of the year. There is a plethora of under-age party fun in the West End and now the Soho, home to right-on drama and cutting-edge comedy, has cleared the decks for Bagpuss.

Michael Bywater: Meet the real Dirk Gently. It's me...

I was on the telly. BBC4, last Thursday, 9pm. Didn't watch it, of course, and it wasn't really me anyway. But I read the book. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Actually I'm in the book. Didn't you know? I'm him. Dirk. Douglas told me. Told everyone else, too, whether they asked or not. Lots of people have been put in books but not quite so blatantly. Who was it who said an author is someone who sells out his friends? But at least they usually deny it absolutely.

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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
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Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
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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
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
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'