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.

Package Holidays: The seeds that will bring the taste of a Continental getaway to your plate

In the middle of the night, hidden beneath the covers, I start laughing at the idea of anyone else finding out what I'm Googling. No, I'm not funding the dark web, I'm not streaming illegal stuff of any kind, I'm not even shopping for kittens; I'm soothing my troubled insomniac brow on frenchclick.co.uk, gazing at things formerly only purchasable in French supermarkets, now brought all the way across the Channel to my London front door – with no delivery charge on orders of more than £35. (More than £35? Pah. I can spend over £35 on biscuits alone in a French supermarket.)

Weekend work: Time to wake hippeastrum

WHAT TO DO

Face facts: ‘Easter Island: Mysteries of a Lost World’ with Dr Jago Cooper

Easter Island: Mysteries of a Lost World, TV review: Archaeologist digs deep to prove that a lost tribe can hold their heads up high

When most of us think of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, we think of moai, the 887 magnificent statues that guard its shores. But the mystery of BBC4's Easter Island: Mysteries of a Lost World wasn't how these monoliths were made, or how they were moved into place (aliens, obviously) or even whether the ancient Rapa Nui people were responsible for their own decline, it's why the myths have persisted for so long.

Freddie Hussey, the three-year-old boy crushed by a trailer in Bristol, was

Family pays tribute to three-year-old Freddie Hussey crushed by a trailer in Bristol

Freddie's family said "everyone loved" the three-year-old boy

Diplomat's son reportedly arrested by terror police in London raid

The garden of a British diplomat is believed to have been dug up after his son was arrested on Saturday

Man fights off shark, stitches up wounds and has a beer before finally going to hospital

Victim had 'a couple of good holes on both sides of his leg'

'He's behind you!' Bob McKeown was unaware of the bear.

Scottish couple come face-to-face with bear on holiday in California

Man did not notice bear until he felt 'something brush against his leg'

Donald MacInnes: The fact that there were no headstones in the garden was genuinely pleasing

In my previous dispatch from the traumatic home-hunting frontline, where regiments of estate agents fire broadsides of scorn at our hilarious budget-to-square-footage aspirations, I detailed how one such know-it-all had been forced to tell us – just as we were about to enter – why the house was unsellable, due to the all-pervasive stench of chemicals from the dry cleaner down below. Needless to say, we weren't inordinately tempted.

Sloth mystery solved: How moths and algae shape this unusual creature's toilet habits

Why sloths descend from the safety of the trees once a week to go to the toilet has baffled scientists - but one specialist thinks he has the answer

Emergency workers battle to contain the flames

Fire wrecks £3m mews home being renovated in west London

Grade-two listed Victorian terrace was left a shell

Tweet up: 10 best bird houses

As the temperatures dip, the birds need our help. We round-up the most innovative (and occasionally bonkers) feeders and houses for our feathered friends

‘Toilet-papered’ Alabama home burns down after family try to clear away mess with fire

Attempt to tidy up following prank from local children ends in disaster

Caught red-handed? Burglary suspect captured on BBC wildlife presenter Simon King’s ‘fox family’ camera

Police said to be ‘delighted’ by footage from camera which streams 24-hours-a-day to the TV presenter's website

The Big Six: Literary hideaways

From a Dewey Decimal hotel and a replica of Windsor Castle's library in India to Dylan Thomas's former drinking den

Weekend work: Time to take root cuttings

WHAT TO DO

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 today
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Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
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File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
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Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
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Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
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Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
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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'