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.

Bright spark: As autumn approaches there is one firework of a flower that really catches the eye

A little curling fountain of pink firework sparks, each flower head is made up of a studded set of tinier flowers, a bit like a Barbie-toned Agapanthus. There are only a few floral highlights at this time of year, but among them are the prettiest, frilliest and slightly pink-spidery of early autumn treats, the Nerines. The name sounds mythological, but it turns out nobody's really sure. Apparently it was a cheeky Regency vicar, the Rev William Herbert, who coined the name, possibly just out of his wonderful head.

Tom Hodgkinson: Lusty friars trick credulous ladies into shagging them by pretending to be the Archangel Gabriel

People have completely the wrong idea about the Middle Ages. In the popular imagination, it is an era of bad teeth, short lives, no anaesthetic, religious intolerance, the suppression of women, rampant superstition, boring food and recurrent plagues. But this caricature is very wide of the mark. In actual fact it was an intellectually lively period that was playful, sophisticated and enormous fun. And if the 14th-century Florentine writer Boccaccio is to be believed, it was pretty relaxed when it comes to sex.

Weekend work: Time to tie up climbers

What to do

Chaffinch Brook on Wimborne Way

10 years on, Thames Water ordered to pay sewage victims

'I have to call Thames Water at least three or four times a year. The smell catches my throat'

TV review: The Great British Year (BBC One), Unsafe Sex in the City (BBC Three)

"We are an island nation..." boomed the Churchillian voiceover, thus announcing, in case the title hadn't already given it away, that The Great British Year is yet another TV programme about how great Britain is. TV schedules are currently awash with patriotically themed shows such as the BBC panel show I Love My Country, but unlike some of its ilk, this wide-ranging nature documentary had something truly worth boasting about: our magnificent weather.

Eight-year-old boy suspended from school for using hand as pretend gun in game

Pupil was playing cops and robbers with his friend

The News Matrix: Wednesday 2 October 2013

Attacks cost £154m in lost tourism

Erena Wilson was struck by a cedar branch in wet and windy weather

‘Fluke’ that falling branch at Kew killed only one, inquest hears

It was “a fluke” that only one person was killed by a falling tree branch in Kew Gardens last year, an inquest heard today.

Invisible Ink: No 192 - Axel Munthe

It was said that in Axel Munthe’s one major book there were enough plots and short stories to fill the rest of most writers’ lives. It became a beloved classic, variously described as amazing, horrible, hilarious, romantic, pitiful, enchanting, and possessing that strange simplicity of mind which is often the attribute of genius.

Weekend work: Time to clear out summer bedding plants

What to do

Sow long: If you want a beautiful cuttings garden next summer, get those seeds in now

Annual flowers are profligate with their seed. Which is why, with very little effort now, you can collect free supplies to provide next year's flowers. This summer has been superb for both producing seed (plants have grown with tremendous vigour) and ripening it. I had an unusually peaceful session with the small, thin seedpods of larkspur, cracking them open and spilling the hard black seed on to a sheet of paper on the kitchen table.

Great works: Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound (1914) by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

You say tomato, I say potato: the TomTato

The TomTato: Plant which produces both potatoes and tomatoes launched in UK

Plant can grow sweet cherry tomatoes while producing white potatoes

The News Matrix: Friday 27 September 2013

Want to marry? First switch on brain…

Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of her eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Career Services

Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Panama
Languedoc Roussillon
Marrakesh & the Atlas Mountains
Bruges
The Jura Mountains
Dubrovnik & the Dalmatian Coast
Prices correct as of 17 September 2014
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments