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Retailers enjoyed a "spectacular" Christmas, official data showed, with total sales growing at their fastest rate in years.

Habitat's credit insurance risk

Credit insurers have threatened to withdraw cover to suppliers of Habitat, the home furnishing chain, if it is bought by Hilco, the retail restructuring group..

Hilco close to acquiring Habitat

Hilco, the retail restructuring firm, is leading the race to acquire the ailing furniture chain Habitat and a deal could be unveiled in days.

Merciless Ikea memoir flat-packs a punch

Former executive's explosive book rips the cosy façade off the Swedish furniture giant

Ikea: Flat pack and fabulous

Cheap, practical and loved across the globe, Ikea designs have become modern classics. As the ubiquitous Billy bookcase enters its fourth decade, Kate Watson-Smyth asks the experts to select their favourite pieces

BILLY bookcase goes bling

Turning thirty this month, IKEA’s bestseller gets a funky makeover for limited editions

Leading article: The Swedish standard

For years the Big Mac has led a double life. It's been feeding hungry people around the world, and its price has been a new gold standard of a sort, by which the real value of currencies has been judged. We have The Economist magazine to thank for this ingenuity.

Martin Hickman: Shopping – the free and easy way

A stranger turned up at my door last week expecting a free cot. I helped her load it into her car. A few days later a 28-inch Sony Trinitron widescreen TV appeared in our front room, delivered by two sweating neighbours.

Hit & Run: Twinning streak

Before they divided into separate embryos, Bob and Mike Bryan existed, briefly, as a single zygote. Thirty-one years later, the identical twins have become the greatest doubles pair of their generation. Now gunning for their 55th pro title and eighth grand slam at this week's US Open, the Americans have been described as playing as if they were still a single organism. While most pairs talk strategy between points, Bob and Mike rarely appear to communicate. "The Bryans have an unfair advantage," Daniel Nestor, one of their rivals on the doubles tour, said this week. "They have that little ESP thing going."

Midsummer, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Only in Edinburgh might you find a rom-com which has ditties about the worst hangover in the world, a mist-wreathed Ikea car-park and a night of Japanese rope bondage gone wrong. For all that, though, Midsummer, "a play with songs" written by David Greig and Gordon McIntyre from the indie band Ballboy, remains desperately romantic.

Why the 2009 ‘staycation’ will save high street home shops

Home is where the holiday is, says Annie Deakin who discovers IKEA, John Lewis and The Conran Shop’s summer campaigns

Games Review: The Sims 3

Mac, PC, EA, £39.99

The Hobbit House: A quiet revolution

Simon Dale spent just three months building his woodland home in Wales. Clare Dwyer Hogg reports

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe, London

Star-crossed and fatally miscast

Pimp my Ikea: How to bling up your 'Billy' bookcase

What happened when we let the cream of up-and-coming British design talent loose on three basic pieces from the Scandinavian home-furnishing giant?
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Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
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The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
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Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
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Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
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Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
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An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
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Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
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Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
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Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
Seven Cities of Italy
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence
Prague, Budapest and Vienna
Lake Garda
Minoan Crete and Santorini
Prices correct as of 17 April 2015
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own