Cuttings: Bring up the birch

ANY TIME now, the pale mauve flowers of Crocus tommasinianus will be through and opening up with the first hint of sunshine. They seed and multiply furiously, even in root-riddled grass under lime trees, but must have direct sun and warmth to open. Birches give the lightest shade, and the white trunks look splendid with crocuses.

Travel: Lime chaser

FOR those keen to join the hunt for Harry Lime (20 November), Brigitte Timmermann's Third Man tour leaves the underground station at Friedensbrucke every Friday at 3.30pm or 4pm (check by telephoning Vienna 220 66 20; fax 210 33 40). The cost is 105 Austrian Schillings (pounds 6.15) or 50 (pounds 2.95) for children under 14.

BOOK REVIEW / Mary, Mary, quite contrary: Writing dangerously: Mary McCarthy and Her World by Carol Brightman: Lime Tree, pounds 20

IN HER story 'C'est le Premier Pas qui Coute', Mary McCarthy describes her fictional self as 'one of those cowards who are afraid not to be brave'. But it is that fearful knowledge of necessity which creates bravery, and her courage, as much as her intelligence, formed and sustained her remarkable life.

Castle combats crumbling mortar with lime spray: Oliver Gillie watches volunteers trying out a new conservation skill on their local heritage

THE CRUMBLING mortar of Odiham Castle in Hampshire is being restored, 700 years after it was built, using a fine spray of lime water - a new method of conservation which goes back to first principles.

BOOK REVIEW / Audio-visual display in the 1970's

An audio-visual display from the pre-video era - each head contained a specially built slide projector pulsed to match the commentary - devised for a 1970s exhibition and included in James Gardner: The Artful Designer. This fat, quirkily written, copiously illustrated memoir from one of British design's most enduring figures gives full weight to the big, prestigious commissions - work on the Festival of Britain, the interior of the QE2 ('the biggest toy in the world') - but delights equally in trifles - tiaras, bicycle pumps - and pays due tribute to the long- suffering secretaries Gardner persisted in calling 'Mehitabel'. ( pounds 19.99 from Lavis Marketing, 73 Lime Walk, Oxford OX3 7AD)

A-Z of treats: Key lime pie

K is for Key Lime Pie, a flagship of America's intensely rich desserts (like Pecan Pie and Mississippi Mud Pie). It achieved notoriety in recent years when novelist Nora Ephron selected it as a dinner party custard pie to bring her novel of marriage and betrayal, Heartburn, to a tragi-comic climax. In the film, Jack Nicholson, as the adulterous husband, gets it in the face.

City: Of fear and loathing in Lime Street

HERE ARE two very different stories about being a Lloyd's name on the loss-making Gooda Walker syndicates. The first concerns a woman I met at a party last month. Recently separated and going through a messy divorce, she had been put into some of the worst-hit syndicates by her husband in the late 1980s. When she signed the documents, she had little or no idea what she was letting herself in for. With the benefit of hindsight she suspects that her husband was trying to set her up with an income for life so he wouldn't have to worry about her livelihood after he ran off with his secretary.

Pembroke: Lime Street blues

The hurling of empty champagne bottles at the chairman of Lloyd's of London, David Rowland, at the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth halls on Tuesday will have to stop smartly at 2pm, due to the intervention of Louis Armstrong and Beethoven, whose twin delights are on offer to a wider audience that same evening.

BOOK REVIEW / The camera obscurer: Robinson - by Christopher Petit, Cape pounds 8.99

'I AM a camera.' Isherwood's catchy opening has a lot to answer for: encouraged by it, generations of writers have told stories with deadpan amorality. The line must have been haunting Christopher Petit when he wrote this novel. He is, after all, a film-maker.

GARDENING / Borders on the splendid: Feeding: The gardener makes living pictures with shape and colour, foliage and flowers - and time, as well. In the final part of our beginners' guide, Mary Keen and Michael Leapman look at how to choose plants for a border, and how to feed and care for them over the years

GARDENING is an intensive business and in time even the best soils get exhausted. Unless you have decided to go completely native and grow only those plants which would naturally survive in your plot, or you are growing things which actually prefer a poor soil and plenty of sun, you will need to think about feeding.

Racing: Cecil aims his horsepower

TENBY and Armiger, who head the ante-post betting for the Derby, are among the entries for next month's two principal meetings at Chester and York. Each is engaged in the Chester Vase on 4 May and the Dante Stakes at York on 12 May, recognised trials for Epsom.

Classic culture can be so improving: Be it strained or made of sheep's milk, Greek yoghurt is the creme de la creme, adding richness to simple sauces, fragrant curries and exotic desserts

THERE'S enough yoghurt and cheese in the house to feed an army. This is not a deliberate tactic on my part; we're not expecting the hordes to descend. It's just something that seems to happen almost of its own accord whenever we arrive in France.

Racing: Grand National - Aintree

The Martell Grand National, is the highlight of the Aintree meeting. Run over 41 2 miles, a combination of 30 fences and a large field make this race the world's greatest steeplechase. For atmosphere, Aintree's natural amphitheatre, the embankment in the Steeplechase Enclosure, affords close views of Becher's Brook, the Canal Turn and Valentines. Similarly, the Central enclosure, with its views of The Chair fence, the water jump and the finish, also offers great value.

Book Review / Man, woman and Satan make three: 'The Well of Life' - Nawal El Saadawi, Tr Sherif Hetata: Lime Tree, 13.99

A MOTHER abandons her new- born baby beside a river. He stretches out his tiny hands in an image of supplication that is to haunt her for the rest of her life. Another infant, conceived in violence and ignorance, dies at a milkless breast, forcing her mother closer to disintegration.

BOOK REVIEW / If this is a woman: memories of Birkenau: There is a place on Earth - Giuliana Tedeschi, Tr. Tim Parks: Lime Tree, pounds 9.99

IT IS a commonplace that war, plague, famine and other manifestations of hell on earth spawn art. You could argue that this is the only good thing that comes of them. But it has taken many years for the Holocaust to send forth its voices. Even Primo Levi's If This Is A Man, although written immediately after the war, was not granted a proper print run until Einaudi resurrected it in 1958. There Is A Place On Earth, Giuliana Tedeschi's account of her incarceration in Birkenau, appeared in Italian in 1988, more than 40 years after her ordeal.
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Independent Travel
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
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