Howard Jacobson: A test too far even for a Rabelaisian

I go one of two ways when I'm asked about my literary antecedents, depending on my mood.

I'm human, not a punchbag, pleads Clegg

The strain of 11 months in government is starting to show on Nick Clegg, who has pleaded that he is a "human being", not a "punchbag".

Portfolio: Alain Delorme

Shanghai's totems of consumerism

Benda Bilili! (PG)

The term "life-affirming" has lost its significance through overuse; this documentary restores us to its real meaning.

Brian Jacques: Writer best known for his 'Redwall' series of fantasy novels

James Brian Jacques had the blue collar CV of a hard-boiled novelist: his jobs included merchant seaman, truck driver, dock worker, boxer and policeman.

Dad's diary: 'It really does seem like only the other week that I was changing his nappies'

"They really do grow up fast..." Experienced child wranglers often delight at dropping these incendiary bon mots into casual conversation with wide-eyed mothers and fathers. And I - like many other new parents I'm sure - have been quick to dismiss the phrase as another cliche tossed around by sour-faced folk with brains reduced to jelly by their burgeoning broods. But, as I sit and write this column, I really do find it hard to come to terms with the fact that my little boy Krishan will be starting primary school at the end of the summer.

Jim Devine denies lying in TV interview

A former MP accused of fiddling his expenses today denied in court that he lied in a television interview to give an "air of authenticity" to his claims.

Expenses MP 'fiddled stationery orders'

A former Labour MP accused of fiddling his parliamentary expenses asked a stationery company to confirm he had paid for orders when he never did so, a jury heard today.

Old vase is £1m Ming

An old vase taken to a Dorset auctioneers in a cardboard box has turned out to be a Ming dynasty porcelain moon flask worth £1m.

Book Of A Lifetime: Bleak House, By Charles Dickens

Walking into the wrong lecture theatre at the University of York in the spring of 1974, I found myself listening to a dramatised reading of Dickens's 'Bleak House' by a bearded lecturer who took the parts of Mr Chadband and Little Jo the crossing sweeper. Having "done" 'Oliver Twist' and 'David Copperfield' at school, I had no idea that later Dickens novels were masterpieces of attacks on hypocrisy, religion and the charitable classes. I went straight home and read the novel, which came with an introduction by the American academic J Hillis Miller.

The ten best stationery items

Whether it’s a thank-you card to Auntie Joan or an RSVP for a New Year’s Eve bash, you’ll need some neat notelets to send your seasonal messages...

Click on the image on the right to launch the gallery

The album covers that made it hip to be square

Richard Evans has designed albums for a huge range of musicians, from Abba's Agnetha to The Who. Here, he celebrates great sleeve art through the ages

Out of the Woods but not Over the Hill, By Gervase Phinn

Good work, but must try harder

Make yourself a cardboard home

Traditionally used for packaging, and often associated with the homeless, in recent years cardboard has climbed the ranks to sit alongside more traditional materials, such as wood, glass or plastic, as a respectable substance from which to create innovative design for the home and office.

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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