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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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
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam