i Father Christmas, annual giftgiver

Not a regular in the public eye this one.

Alexander Pushkin, By Robert Chandler

Hesperus's "Brief Lives" series of short biographies offers a sound and accessible alternative to the blockbuster literary life.

Ballet and Opera - The odd couple

To many ballet fans, opera is all about melodrama and inappropriate vocalising. Yet, to opera aficionados, ballet can seem limited and dull. But, Jessica Duchen says, they do work together – and two companies aim to prove it

Opera sheds new light on Tchaikovsky's gay lifestyle

Tchaikovsky is thought of as a gloomy fatalist, but a rarely staged humorous opera and a book about his gay lifestyle will make us think again

Life in the fast lane: Steven McRae

Steven McRae grew up in the world of motor racing but now he is one of the Royal Ballet's brightest stars

'Every sperm is sacred': Terry Jones' favourite Monty Python sketches

40 years of Monty Python

Michael Church: This plan misses so many key points about education

So, Ed Balls is rethinking his plans to turn 11 million Britons into paedophile suspects: not much of a surprise, given the near-universal derision that greeted it. The plan may need "adjustments", he says, which we can take as code for a total retreat: yet another crack-brained New Labour notion is about to bite the dust – and so it should. The Vetting and Barring Scheme requires everyone having regular contact with children, in any context outside a family one, to be approved by the Government after registering on a state-run database.

Tchaikovsky, By Roland John

Why the Russian maestro Tchaikovsky attributed his remarkable musical voice to his proclivities

Prom 31: National Youth Orchestra/Petrenko, Royal Albert Hall, London

So disarmingly boyish-looking is the talented Vasily Petrenko that he might easily have been mistaken for one of the National Youth Orchestra's own stepping out to the podium to conduct them. But appearances, as we know, can be deceptive and the most striking aspects of this annual Prom jamboree was Petrenko's maturity in seeking out and refining the precious quietudes in three flashy blockbusting showpieces. Getting an orchestra this big (pretty much double everything) to sound shapely and diaphanous is quite an achievement.

Prom 31: National Youth Orchestra / Petrenko, Royal Albert Hall, London

So disarmingly boyish looking is the talented Vasily Petrenko that he might easily have been mistaken for one of the National Youth Orchestra’s own stepping out to the podium to conduct them.

Superstars of dance: The Mariinsky Ballet

The Mariinsky, formerly known as the Kirov, returns to Britain next week. The company that set the standard for classical ballet promises to live up to its glamorous history with a starry new line-up

Sir Edward Downes: Conductor celebrated as one of the finest Verdi interpreters of his generation

Edward Downes spent more than 50 years of his life at Covent Garden Opera House, as prompter, répétiteur, translater and, of course, conductor. He spent four years as the music director of Australian Opera, but returned at least once a season to Covent Garden where, in 1992, he was appointed assistant music director and principal conductor of the Royal Opera. He had been knighted the year before. He was one of the finest Verdi conductors of his generation, and in 1995 he launched an ambitious plan to perform all Verdi's operas at Covent Garden by 2001, the centenary of his death, a plan which unfortunately foundered from lack of funds. Downes's other great strengths were in Russian opera, especially Prokofiev and Shostakovich, though he did not neglect Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky, and in 20th-century opera: he conducted several premieres and British premieres.

Dorian Gray, Sadler's Wells, London

Matthew Bourne's take on Oscar Wilde's story has strong performances but is hollow at the core

Album: Tchaikovsky, Symphony No. 5 / Hamlet – Nelsons / CBSO (Orfeo)

The symphonic debut of a new conductor and orchestra partnership is always an event. Long associated with contemporary music, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra tears into the first of a cycle of Tchaikovsky's symphonies for the German label Orfeo under its young Latvian music director Andris Nelsons.

Album: Brahms/Korngold, Violin Concertos – Znaider/Gergiev/ Wiener Phil, (RCA)

Brahms tasteful, Korngold vulgar, right? Not in this recording. Soloist Nikolaj Znaider's meticulously judged vibrato glows through the poignant Romance of Korngold's Violin Concerto while Valéry Gergiev works his quivering magic with the Wiener Philharmoniker.

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Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

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Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
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Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

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How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
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Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

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Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?