Arts and Entertainment

Of all the subjects for a thrilling tale of espionage, war and diplomacy, ping-pong seems an unlikely contender. All the more intriguing then is the story behind a détente between America and China in 1971, which occurred seemingly out of the blue after 22 years of hostility.

'Voice of Rugby' McLaren falls silent aged 86

There was a kind of hush all over the rugby world last night. Bill McLaren, the great voice of rugby union, died yesterday morning, aged 86. It is eight years now since the former schoolmaster hung up his microphone in the BBC television commentary box, but for half a century his gentle Borders burr – painting a vivid picture of the game he played, taught and loved – made him not so much a national as an international institution. From Hawick, his beloved home town in the Scottish Borders, to Invercargill, the southernmost tip of All Black country, McLaren and his words were fondly cherished. He was an MBE, an OBE, a CBE and, in what proved to be the final year of his life, the subject of a huge Facebook campaign for a knighthood.

Legendary commentator Bill McLaren dies

Rugby union commentator Bill McLaren has died aged 86.

Matterson vows to continue after loss of finger

The Castleford coach, Terry Matterson, intends to carry on regardless despite the loss of a finger in an horrific training ground accident.

Varekai, Royal Albert Hall, London

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Cirque du Soleil has become the biggest brand in world circus. "Brand" is the word, because there's something very corporate about this Canadian company's approach to circus. The performers are spectacular: Varekai includes some astonishing feats, from intricate balancing acts to Russian swings. The framing show is blandly predictable.

Observations: Book club open to browsers

If you thought book clubs were a bunch of people sitting around, discussing what they had read the night before, you'd be wrong – well, about this book club, anyway. Since it opened in London's Shoreditch in the autumn, visitors to the Book Club, which describes itself as taking an intelligent approach to social activity, have taken part in talks, cultural happenings, workshops and the odd unconventional club night.

Blair boots the Blues past Toulouse

Cardiff Blues 15 Toulouse 9: Kiwi full-back kicks four penalties and wing Halfpenny another to bring misfiring French giants down to earth

Lives Remembered: Eric Dehn

Eric Harold Dehn, my former colleague at Bristol Grammar School, was a remarkable man, of short stature but huge personality, who was born in 1916 and spent his working life between 1939 and 1976, apart from the years of the Second World War, as a French teacher at Bristol Grammar School. His teaching methods were idiosyncratic, conducting the whole of an 11-year-old's first lesson entirely in French and giving each boy a French name based on his surname, for example, but he gave the same care and attention to the pupil having trouble with French verbs as he did to the potential Open Scholar.

The Sketch: Lords bowled over by Sugar's maiden speech

Lord Sugar's debut in the Lords can't be called a maiden speech. It was more demi-mondaine, with a touch of street-walker, a bit of pole dancing and one of those tricks that Thai strippers do with a ping-pong ball.

Travel challenge A new year get-together in England

Every week we invite competing companies to give us their best deal for a specified holiday. Today: a self-catering break over the new year. Prices are for seven nights' rental (commencing 28 December) for properties that sleep at least 10 guests.

Sarkozy challenged over claims of smashing Wall

President Nicolas Sarkozy became embroiled in a bizarre verbal ping-pong match yesterday after he announced that he had personally helped to demolish the Berlin Wall on the first day of its fall 20 years ago.

Observations: Give the Coraline puppet masters a hand

More often than not, when we watch a film, we don't give too much thought to the amount of work involved in putting it together. Which, refreshingly, is something that director Henry Selick decided to fix during trailers for his latest stop-frame animation film, Coraline, which hit our cinema screens earlier this year. To highlight just how meticulous the process can be, he flashed a few facts fleetingly across the screen: thousands of hands for puppets were each made by hand, a forest of cherry blossoms made of popcorn, five miles of gold thread for a five-inch wig and 3,500 flowers that all light up.

Brian Ashton: Coaches must go with the flow, free of jargon

Tackling the issues

Evra defends Ronaldo's character

Manchester United defender Patrice Evra has leapt to the defence of former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, insisting the Portugal star is portrayed unjustly by the media.

Observations: How cinema's inside man manages to do the right thing

Spike Lee was on typically rambunctious form at The Independent Interview on Monday at London's BFI. In a wide-ranging discussion, guided gently and not always successfully by David Lammy, MP, the director covered everything from the release of Do the Right Thing 20 years ago and the racism of critics, to how Barack Obama is coping with a post-election onslaught from "redneck crackers" ("The euphoria of him winning has gone. He's under attack"), and the changing face of cinema, where funding is scarce. "Unless you're Spielberg, Lucas or Tyler Perry, it's hard to get a film made." Nevertheless, the single-minded director (he demands final cut on all of his movies) revealed that he had turned down big-budget directing jobs in the aftermath of his most successful film, Inside Man. "Every available bank-heist movie that had been lying around was dusted off and sent to me".

Pixar: The real toon army

Toy Story, Wall-E, Finding Nemo – and next month, Up. How does Pixar stay on top? The secret's in its incredible studios in California. Guy Adams takes an exclusive tour
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
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Novak Djokovic has been attending the Buddhapadipa Temple for quiet contemplation for several years
wimbledonBuddhapadipa Temple is regular refuge for the world No 1
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Kissing
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wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
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Lewis Hamilton takes pole on front of his home fans
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British singer 'Lonelady' performing in Bourges (Getty)
musicMONEY, Lonelady, Dr Meaker... Which ones have you heard of?
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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 15 May 2015
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'