Arts and Entertainment

Some authors vanish in plain sight, recalled by their most successful work, which comes to define an entire career. A friend of mine has written mytho-logies, Victoriana, crime and magical realism, but publishers are unable to mention her without inserting the title of her greatest success into her name, in the way that pantomime stars are bracketed by their TV shows. Typecasting is a problem that afflicts most successful writers.

Simon Calder: Budget travel is back - but don't let on to your friends

My sister Penny does not mind you knowing that, shortly before Christmas, she went shopping in the discount supermarket Lidl. A fellow shopper was evidently less comfortable about the location: when the woman's mobile rang, Penny heard her tell the caller "I'm in Sainsbury's".

<a href="http://c-schuler.livejournal.com/282.html">Chris Schuler: Stairway to Heaven</a>

Klaipeda, Lithuania: Michael Palin is the most amiable of travel guides, one who wears his erudition lightly and touches on serious matters with grace and chard.

The Rough Guide to Videogames, ed Kate Berens & Geoff Howard

Although they are the product of a $42bn industry, which means that their sales outstrip global cinema box office receipts, for example, videogames continue to exist on the periphery of the cultural mainstream. One of the reasons why is that there isn't any good writing about them. Try naming a single videogame critic. No one has yet found a really satisfactory way to describe the distinctive pleasures of gaming, perhaps partly because the primacy of the player in the development of a game's narrative means that you'd need to understand post-structuralism, and which student of French philosophy is going to admit to having completed Resident Evil 4 on the hardest setting?

Album: Various artists, Rough Guide to the Music of Romanian Gypsies (World Music Network)

This compilation by Dan Rosenberg is a very neat job. Romania has the largest Gypsy population in Europe, and that ethnic strain has long pervaded its culture: as this CD confirms, it's spread into everything from hip-hop and jazz-rock to the local brands of pop. Taraf de Haidouks and Fanfare Ciocarlia kick things off (though with less familiar tracks than usual) and we get a taste of cimbalom master Toni Iordache before setting off into less charted waters. Good to find the peerless Gabi Lunca (who now sings only in Pentecostal churches), plus a string of newer names.

A Rough Guide to England? It certainly is

England may boast one of the world's largest cities and can claim to have some of the most beautiful countryside on the planet, but that was not enough for it to escape a scathing appraisal in one of the world's top travel guides.

Sri Lanka: a little island with big ambitions

Louise Heal, last year's winner of the IoS/Bradt Travel Writing Competition, assesses this country's plans to boost eco-friendly tourism

Leighton, Frederic: Flaming June (1895)

But is it great? It's famous all right, one of the most familiar works of late Victorian art, probably better known than its artist. It's a big favourite, too, featured on countless posters, in countless homes and waiting rooms.

Take a winning travel picture

Do you think your photos are a cut above the stuff of holiday albums? We've got together with Insight Guides to offer the chance to win a commission to shoot one of its travel books. All you have to do is offer three images on the theme of 'water'

Dominc Lawson: Postcards from the edge of travel-writing

It's especially galling for Lonely Planet to be accused of corruption, even at this low level

Album: Various Artists, Rough Guide to the Music of Hungarian Gypsies (World Music Network)

The best track on this LP is a surprise: Fanfare Ciocarlia is quintessentially Romanian, the pretext for their inclusion being the Hungarian Gypsy singer Mitsou as guest soloist.

Write a travel article and win a trip for two to Kyrgyzstan

Can you write a winning travel article? If you think so, don't miss the chance to enter the Bradt/Independent on Sunday travel-writing competition. First prize is an exciting holiday for two to Kyrgyzstan, and the winning story will also be published in The Independent on Sunday's The Compact Traveller section, and the author will earn a commission from the newspaper.

Why spend a gap year at home when you could be helping villagers in South America?

When I told friends I was off to Guyana the response was, "Wow, how lovely for you... that's in Africa, right?" I have to confess that, although I graduated recently with a degree in geography, I couldn't place the country on a map either. Guyana is, in fact, in South America and one of the three smallest countries on the continent, along with Suriname and French Guyana. All three run along the northern coast of South America touching the Caribbean Sea.

Ready To Wear: Luggage snobs

I come from a long line of luggage snobs. My mother, for example, would rather collapse beneath the weight of her cases than consider anything as aesthetically challenged as a suitcase on wheels. My father's not much more flexible, although he did once stoop to purchasing one such monstrosity - albeit black, understated, and with no more than a hint of branding - safe in the knowledge that he is obliged to do most of the carrying. Suffice to say that when the baggage reached home turf, it was heartily rejected. Practical it might have been, but, for that reason, it was perhaps best passed on to me. Yes, it was that bad.

Leading article: Missing the grade

It was Christine Gilbert's first report as chief inspector of schools, and the last Ofsted report to be published while Tony Blair is at No. 10. As such, its conclusions should be chastening. The legacy of this Prime Minister, who promised that his top three priorities would be "education, education, education", is a system in which more than half the country's secondary schools are failing to provide pupils with education of a good standard.

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Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
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Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – Five-star MS Swiss Corona 7 nights from £999pp
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Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

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The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

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The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

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We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
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The male exhibits strange behaviour

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