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Brazil: Rio without the grande

Rio de Janeiro scared me at first. I landed at night in a rainstorm and from the airport took a taxi whose driver had no idea where I was going. I did not speak Portuguese; he did not speak iPhone. We drove through dark streets where the 7ft fences around each smart apartment block gave

How the NHS silenced a whistleblowing doctor

Almost two years ago, a cancer surgeon named Joseph Meirion Thomas decided that he could no longer keep quiet about what he regarded as a major abuse of the NHS. The Francis inquiry into the scandal at Stafford Hospital had just published its report, reminding doctors of their ‘duty of candour’. Thomas interpreted that to

Return of the fairy-hunters

If like me you get all your news from the Cornish Guardian, you may have spotted an article announcing that the Fairy Investigation Society is conducting a survey. They’re seeking information from anyone who has seen any pixies, elves or sprites — all on a strictly anonymous basis. I rang the man behind the research

Barack Obama: anatomy of a failure

President George W. Bush’s place in history is already guaranteed, fixed by a series of monumental blunders that no amount of revisionism will ever be able to whitewash. By comparison, historians are likely to have a hard time drawing a bead on Barack Obama. How could such an obviously gifted President, swept into office on

My perfect island – and the posher one next door

The Republic of Maldives is the lowest country in the world and has the highest divorce rate. Is there correlation between altitude and fidelity, I wonder? Male, the capital, is 370 miles south-west of the southern tip of India. From the air it looks like Tower Hamlets. From Male we flew first by DHC-6 Twin

Bob Dylan and the illusion of modern times

I was talking the other day to a young woman who knows a lot about the history of rock. We shared an enthusiasm for Bob Dylan’s later work — especially Blood on the Tracks (1975). As we talked, it occurred to me that Dylan recorded this ‘late’ effort 40 years ago, only 13 years into

Why I detest clothes with words on

As a provincial teenage virgin with ideas so far above my station that they gave me vertigo, I frequently reflected bitterly that whoever coined the phrase ‘Schooldays are the best days of your life’ must have come to that conclusion after being involved in a serious car-crash the evening following their last day at school,

Dallas, city of culture

When George W. Bush was outed as an artist, after a computer hacker uncovered his nude self-portraits, jaws dropped around the world. Could Cowboy George, a man whom even Kim Jong-il’s cronies dubbed a philistine, actually be a closet aesthete? This spring, at the first exhibition of his works in Dallas, he confessed: ‘There’s a

Low life’s Limpopo legend

‘You’ve got a lot to live up to,’ said the ranger. ‘The last Spectator journalist who stayed here was Jeremy Clarke. He made quite the impression.’ Like some sort of Zulu legend, our ‘Low life’ columnist’s time at Shambala game reserve is now talked about around the campfire — or braai as it is known in

The beautiful Balkans on horseback

My husband and I decide we are up for a horse-riding adventure. We’ve done a few and have realised it’s the only way to travel: the truest way to experience an up-close and personal with a country and its people. You’re out of your comfort zone, there’s no turning back, you must abandon all control

Notes on...

If you want a real safari, head to Botswana

As a boy camping with my father on safaris deep in the African bush, there were no tents involved; we just slept by the fire like cowboys in the open under the constellations. Supper was sweet tea and biltong and we used a tin bucket for a shower. When it rained we simply moved underneath