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The crash of the ruble — and what’s next for Russia

Since the Russian invasion of Crimea last February, many different phrases have been used to describe the tactics of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Some have spoken of a ‘new Cold War’. Others have described him as ‘anti-western’ or ‘anti-American’. But there is another adjective one could also use to describe his behaviour: ‘experimental’. For

Uncovering the hidden key to Pope Francis’s politics

Is the Pope a conservative? After the papal zingers which landed in Strasbourg last week, some — Nigel Farage, writing in the Catholic Herald, for instance — seem to think so. Europe was ‘now a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant’, Pope Francis told a startled European Parliament, before saying that, to reconnect with ordinary

How HS2 has blighted my parents’ lives

Waiting to appear before a Commons select committee, my father turned to me. ‘This was not on my bucket list,’ he said. My father should be enjoying his retirement. Instead, he and my mother are still working full time in their seventies because they cannot sell their home due to the blight of HS2. And

A beautiful speaking voice is a window to the soul

Recent text from a female friend. ‘I’m in love with Neil MacGregor.’ To which I reply, ‘But of course! Up there with the Dean of Westminster and Frank Gardner.’ The same day, walking in Kensington Gardens, another friend admits, ‘I think I’m in love with Neil MacGregor.’ We mourn the fact that MacGregor’s Wikipedia entry

The perils of being a posh boy on the telly

The first time it happened was at the cinema. I was queuing for my ticket-for-one when the woman behind me exploded. ‘Omigod I saw you on television!’ ‘Oh, er, yes,’ I mumbled. The next time was in the cinema, as I squeezed down the row: ‘Sorry, but I have to say, I saw you on

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Michael Seresin – from film noir to pinot noir

Michael Seresin claims, rather modestly, to ‘have no palate’, choosing instead to describe wine with light, colour and form. These are not your typical winemaker’s terms, but they make perfect sense given his unusual back story. Born and raised in New Zealand, Seresin emigrated to Europe in 1966 to pursue a career in cinematography. Movie

Seven apps to help you drink wine

After lots of practice, I’ve reached the stage where I can usually tell a good wine from a bad one. But there’s an awful lot of bluffing involved. If I’m asked for an assessment, I mutter something about ‘tannins’ and ‘structure’, while eyeing the bottle for the alcohol content and price. A good-looking label helps

The uneasy marriage of Jamaica’s two greatest exports

Music and booze go together. Just think of Keith Richards in the 1970s with his Jack Daniel’s. There’s the love affair between hip-hop and luxury French booze: Busta Rhymes wrote a song called ‘Pass the Courvoisier’. And think of Puff Daddy and his Cristal champagne, though he later changed his name to P Diddy and

A critic’s guide to theatre bars

Head upstairs. That’s my tip for thirsty play-goers during the interval. Most West End theatres are sunken affairs built in scooped-out craters, and this quirk of their design places the stalls 20 feet beneath the earth’s crust (hence the belly-rumble of Tube trains that wakens sleepy-heads during Twelfth Night or The Winter’s Tale). So the

At last, trendy gins are tasting like gin again

I blame my mother. Although gin wasn’t her ruin, I have to admit, she did enjoy a gin and tonic. And as any student of the spirits industry will tell you, you never drink what your parents drink. The problem, I now realise, was that gin in the 1970s wasn’t very good. Tonic water was

Not all single malts from Islay are for peat freaks

Even in the driving rain, the Isle of Islay is a heart-stoppingly beautiful spot. High in the hills behind the Bruichladdich distillery, there are sweeping views east across Loch Indaal, and I fancied I could just about pinpoint Bowmore distillery across the foaming grey waters. The wind was gusting, the sheep were bleating, the geese

A middle-class show-off’s guide to craft beer

Looking back, it seems astonish-ing that the metropolitan middle classes took so long to embrace beer snobbery. The craft beer habit combines the characteristics of three long-established sources of small-scale social distinction: the farmer’s market, the tasting, and the sweet little café one knows. Take the farmer’s-market side first. Even in the age of climate

Notes on...

The birth of a barrel of cider

The fabulous October weather is now just a memory but it made for a golden, old-fashioned apple day down in Somerset. The plan was to pick and convert a mound of sugar-rich Redstreaks — about 400 kilos — into a rather special vintage. We would pour the apple juice into an oak hogshead, freshly emptied of its