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Sam Leith

A not so cuddly teddy bear

Only if you have spent the last few months living in a remote corner of Chad will you not have noticed that this year marks the centenary of Sir John Betjeman’s birth. We have already seen telly programmes, church restoration appeals, commemorative CDs of his readings, Cornish cliff walks and special outings on West Country

Double rescue from the cold

‘I am entirely against the promotion of a sense of humour as a philosophy of life,’ wrote Kate O’Brien, with just that chilling aloofness that marks out her two heroines in The Land of Spices. Mère Marie-Hélène, Reverend Mother of the convent school of La Compagnie de la Sainte Famille in Mellick (a fictionalised Limerick),

A small stir of Scots

I wonder how much my enthusiasm for Alexander McCall Smith’s stories about Precious Ramotswe, the founder of The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency, came from reading them while in a French hospital recovering from an emergency operation?  Grateful to be transported from my hospital bed to Botswana and find myself in her company I wouldn’t have

A thousand bottles of Mumm

The front cover shows a mature English beauty in an Oriental doorway, elegant in a turban, with twinset and pearls. On the back is a Country Life portrait of a radiant English rose. Both are Ann Allestree, who for 30 years supped at the high table of grand society, travelled, and set down her impressions.

Hoping against hope

Professor Kennedy is a decent liberal who hopes for the victory of the brotherhood of man. He begins this study of the UN, its history, successes, failings and prospects for reform by quoting Tennyson’s ‘Locksley Hall’: Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’dIn the Parliament of man, the Federation of the

Papa on the warpath

In 1961, when he was 62, Ernest Hemingway shot himself. Almost half a century later, this bombastic, vainglorious, paranoid man, whose writing captured the minds not only of his own generation but of all subsequent ones, still exercises a powerful attraction for biographers. Though no one has yet written a better account of Hemingway’s unhappy

Getting the maximum pleasure

The premise of John Sutherland’s new book is that many people wrongly think of reading as an all-or-nothing ability, like, say, tying one’s shoes: either you can do it or you can’t. Such people would no doubt consider a book about how to read a novel as irrelevant as one titled How to Eat Crisps


The arc and light and breadth and nothing kempt,Flat shining fields of sand, the shallow-carvingTigris and Euphrates of the beach streamsWhere individual flying grains are seen,The wet compactions out of which grew keepsI slopped moat water on at the end of the day,Playing decay and knowing I was loved,Coves where my face would drop past

The master left without masterpieces

Sir John Soane is London’s lost architect. You can visit his museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the picture gallery he designed at Dulwich. But since his death in 1837 his greatest masterpieces have gone. The Victorians demolished the law courts at Westminster, and the glittering royal entrance to the House of Lords. The RAC

Surprising literary ventures | 16 August 2006

Cry Shame (1950) by Katherine Everard Cry Shame! is the torrid tale of a 13-year- old girl who leaves home to become a dancer: in her brief career she learns things she is too young to know, runs off with a man four times her age, assiduously breaks the seventh commandment, has an affair with