More from Books

Nature study

On my desk is the vertebra of a narwhal. It was given to me by a man in Canada after a convivial dinner. Narwhals are Arctic whales with long spiky tusks on their noses. This vertebra is about three inches across, embedded in bone expanding into waisted wings, like a propeller. If I were the

Out of sight, out of mind

Arthur Newton and Peter Gavuzzi, long-distance interwar runners, are two of the most extraordinary British athletes. They are also the most forgotten. This is because the distances they favoured were too long to be accommodated by any athletics event: to them a marathon would have been a mere warm-up jog, their distances were 100 miles,

It concentrates the mind wonderfully

It’s odd, but we mostly go about as if death were optional, something we could get out of, like games at school. Philip Gould, in When I Die, admits that he never gave it much thought. Then he got oesophageal cancer. He had a horrible operation, got a bit better. Then the cancer came back.

Celebrating the Tube …

The London Underground is methadone for people with nerd habits. Were it not for its twisty, multi-coloured map, its place in the capital’s history, its tendency to throw up facts such as ‘the QE2 would fit inside North Greenwich station’, we’d be on the hard stuff. The smack of nerd-dom. We’d be on the platform

Bookends: … and the inner tube

In the early 1990s, when Boris Johnson was making his name as the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent, Sonia Purnell was his deputy, and last year she published a biography of him — the second, and surely not the last — entitled Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition. Now follows Pedal Power: How Boris Failed