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The unexpected joys of working while pregnant

‘You are like my cat.’ So I was told when eight-and-a-half months pregnant, just before going on maternity leave from the bookshop. I had hauled myself up from putting a book away on the bottom shelf — no mean feat when one is quite so heavily spherical — and this cat-loving young woman had caught

L.P. Hartley’s guide to coping with a heatwave

Those of us who have been struggling to endure the recent heat should turn to L.P. Hartley’s classic coming-of-age novel The Go-Between for some advice. ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,’ Alfred Wainwright wisely said, and L.P. Hartley’s young Leo couldn’t have agreed more. He arrives at his friend’s smart country house

Great literary tea parties (oh, and ours)

Every summer this magazine invites some of its (randomly selected) subscribers to tea in the garden. Every Englishman loves tea and the pages of English literature are richly adorned with tea-time scenes. Perhaps the most gluttonous teas are to be found in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. From her exile abroad, the narrator remembers tea-time at

How to win the World Cup (in the betting shop)

Summer is a difficult time for serious investments — it’s hard to be rational when hot — so why not try betting on the football world cup instead? Thanks to technology, sports gambling can feel a lot like investing these days. Internet betting exchanges are not bookmakers, but trading platforms. Any adult can buy or

Welcome to crypto-currency land

These online crypto-currencies have made the financial world more fun. It’s all so gloriously bonkers. First there was Bitcoin, the ‘peer-to-peer’ online payment system founded in 2009. Almost nobody understood how it worked or what a Bitcoin actually was — something to do with chains of code, computer ‘mining’, and a ledger system — but

How to beat a robot bookie

What does it mean these days to beat the bookie? Many of us like to imagine that winning a bet still involves trumping some wizened geezer and his chalkboard. In most cases, however, today’s successful punter has had to get the better of a mega computer. Gambling markets, like financial ones, now run on Automated

By the book: The NSA is behaving like a villain in a 1950s novel

The continuing drip-feed of stories about governments and friendly-seeming internet giants sifting through our data has left some citizens feeling outraged and a bit duped. I have no doubt that they would sympathise with poor deceived Ellen North in Dorothy Whipple’s brilliant 1950s novel Someone at a Distance. ‘Ellen was that unfashionable creature, a happy

The Speculator: Why I get so excited at goalless football matches

A successful gambler once told me: ‘Never bet on football, never bet on multipliers, and never ever bet on football multipliers.’ Multipliers, in case you don’t know, are those enticing combination wagers on bookmakers’ shopfronts: ‘Liverpool win 2-0 + Sturridge to score = 33/1.’ Mugs like me fall for them every time. My subconscious tends

The Speculator: Put a tenner on Osborne as next Tory leader

When you hear the words ‘economic recovery’, do you think: ‘Great! Britain is on the mend’? Or ‘Damn! I should have bet on the Tories to win an outright majority’? If your reaction is the latter, this column is for you. Back in March, when economists were talking about a triple dip and Chancellor Osborne looked like

Last orders

Sad news from the Campaign for Real Ale, which says that more and more young people are drinking at home rather than down the pub. ‘Pre-loading’ at home before clubbing has seen the number of 18- to 24-year-olds going to the pub at least once a week fall from 38 per cent to a measly

Lose weight the Muriel Spark way

Those of you dieting your way to a svelte physique amid the flesh-exposing terrors of summer should take courage from Mrs Hawkins, the heroine of Muriel Spark’s wonderful novel A Far Cry from Kensington. Mrs Hawkins, with her unfortunate ‘Rubens quality of flesh’, only starts to worry about her weight when she gets a new

By the book: All passion rent

According to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, 81 per cent of British people want to own their homes within the next ten years. George Osborne is the latest in a long line of politicians, including Thatcher and Macmillan, who have made our nation’s obsession with outright ownership central to their policy. This preoccupation with actually

A tale of HS2 cities

The route was unveiled this week for phase two of HS2 — and those who got hot under the collar about phase one (London to Birmingham) are furious again, on the same economic or environmental grounds. But perhaps they might rediscover some of the joy of a fast train if they read a little Dickens.

The Wizard of Oz

The Conservatives’ next election campaign will be run by Lynton Crosby, an Australian whose success has earned him the title ‘The Wizard of Oz’. On examining L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s book, the nickname seems more pertinent than you might imagine. Lynton Crosby’s skill, according to Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph, is not so much

The Tortoise and the Lib Dems

The Lib Dems have been thoroughly ineffectual in the coalition. So much so that some of us — including Hugo Rifkind in this magazine — have asked why they bother to turn up for work. I wonder whether the Lib Dems press on with the coalition because they can’t face admitting to its failure. They

Gone with the corsets

Painful, barbaric and Victorian are the words I think of when someone says corset, and yet these torturous contraptions are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Rigby & Peller, Marks & Spencer and eBay all report a huge increase in demand — corset sales on eBay, for instance, have risen nearly 200% over recent months. It

Monsieur Hollande and Madame Bovary

François Hollande has had it with austerity. Well, fair enough — austerity is dull and painful. No wonder other European leaders are keen to follow his example. But perhaps Hollande should take heed of what happened to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, who also longed to escape an austere life. After all, Hollande hails from Rouen, the

Brideshead re-elected

David Cameron and George Osborne have been repeatedly accused by a fellow Conservative of being ‘posh boys who don’t know the price of milk’; ‘arrogant posh boys’, moreover, ‘who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others’. This, say some, is why their party did so badly