A magpie proves a troublesome pet

With his swashbuckling gait, ominous associations and garrulous demeanour, the magpie is the dandified razor boy of our avifauna and provokes ambivalent feelings (the ‘pie’ part signifies many a mixture). His pilfering reputation has inspired work from Rossini to the prog-rock band Marillion, and in lab tests he’s one of the few creatures brainy enough to recognise his own image in a mirror – even some Marillion fans can’t do that. But it’s hard to see how this corvid could be truly lovable. The artist and poet Frieda Hughes, however, fell for a little foundling Pica pica back in May 2007 when she was refurbishing her ramshackle new home. He

Why I’m sceptical of the ADHD epidemic

Just a quick plea to those who know me; if you’re going to burst upon me with a revelation, make it a juicy one, please – preferably sex-related. No gender reveals, no late-onset allergies – and please, most of all, no adult ADHD diagnoses.  Before you start up berating me as lacking in ‘compassion’ and ‘empathy’ (the twin calling cards of contemporary sad-sacks and milk-sops) let me say that I do believe that both allergies and ADHD exist – for a very small minority of unfortunate people. (I’m writing this in bold as I’ve noted from past experience that when people are keen to get their knickers in a twist, they often

Poor parenting is at the root of our failing schools

When it comes to education, I’m in two minds, maybe three. I was sent to private schools, including, for my ‘Oxbridge’ term, Eton, where the teaching was life-changing. But when it came to my children, no amount of cheeseparing was going to make private fees possible. From the age of three to 18, they went to our local state schools. They flourished academically, made lots of friends and enjoyed two advantages I never had: they walked to school, and mixed comfortably with children from every background. Why pay fees? I wondered. State schools were best. Alison Colwell makes me think again. In 2014, she was appointed head teacher at Ebbsfleet

Is there intelligent life on other planets?: Bewilderment, by Richard Powers, reviewed

We open with Theo, our narrator, and Robin, his son, looking at the night sky through a telescope. ‘Darkness this good was hard to come by,’ Theo tells us. He calls Robin ‘my sad, singular, newly turning nine-year-old, in trouble with this world’. We’re in the American Midwest, where Theo is a nerdy computer scientist — a data engineer whose professional world consists of looking for life on other planets. Robin, we soon see, might have ADHD. He’s brilliant, but unpredictable and testy. Alyssa, Theo’s wife and Robin’s mother, a former animal rights activist, is dead. Apart from Theo’s not-quite-friend Martin, an extreme super-geek of a neuroscientist, these are our