Observatory

World Food: The Good & The Bad

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There can hardly have been two more contrasting articles about restaurants this week. As London venues continue to open at lightning speed this autumn, food critic Jay Rayner laid into the awful-sounding ‘Beast’ with a breadknife. The Russian-owned restaurant has opened in London’s West End with a bizarre concept. It just sells steak and Alaskan […]

12 Ways To Tell You’re In A Latin Country

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Heading back for rainswept Britain after a week working abroad on ideas for a new thriller, I can’t help noticing cultural differences . Latins do things their way. Some observations; 1. After stealing your phone they use the sim card to call premium-rate numbers repeatedly until the phone is blocked. This is because they really, really like […]

It’s Time We Let Americans Teach Us Politeness

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Over the last few years it’s been hard not to notice a distinct cooling of Britain’s perceived ‘special relationship’ with America. With different parties in power and discomfort over war policies, the gentle ribbing that always existed between the two birth-cousins has taken a sharper new edge; in the press and popular culture Britain and […]

The Beer And Chocolate Diet

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The medieval town of Bruges has approved plans to install an underground beer pipeline under its streets. The project has been approved by Bruges City Council and will see a 3km underground pipe connecting the five-century-old De Halve Maan brewery to a nearby bottling factory carrying 6,000 litres of beer every hour. Said to be […]

What Do You Collect?

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Writers. We’re hunter-gatherers, filling up our homes with vintage violin strings and stuffed mice. My personal poisoned chalice is books and films, and film soundtracks, of which I have millions. Really, test me, see if I have the one soundtrack you’ve been searching for forever; ‘Harold & Maude’, ‘Krakatoa East Of Java’? Got ‘em. This […]

Grumbler’s Corner: Tesco Pizza

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To quote Jack Lemmon in ‘The Prisoner of Second Avenue’, ‘If I’d have known food was going to get this bad, I’d have saved some rolls when I was a kid.’ Which brings us, as bad food so often does, to Tesco, the shop once owned by Westminster arch-crim ‘Lady’ Porter. When their employees manage […]

How To Avoid Becoming Opinionated

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                              There was a time when I used to go to dinners and listen to elderly writers holding court. Now, there’s a time for respecting lifetimes of experience and wisdom, but these events weren’t like that. They mostly consisted of listening […]

Product Of The Week: Build Your Own Cat

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Lasers. Remember them? ‘No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!’ They were bright orange pencil beams and hummed as they melted their way through steel plate, heading towards your pants. But it turns out they had another use, for fine-cutting incredibly delicate shapes. This kit from D-Torso is fiddly for people with big fingers […]

And Finally: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Japan

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Presupposing you’ve not been there, of course. As a first-timer, these are some of the things that particularly surprised me. A quarter of Japan lives in Tokyo. Of what we used to call the Big Four (London, New York, Paris and Tokyo, although we should probably revise that list to include at least two SE […]

Japan: Two Sides To Tokyo

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They say nobody vacations in Tokyo. In order to prove them wrong, I’m spending my last few days here. My first stop was to be Yoyogi Park, but dengue fever has broken out there for the first time since 1945 – it’s not fatal and the numbers are small, but officials are being careful. But […]