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  • Readers recommend: songs featuring stringed orchestral instruments

    Violin, viola, cello, double bass and harp are classical family members, but your suggestions may take a bow to other genres and pluck out many a musical gem

    I felt, at first, the sudden clasp of fingers on my neck. I was gasping for air. My heart was beating furiously. I was half-choking. What was happening? The fingers began to stroke and slide across my skin. Who was doing this? Then came a strange sound, jittery at first, but then it lengthened into full, rich, warm reverberation, like a voice, oddly familiar. It resonated as if calling from a primal throat, as if from a deep cave, a strange animal in a deep mountain woodland hole. Then, as it got louder, it felt as if the earth was beginning to shake, and with it my entire body. As the volume increased, I felt a rasping across my chest, almost unbearably painful and yet weirdly thrilling. And with it, as the sound got fuller and deeper, an extraordinary spasm went across and up and down my spine, wobbling, twitching, stretching, shaking. Who was doing all this?

    And then, in a lucid split-second, it dawned upon me. I don’t know whether it was the cheese and tomato toastie, chocolate brownie or whiskey or anything else imbibed just before sleep, but I’d been having the most extraordinary dream – that I had actually become some sort of cello or double bass, being played and resonating, feeling and breathing the sound of that stringed instrument through body and bow.

    Continue reading...

  • France v Brazil – as it happened

    An impressive Brazil recovered from going a goal down to defeat France 3-1 on their own home turf – with Oscar, Neymar and Luiz Gustavo doing the damage

    Well, did we all enjoy that? After Varane opened the scoring, and with Brazil looking horrendous defending set-pieces, you didn’t really see the ‘Selecao’ getting too much joy this evening. But they look a different beast now and worked their way patiently into the game, scoring a lovely equaliser through Oscar, another fine goal via Neymar and a rather more set-piece-tastic one from Luiz Gustavo. They thoroughly deserved their win against a French side that wasn’t *bad* but didn’t really do enough despite looking bright and quick on occasion. To make it all the more fun, there were no substitutions until the last 16 minutes. So I enjoyed that and hope you all did too. Thanks for your emails, and for reading, and a very good night to you.

    How about that?

    90+4 min: “Surely 4 minutes added on is even, if anything,” quips Alys Barber-Rogers, and as I promised correspondents they’d be published I reproduce her joke here.

    90+3 min: France have carried on gamely but Brazil, to be fair, have managed this out quite nicely.

    90+2 min: Oh, and another. Marcelo for Elias. Okay, this game has actually been really good but I think we can call it a day now.

    90+1 min: Four minutes to be added on, which seems slightly odd.

    90 min: Another change for Brazil, which would usually bring them up to intensely bothersome numbers by now but they’ve left it so late that it, happily, has no real impact on the game. On comes Fernandinho, off goes Luiz Gustavo.

    88 min: Kondogbia, who is a wonderful player, marauds down the left and almost goes through three players as he looks to forage infield. Then Fekir does something rather more effective, cutting in to shoot only just wide of the far post with his left foot!

    Firmino goes off in the meantime and Luiz Adriano comes on.

    86 min: And Fekir now, in his first real action, goes down a bit easily under a Filipe Luis challenge – looked like a good feint and a foul though – and he doesn’t get a free kick either.

    Brazil make another change, the excellent Oscar departing and Souza entering.

    85 min: Schneiderlin is probably fouled by Danilo by the left byline but tumbles a bit too dramatically and nothing is given.

    84 min: Another Evra cross causes a few butterflies inside the area, almost falling for Matuidi, but Brazil get it away.

    Brazil make their first change now, Douglas Costa replacing former Shakhtar team-mate Willian. For France, Olivier Giroud comes on for Matuidi.

    82 min: Another French change now, Dimitri Payet coming on for Valbuena, whose effectiveness waned. Brazil are yet to make a substitution.

    81 min: Evra does put in a dangerous low ball though and Luiz Gustavo hacks away. Then Benzema almost gets lucky with a ricochet that gives him a sight inside the area, but Thiago Silva is there first.

    80 min: Lovely turn by Danilo, who heads for the box and tries for a one-two with Neymar, who can’t complete it. Brazil look comfortable.

    78 min: Brazil, who started with plenty of possession but little incision, have looked increasingly classy and confident on the ball as this has gone on. They deserve their lead, and it’s unlike anything we saw in the summer from them. After another such move, Neymar runs past Schneiderlin and gets a shot away but the ball bobbles as he kicks it, maybe, and flies over.

    76 min: France have a free-kick in a good position on the left. Valbuena takes it, once again, but it’s beyond everybody and he hasn’t quite recaptured the accuracy of those deliveries from early in the first half.

    74 min: Here come our first changes and they’re interesting. Remember Nabil Fekir, profiled at the top of the show? He comes on for Griezmann. And Geoffrey Kondogbia, scourge of Arsenal, comes on for Sissoko. France freshening things up.

    73 min: Neymar overcooks a ball for Filipe Luis but the left-back still gets a cross in. Mandanda takes it.

    72 min: Four goals and we still have not seen a single substitution. Hold this close.

    71 min: Almost four! Willian takes on Sakho, down the left this time, and Mandanda has to save with his legs. Another corner, which Sakho defends properly.

    ...From the corner it’s 3-1! It’s put in from the right, an outswinger, and Luiz Gustavo runs off his man – Varane perhaps – to plant a totally unopposed downward header into the net! It’s not dissimilar to Varane’s goal from earlier and it’s a piece of absolutely negligent set-piece defending from the French this time.

    68 min: And nor has Sagna, but now he checks rather unnecessarily when found on the edge of the area and floats in a harmless ball with his left foot. Shortly afterwards he gets another chance to cross but dithers again, Filipe Luis getting in the way.

    Then a really slick break from Brazil! It ends with Neymar finding Oscar, who looks to measure a shot to Mandanda’s left from the edge of the area and it’s turned behind! But then....

    66 min: Evra has not got forward too often but now he does, before being halted by a well-timed challenge from Thiago Silva by the corner flag.

    65 min: Dangerous ball from Filipe Luis after good work from Oscar and Firmino, and Evra has to flick it away from the waiting Willian.

    63 min: France’s fans, to their credit, are still in full voice and holding scarves aloft. We might get some pretty special atmospheres next summer. And they nearly have cause to completely lose it as Griezmann comes to life, holding off two challenges and firing in a superb 25-yard left footer that Jefferson is at full stretch to tip over!

    62 min: Do keep emailing though. We’ll need something to do when it all slows down. You’ll be published.

    62 min: It’s a really good game now. I hope the managers can hold off on the subs for a little while.

    60 min: Nearly an immediate response from the hosts – three times! Another Valbuena set piece goes past a host of players before Thiago Silva, with Varane lurking, diverts the ball just wide of his own goal. The resulting corner is never quite cleared properly and eventually the ball comes to Sissoko at the far post, with Jefferson coming out to block sharply. And still France come! Straightaway Valbuena puts in a delicious ball from the left and Benzema, running onto it inside the box, should surely score with his volley – but it flashes high and wide!!

    That’s why he’s their talisman. Willian nips the ball away from Evra, sashays infield and bisects France’s centre-backs with a superb slide-rule pass to Neymar inside the area. He’s to the left of goal and at an angle but – thud – it’s blasted high above Mandanda and into the roof of the net! Another fine goal by Brazil.

    56 min: From the corner, Firmino leaps superbly to outjump Schneiderlin and Thiago Silva is not at all far from diverting it into the net.

    55 min: Oscar tries for a repeat of his goal, bursting towards the box and this time going for the exchange with Neymar, but it’s cut out. Sakho then has to concede a corner though as Willian looks to feed Elias....

    54 min: Vital challenge from Sakho after Firmino, not for the first time, seeks to feed Willian in acres of room.

    53 min: A few players have slipped over out there tonight and Sissoko is the latest, but France keep the ball, which is something they’ve done far better since the break.

    51 min: But now we see Brazil! Elias capitalises on a mistake on the right of the France box and the ball ends up with Luiz Gustavo 20 yards out. His shot is well struck and Mandanda has to parry away. Good save, although one he’d expect to make.

    49 min: Then Valbuena stands one up for Benzema in open play but again Jefferson claims. France have come out brightly though, and as I write this Danilo has to react smartly to tackle Benzema after Griezmann plays him in.

    48 min: No threat from this set-piece – Valbuena’s delivery is far too close to Jefferson. Often hard to find a good angle when putting a cross in from a central position like that.

    47 min: Fast-ish start by France, with Benzema marauding menacingly and feeding Griezmann to his left, but his cross is headed away. Then Sissoko tries a burst of his own midway inside the Brazil half and is felled by Elias.....

    Let’s watch.

    The teams are back out! Will this one go the distance or will it fizzle out amid a rash of substitutions? None yet....

    With thanks to Paul Roche, here are Sean Bean and La Marseillaise:

    Not the worst of friendly halves. The scoreline is fair, Brazil having looked more threatening as the half went on after a rocky start in which they looked dodgy at set pieces and conceded to Varane’s header. The Selecao have dominated the possession and deserved Oscar’s lovely equaliser. France might be concerned that they haven’t fashioned a chance from open play yet.

    45 min: Danilo bundles Valbuena over on the left and France, who have been under pressure, get some respite. This time the delivery isn’t his best and it’s cleared up into the air before Jefferson gathers.

    43 min: That has set the stage for an interesting second half and I think it’s a fair reflection of the play. Brazil had kept trying to thread things through the eye of a needle in that central area just outside of the box and eventually their perseverance paid off.

    Well, well, what a lovely goal that was! Oscar comes in from the left and flicks a ball inside to Firmino, through a defender’s legs. He carries on his run and Firmino, this time through the legs of Varane, finds him inside the penalty area. Oscar is being challenged by Sagna and needs to get something away quickly, and he does – sliding in to finish very cutely with the outside of his foot and level the scores out of nothing!

    39 min: Neymar takes a tumble, wants a free kick just outside the box, doesn’t get it. France recycle the ball but a patient move ends with Benzema, quiet since that early chance, giving the ball away.

    38 min: This one comes in from the right and again Varane, at the back stick, almost gets onto it – but the ball squirms out of play.

    37 min: Willian finds a little space by the right byline and stands up a cross, but it’s not good enough to defeat Mandanda, who leaps up to collect. Miranda, at the other end, gives away another corner with a shockingly wayward backpass.

    36 min: I used to have an orthodontist who looked like Didier Deschamps. In fact there, that’s something I did in 1998, go to the orthodontist sometimes. He’s aged a bit now – they both have, I imagine – but Deschamps is a vocal figure on the touchline here and has just been seen barking out the instructions to his defenders.

    34 min: We have not seen much of Antoine Griezmann yet, although he did just spread a pass nicely enough to Evra. France yet to really create anything from open play but they do look quick and sharp on the counterattack.

    Then Firmino tries to trick his way through before Varane, the last man, boots the ball onto him and over.

    33 min: Brazil look a bit more threatening now and Elias finds Neymar, whose attempt at a backheel towards Firmino is ambitious to the point of pointlessness, as Firmino is nowhere near.

    30 min: Oscar tries a clever free-kick, short to the edge of the box, but telegraphs it badly and France get it away. But! Brazil come back and Firmino ends up having a dig from 25 yards, which Mandanda has to dive to his right to turn away for a corner! Good effort there. The flag kick is cleared but Mandanda looks unconvincing when the ball is returned to the box, fumbling under the challenge of Thiago Silva before it’s booted clear.

    29 min: Valbuena takes again and it’s another good delivery – this time Sakho gets up highest but can’t win the header cleanly, and it loops into Jefferson’s hands off a defender.

    28 min: Neymar gets all wriggly in a vaguely threatening position but can’t sneak a pass through to Elias. Brazil are, apart from that Neymar chance just before the goal, finding it hard to get behind France and only rarely committing many men forward. Thiago Silva, in the meantime, gives away another corner after another quick counter...

    26 min: Peter Oh was, it turns out, in Brazil during the 1998 final so I shall allow him the floor for the following entertaining tale –

    “In the summer of ’98 I was a graduate student research assistant in Salvador, Brazil, and watched the final in a crowded, rocking restaurant/bar near the old city square. There was a palpable air of expectation. After Zinedine Zidane’s head (twice!) and Emmanuel Petit had laid the festive atmosphere to waste and the shell-shocked crowd headed for the exits, I heard shouts of “They were paid off!” (presumably referring to sinister forces orchestrating a win for France) and one fuming young lady in front of me muttered “I’m gonna kill me a Frenchman!”. But once outside on the cobblestoned plaza, some of the gloom was dispersed by the legendary drum band Olodum going ahead with their planned performance despite the shattering loss.”

    24 min: Neymar swaps passes with Oscar and heads for the area again, but this time Schneiderlin dispossesses him. France counter and a decent Sagna delivery is headed out by Thiago Silva.

    And that miss proves costly! France go straight down the other end and win a corner, which Valbuena puts in again from the left. Varane, looking far more determined in the aerial challenge than Miranda, attacks it strongly and thuds a header down to Jefferson’s left! Excellent header, but Brazil look ropey on set pieces here.

    20 min: Neymar comes close! He finds space just outside the area after a Schneiderlin error and runs inside the box but, in trying to weigh his shot past Mandanda, doesn’t quite get it right and the goalkeeper dives to his left to save well.

    18 min: Now Brazil try to break at speed but Willian, head down, is robbed by Schneiderlin.

    16 min: It’s cleared, and France’s attempts to counter founder upon a rather agricultural tackle on Valbuena from Filipe Luis.

    16 min: Brazil win a corner now, Neymar’s attempted through ball to Firmino taking a deflection and running behind...

    15 min: Nothing is really happening at the moment, but Brazil are still popping it about pleasantly enough. That nearly results in Neymar charging down a Varane clearance, but the ball spins away.

    13 min: Not a lot of pattern to this really. That Jefferson save was quite something – I’d already made to type “Goal!” – but apart from that it could be a World Cup game, with two sides feeling each other out early on.

    11 min: Better now, though, as Neymar runs down the left before finding Firmino in space centrally. He has quite a bit of time for a shot and perhaps overthinks it in the end, striking from 22 yards but allowing Sakho to block.

    10 min: Sakho gives away a throw-in under close attention from Firmino, but Brazil are yet to show too much here except for a couple of fairly harmless spells of passing.

    8 min: ....taken by Valbuena from the left, and how is that not a goal?! It’s nodded on at the near post by Varane and Benzema, all alone at point blank range at the back post, must score! But goalkeeper Jefferson somehow extends a trailing hand and paws it away. Benzema could, should, have got more purchase on his header but what a save that is!

    7 min: Luis Gustavo gives away a free-kick on the right and it’s swung in by Valbuena. Danilo heads behind – corner....

    6 min: In case the jobbing guitarists out there were rather depressed by that Eugene’s Trick Bag video, Matt Dony hastens to add –

    “Just to clear up, although Ralph Macchio learnt a lot of gee-tar for the role, he mimed that piece, and the actual fingering looks much less impressive. I miss the 90’s for so many reasons, not least of which is the fact that I had time to waste learning flashy pieces I couldn’t hope to play today. Also, I really dislike Neymar. Come on, France!”

    5 min: Firmino’s first involvement is to rather undercook a pass towards Willian, who was in loads of space on the right. Evra picks it up.

    4 min: In the meantime, Willian is down after a challenge with Matuidi. Might just have turned his ankle a bit but seems ok.

    4 min: Charles Antaki is looking forward to seeing/saying Firmino.

    “Thank heavens for Firmino. A Brazilian I’ve never heard of, who might play for an obscure club, be fantastic, and who has a pleasingly exotic name. In other words, not Fred, Jo, Bernard, Larry or Colin (all right, I made those last two up).”

    3 min: Some good early possession for the Brazilians, finally snuffed out when Sagna sticks a foot in ahead of Oscar.

    1 min: Neymar slips over early on when trying to get onto a crossfield ball. Then Filipe Luis, backing up, does the same.


    A minute’s silence now, after the tragic air disaster that occurred on Tuesday.

    Before that, Matt Dony gives us his snapshot of a bygone time:

    “I remember clearly watching the 1998 final with a guitar on my lap, learning the guitar-onanism-tastic Eugene’s Trick Bag from Crossroads. And, by ‘learning’, I mean ‘trying hard to learn by playing slowly and sloppily over and over again’. It never impressed people as much as I hoped it would. France deserved the win, and I was glad they won, but the Brazilian airport advert was magnificent.”

    A lusty-voiced French crowd belting out La Marseillaise is one of life’s pleasures. We’ve just enjoyed that, and now it’s time we got going....

    Anyway, the teams are out in Paris! Flags are being waved, banners hoisted, and pray for Neymar silence now for the anthems.

    This is what Edward Chukwurah was doing then. Followed by what he’s doing now:

    “I was a 7-year-old in Lagos, Nigeria, finally falling in love with the beautiful game - I was enthralled by Zidane and by Thuram in the semifinal against Croatia. I rooted for France, and would go on to become an Arsenal fan.
    “Right now I’m 24, in Chicago, and frantically seeking work as a statistician (I qualify this email as a shameless plug, by the way).”

    So, do send your tweets and emails. What were you doing on That Balmy Summer’s Night In ‘98? What are you doing now?

    This was another exciting game between Brazil and France.

    A very interesting sub-plot in the France squad is the presence of Lyon’s Nabil Fekir on the bench. There’s been a lot of will-he-won’t-he over whether he represents France or Algeria – and this match won’t actually bind him to anything – so if you want to know why, look here:

    OFFICIAL XI - Jefferson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Filipe Luís; Luiz Gustavo, Elias; Willian, Oscar; Firmino, Neymar.

    Danilo and Firmino are both in, as is Chelsea’s Filipe Luis. So, too, is Thiago Silva – for his first Brazil start since the World Cup!

    La compo : Mandanda - Evra Sakho Varane Sagna - Matuiti Schneiderlin Sissoko - Griezmann Benzema (c) Valbuena #FRABRE pic.twitter.com/XnDfoho0te

    Notable for starts given to Schneiderlin and, at full-back, old stagers Evra and Sagna. Karim Benzema is captain.

    Nice email from Admir Pajic to kick us off here. What exactly do France have over Brazil?

    “If there is ‘Angstgeigner’ (yes, it’s basically ‘a jinx team’ in English but allow me to be a bit pompous) for Brazil, it’s France. They have been responsible for three out of last six big Brazilian defeats at World Cup (1986, 1998, 2006). Even if Zidane was responsible for two of those, I’ve always thought of that French domination over the Brazilians as of the domination of Lizarazus (= hard-working players who do their job in the defence quietly and don’t get enough praise just because they don’t score one preposterous free-kick out of million attempts like Roberto Carlos) over, er, Roberto Carloses.”

    That’s what you’re thinking, right? Zidane’s headers, Petit’s late goal, Ronaldo’s (the fat one! Not CR7! LOL) blackout, Arsenal winning the World Cup, Brazil going missing in every conceivable way, the last rites for a classic among World Cup theme tunes. Yes, it’s France v Brazil and it’s at the Stade de France – with enough “going on” to make this more than your common or garden friendly.

    Every day’s a schoolday for France at the moment, with their “ghost” presence in the Euro 2016 qualifiers offering some useful competitive-ish preparation for the tournament they’re hosting and certainly keeping them honest. A 1-1 home draw with Albania – who were most definitely treating the game like a qualifier – proved the point and there have also been useful workouts from the likes of Serbia and Armenia. They have beaten Spain and Sweden since the World Cup too. If Brazil are feeling it then this will be another big test and, as we’ll see, there may be an interesting name or two to conjure with as the night unfolds.

    Nick will be here shortly.

    Continue reading...

  • Election 2015: I couldn't live on a zero-hours contract, Cameron tells Paxman - live

    Ed Miliband taking questions from the audience now after PM was pressed him on the minimum wage, foreign policy and his 2010 pledges on VAT. Follow the audience Q&A now

    Q: Why are you so behind in the polls?

    Miliband says he takes an old-fashioned view. The people are the boss. They will decide.

    Q: You have made it difficult for your supporters. You have made gaffes. You do not seem to be fighting for the people you should be.

    Miliband says his spending plans are very different from the Conservatives.

    Q: How are you going to be different from Nick Clegg? Or are you just going to sugar-coat things?

    No, says Miliband.

    Q: Is socialism still an important value?

    Miliband says he calls it democratic socialism. But his answer is yes. Every generation must interpret this for themselves. Does the economy only work for the rich? Or does it work for everyone? He wants a fairer, more equal society.

    Q: Wouldn’t your brother do a better job? He was better qualified and better positioned.

    Miliband says it won’t surprise the questioner to hear that he thinks the answer is no. He felt he had to move Labour on, on things like Iraq.

    Q: Why won’t you give people a vote on the EU?

    Miliband says that is not his priority. Leaving the EU would be a disaster. Strategically, if you are dealing with terrorism or climate change, you have to be in the EU. If there is a transfer of power, he would have a referendum. But this is unlikely. Why would he have a referendum when he doesn’t want to leave?

    Q: If you are prime minister, what will the budget deficit be at the end of the parliament?

    Miliband says he wants to balance the budget. He will put up taxes for the highest earners. There will be some cuts. And under the Conservatives ...

    Q: I’m a higher-rate taxpayer. Labour’s messages make me feel demonised.

    Miliband says he hopes to give a better message. Some people criticise him for wanting to cut tuition fees, saying it will help middle-class families. Too right I want to help middle-class families, he says.

    Q: Are things really that bad?

    Cameron’s Q&A with Burley - Snap verdict: Well, that really sucked the life out of the event (and showed why professional interviewers are worth the money), and Cameron seemed to relax. (I would have said he relaxed visibly, but I’m typing, so mostly heard it, rather than watched it.) But the NHS question was sharp, and reinforced the point made by Paxman about Cameron having an iffy record on promise-keeping. And the “what do you regret” question was good too. My impression was that Cameron misjudged it. He started with a joke answer, and then resorted to: “I should have done what I did, only faster”. At this point a touch of humility may have served him better. But it was the familiar, rather cocksure, amiable bloke prime minister we saw, and all the evidence is that people don’t mind that much.

    Full Fact, the independent fact-checking organisation, is part of our team tonight to help verify some of the leaders’ statements. Here are some instant viewpoints on what Cameron said:

    Q: If you could redo one thing from your time as prime minister, what would it be?

    Cameron says he promised less noise, and more politeness at PMQs. That did not work out. On the economy, he wished he had done things like the help-to-buy housing programme quicker. But nothing will work without a strong economy.

    Q: You promised no top-down NHS reorganisation. In our borough we had to take the government to court to keep our hospital open. You broke your promises. So how can we trust you?

    Cameron says his biggest promise was not to cut the NHS. And he didn’t. He got rid of bureaucrats, and he is now treating more patients in the NHS. If he gets elected again, with a strong economy, he will go on investing in the NHS.

    Paxman’s body language speaks loud and clear to Cameron.

    Q: Would you like to see more NHS services provided by private companies?

    Cameron says he is happy to see charities or companies provide good healthcare. What matters is whether it is good. He loves the NHS. He recalls taking his desperately ill son Ivan to hospital. Private providers are a tiny proportion of the total.

    BuzzFeed’s Emily Ashton has a point.

    I fear for Miliband that people will be changing channels now... #BattleForNumber10

    Q: How will you convince the public not to opt out of the EU?

    Cameron says Britain is at its best when it is an outward-looking, trading nation. The EU does some good things, but it is trying to do too much.

    Q: What would you do to help disabled people?

    Cameron says he wants genuine equality. The Disability Discrimination Act, introduced by William Hague in the 1990s, has had a good effect. But there is more to be done. The employment gap is too big. Some employers are very good, and accept that if they don’t employ disabled people, they are missing good people. It comes back to a strong economy.

    Burley interupts. She has a question on policing.

    Q: Will you reverse the police cuts?

    Q: It has been said we have not seen anything yet as regards cuts to public services. How bad will it get?

    Cameron says he did not want to make cuts. But he had to get the deficit down. What he needs to do in the next two years is similar to what has been done so far.

    To the audience! No Dimbleby tonight, but never not worth reviving this …

    Q: Will you appoint a cabinet minister for older people?

    Cameron thanks the questioner for her advocacy for older people. He says he will ensure pensioner benefits continue for everyone.

    A fact check from the Observer’s economics editor Heather Stewart:

    David Cameron claimed that ‘the stock of debt is falling as a percentage of GDP’. George Osborne proudly announced at last week’s budget that it will fall in the coming financial year, 2015-16, but the prime minister is wrong to claim that it’s falling already; and as the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out, he only achieved this forecast reduction by counting on the proceeds of a sell-off of some of the banking assets the Treasury has owned since the financial crisis.

    The prime minister rightly told Jeremy Paxman that the coalition has cut the budget deficit - the gap between government revenue and spending each year - by half as a share of GDP since 2010 (though they hoped to eliminate it altogether).

    Paxman told Cameron that in the 2010 election “you said to my face, twice, that you would not raise VAT. But you did”.

    Cameron responded: “There is a crucial difference on this occasion. We are the government... we know what is necessary in the next Parliament. Our plans do not include increases in VAT or national insurance or income tax. We are very clear about that...The right approach is to find savings not to put up taxes.”

    Q: [From Matthew] What are Ed Miliband’s best qualities?

    This is from Stewart Wood, one of Miliband’s closest advisers.

    Telling that Cameron got most undone by Paxman on food banks, zero-hours contracts & not coming clean on where his welfare axe will fall.

    “Could you live on a zero hours contract?”
    “How much money have you borrowed?”
    “There’s a credibility problem here, isn’t there?”
    “What do you think has been your biggest foreign policy disaster?”
    “What would it take for you to vote no in a referendum on our continued participation in the European Union?”
    “A vote for Cameron is a vote for two, three, four years, after which it’s Boris Johnson or ... Uncle Tom Cobbley?”
    Oh Paxo, how we’ve missed you!

    Paxman interviews Cameron - Snap verdict: What a class act. Paxman, of course. Not just because the questions were aggressive, but because they were pointed, clever, witty (and aggressive). It was Cameron’s most uncomfortable 20 minutes in an interview for ages. His concession that he could not live on a zero hours contract is already being used against him by Labour, but overall he held up reasonably well, and even managed a lighthearted comment at the end.

    The third term


    Q: What would it take for you to vote no in an EU referendum?

    Foreign policy

    Q: What is your biggest foreign policy disaster?

    Welfare cuts

    Q: Can you tell us where this £12bn in welfare cuts will come from?


    Q: At the last election you said to my face, twice, that you would not raise VAT. But you did.

    The national debt

    Q: You said before the election the country was overwhelmed by debt. Do you know how much you are borrowing?

    Judging by their red carpet arrival pap shots, David Cameron and Ed Miliband have chosen to dress, respectively, in bright royal blue and slightly lighter (more Republican?) blue. Paxman, (HE’S ENTIRELY IMPARTIAL, REMEMBER), is in a scarlet tie, while Burley’s gone for a shade of neon pink that seems to have made even her eyes go a bit funny.

    Thought #BattleForNumber10 was going to be a football documentary about the game's greats.

    Minimum wage

    Cameron says he wants a higher minimum wage. But it has gone up.

    The aspersion you are trying to make is ridiculous.

    Zero hours contracts

    Q: How many jobs are zero hours contracts?

    Q: Do you know how many food banks there were when you came to power.

    Not exactly, says Cameron. But the people who run them do a good job.

    Jeremy Paxman opens the programme.

    Here we go.

    Pre-showdown spin, people who’ve spent the last 5 years telling you that their opponent is rubbish are now likening them to Demosthenes

    Douglas Alexander, Labour election strategy chair, is in the spin room spinning for Ed Miliband.

    The view in the Press Room here at Sky's studios as we await the beginning of #battlefornumber10 pic.twitter.com/wjdH2OZsI3

    Okay, so it’s not a debate. Try to control your disappointment. Cameron and Miliband will not trade verbal jousts, and will not even appear in the same room at the same time, though the reluctant prime minister might be regretting his determined resistance on that point after his rampant performance at PMQs yesterday.

    Cameron (right of pic) insists on hazmat suit to ensure no debatey contact with Miliband tonight #battlefornumber10 pic.twitter.com/3LKWEKjz3s

    This sounds like wishful thinking.

    "The Lib Dems are the big winners", that's what I want to see tomorrow says minister Norman Lamb as Cameron & Miliband face Q&A but no Clegg

    The two parties tossed a coin to decide who went first. Labour won, and Ed Miliband decided to go second.

    The two party leaders also decided in what order to do the interview/Q&A sections. David Cameron chose to have his Paxman encounter first, while Miliband decided to confront the audience before being formally interviewed.

    Decision on who goes first tonight in #BattleForNumber10 was decided by the toss of a coin. A 20p piece provided by Labour. We still have it

    Nigel Farage is speaking to Sky’s Adam Boulton.

    Asked who he expects to win, he says at least David Cameron has a message. He does not know what Labour stands for.

    I suspect that Cameron will get the upper hand.

    Here are more pictures from Sky HQ.

    Political heavyweights behind the cameras will also rub shoulders tonight for #BattleForNumber10 https://t.co/d8qFfIgSOv

    Adam Boulton gets the Sky News questions in early in the press room ahead of #BattleForNumber10 https://t.co/uckqfyvCWL

    Who will win the Game Of Thrones? The Iron Throne is artfully placed outside the #BattleForNumber10 studio pic.twitter.com/ywDwvnKPSn

    Nigel Farage is here and has gone straight to the bar. #BattleForNumber10 pic.twitter.com/fxUuavuysw

    Nigel Farage has turned up.

    Nigel Farage has gatecrashed!! His spinner is in the spin room #BattleForNumber10

    Nigel Farage has now turned up at Sky studios to comment on Cameron-Miliband Q&A

    More from the spin room.

    Lots of journos in the spin room worrying about having to file copy before debates are over. Still not much pre-match spinning going on yet.

    Soon after tonight’s event is over, the Guardian will publish the results of an ICM poll of viewers who have watched the whole programme. Respondents will be asked who they think “won”, and the results will be weighted demographically, and by past voting, so that they give a reasonable idea as to what a representative sample of the electorate would say if they had watched the programme.

    But who would you expect to win? Here are at least three benchmarks you could use.

    And David Cameron has now just arrived.

    Labour is effectively trying to “sledge” Cameron on Twitter.

    The public want a debate, but David Cameron’s not giving it to them. Is he hiding something? https://t.co/JMmDznC8Nw #BattleforNumber10

    If David Cameron could stand by his record he’d debate Ed tonight. He can’t defend his record so he won’t debate. #BattleforNumber10

    Ed Miliband has arrived at the Sky studios in west London.

    But what do the real voters think? We have 60 on standby to give their view as part of our polling project with BritainThinks, which is following voters in five key seats through the campaign.

    Each of the 60 has been given a smartphone app that will enable them to tell us their instant verdicts on the leaders as they speak, giving you a snapshot of opinion among people whose votes in key marginals could decide who gets the keys to Downing Street.

    My colleague Rowena Mason is at the “spin room” at the Sky studios where the Cameron/Miliband showdown will take place.

    It is not exactly buzzing, she says.

    The spin room isn't very buzzing yet... Gove + Truss will be talking for the Tories, Alexander + Flint for Lab later pic.twitter.com/bUbhiyfkdk

    How many people are likely to watch tonight’s programme? My colleague John Plunkett, the Guardian media correspondent, has sent me this.

    Predicting TV ratings is a mug’s game - so here goes.

    Channel 4 and Sky News will be hoping for a combined audience of at least 2 million viewers for tonight’s election opener with Cameron and Miliband.

    Do debates actually affect the polls? My colleague Alberto Nardelli has written a shrewd analysis. Here’s his conclusion.

    The polling data from 2010 shows us that the debates did generate real movement in the polling, even if much of that was erased by polling day.

    That explains why Cameron is so keen not to have any debates close to polling day – having them some distance out arguably reduces any risk of him performing badly and suddenly falling in the polls.

    Any big broadcasting event like this is a clash between two alpha egos, each determined to assert their superiority. The competition can be brutal.

    But I shouldn’t be too harsh about Jeremy Paxman and Kay Burley, because they do seem to be making an effort to get on. To make the point, Sky News has released this.

    As David Cameron & Ed Miliband prepare for #BattleForNumber10 at 9pm, here are Kay Burley & Jeremy Paxman's outtakes https://t.co/XF4XfZ0yKa

    If tonight’s debate , sorry showdown, is as jolly as this - Michael Crick doorstepping Jeremy Paxman (his former Newsnight colleague) and challenging him about being a Tory - then we will be fine.

    Welcome to tonight’s live blog covering ... well, we’re not quite sure what to call it.

    Continue reading...

  • Fortitude recap: season one, episode nine – 'Part Coen brothers, part Beckett'

    This blackly comic episode finally gave us a sense that we might be in for a big, satisfying ending

    Spoiler alert: This recap refers to events in episode nine of Fortitude.

    Read the episode eight recap

    Continue reading...

  • Premier League living wage pledge must go further says campaign leader
    • Rhys Moore welcomes move but says it should cover all contracted staff
    • Chelsea living wage commitment ‘goes so much further than this’
    Premier League promises to share £1bn of TV deal with English football

    The director of the Living Wage campaign has welcomed a new commitment over full-time employees from the 20 Premier League clubs but urged them to extend the promise to all contracted staff.

    The Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, has announced that all top flight clubs will pay the Living Wage, which currently stands at £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 outside, to full-time staff from the start of the 2016-17 season.

    Continue reading...

  • New York fire crews rush to battle fire at East Village building collapse

    ‘There was smoke. And then nothing. And then came the fire,’ witness tells the Guardian

    At least three people were critically injured in a massive fire and partial building collapse in the wake of an explosion at a Manhattan building on Thursday.

    Hundreds of firefighters were on the scene in the neighborhood near New York University, where witnesses reported hearing an explosion around 3:15pm ET shortly before flames broke out at a five-story residential building near Second Avenue and Seventh Street. A Guardian reporter saw thick, yellow and white smoke was rising rapidly from the top of the building, which appeared to have partially collapsed.

    #BREAKING: Aerial view of building collapse @NYPD9Pct. Numerous rescue units on scene #SOD #ESU #K9 #Aviation #FD pic.twitter.com/d9iX4GOBUd

    From the scene of the 2nd Ave building collapse http://t.co/HY5AjtbmeL pic.twitter.com/o9IPpxzajr

    123 Second is already gone. Adjacent buildings may well follow. pic.twitter.com/hwbMI2RmSr

    There was just an explosion on 2nd avenue and 7th street east village pic.twitter.com/jvSbfdCSSe

    Possible gas leak on 2nd Avenue & 7th street causes explosion #EastVillage pic.twitter.com/gmBCpDmScB

    Continue reading...

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