Ysenda Maxtone Graham rss

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What does your front garden say about you?

It is said that the road to hell is ‘paved with good intentions’. Well, so is the typical front garden in what used to be our green residential streets. In… Read more

‘Ass And The Angel’. A child kisses a donkey at the seaside, circa 1935. Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images

Brian Sewell does some donkey work: how Britain’s best-known art critic put his ass on the line

4 April 2015
The White Umbrella Brian Sewell

Quartet, pp.184, £9.99, ISBN: 9780704373846

I suppose all children’s authors write the stories they would have liked to read as children. But in the case of this novella about a sensitive man called Mr B who… Read more

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In praise of messy old kitchens

28 March 2015

‘I love my new kitchen heart of the home let’s fill it with friends happy.’ So says the thought bubble in the current ad for the estate agents Rightmove, part… Read more

Few shall be chosen… perhaps only one in eight

The truth about private school admissions

14 March 2015

In recent years I’ve started putting the verb ‘to get in’ (when it refers to the action of being offered a place at a sought-after school) into capital letters: ‘To… Read more

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It takes a village (or six): the battle for rural churches

21 February 2015

Some of the longest job descriptions belong to rural Church of England clergy. ‘So what do you do?’ ‘I’m the Rector of Aldwincle, Clopton, Pilton, Stoke Doyle, Thorpe Achurch, Titchmarsh… Read more

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How to stop being scared of full stops

24 January 2015

Typical mother-to-mother email, January weekday, 2015: ‘Thanks so much for helping out yesterday, Jamie had a great time with you all, thanks also for bringing his games kit home, let… Read more

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The elephant boy and the princess: Elif Shafak’s latest saga, set in medieval Istanbul, is a real page-turner

10 January 2015
The Architect’s Apprentice Elif Shafak

Viking, pp.456, £14.99, ISBN: 9780241004913

If you like to curl up by the fire with a proper, old-fashioned, saga-style tale about a boy and his elephant in Istanbul in the 1500s, The Architect’s Apprentice might… Read more

Singers Recording

A beautiful speaking voice is a window to the soul

6 December 2014

Recent text from a female friend. ‘I’m in love with Neil MacGregor.’ To which I reply, ‘But of course! Up there with the Dean of Westminster and Frank Gardner.’ The… Read more

The ossuary at Sedlec in Czechoslovakia, where garlands of skulls drape the vault. The chapel is thought to contain the skeletons of up to 70,000 people

In search of dead men's bones

15 November 2014
A Tour of Bones Denise Inge

Bloomsbury, pp.205, £16.99, ISBN: 9781472913074

Skulls, femurs, ribs, pelvises, piled on top of each other in a chaotic heap: this, Denise Inge discovered, was what she and her husband John were living on top of… Read more

Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art

It’s not easy for a middle-aged woman to get inside the head of a 12-year-old innkeeper’s son in 1914

13 September 2014
Mr Mac and Me Esther Freud

Bloomsbury, pp.297, £16.99, ISBN: 9781861545708

Esther Freud wrote dazzlingly in the first person through the eyes of a five-year-old child in her first novel, Hideous Kinky (1992). What made that book so captivating was the… Read more

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Decline and rise again

6 September 2014

Verb says to noun, ‘Would you like to conjugate?’ Noun replies, ‘No, I decline.’ A nice witticism for Latin-lovers brought up on L.A. Wilding’s Latin Course for Schools; but do… Read more

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Women bishops at last

19 July 2014

The result of Monday’s vote on women bishops, the Archbishop of York stipulated, must be greeted in silence, as is the convention at the General Synod. This, perhaps, was a… Read more

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The Snow Queen crawls at snail’s pace – and you wouldn’t want it any other way

The Snow Queen Michael Cunningham

Fourth Estate, pp.258, £16.99, ISBN: 9780007557677

For all would-be novelists whose stumbling block is that they can’t resist describing every single sensation in depth — the smell of a bedroom, the sound of a door closing,… Read more

A wounded soldier is carried through the mud near Boesinghe during the battle of Passchendaele in Flanders Photo: Getty

When No Man's Land is home

25 January 2014
The Lie Helen Dunmore

Hutchinson, pp.294, £14.99, ISBN: 9780091953982

Countless writers and film-makers this year will be trying their hand at forcing us to wake up and smell the first world war.  How do they plant a fresh, haunting,… Read more

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There is nothing quite like the prep-school play

7 September 2013

Letter home from prep-school boy, c. 1949: ‘Dear Mummy and Daddy, last night was the school play. It was Hamlet. A lot of the parents had seen it before, but… Read more

As Green as Grass, by Emma Smith - review

17 August 2013
As Green as Grass: Growing Up Before, During and After the Second World War Emma Smith

Bloomsbury, pp.214, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408833616

The title, the subtitle, the author’s plain name, even the jacket’s photograph of a laughing old lady in sunglasses: none of these is particularly enticing. But the book itself is… Read more

A Corner of Paradise, by Brian Thompson - review

10 August 2013
A Corner of Paradise Brian Thompson

Chatto, pp.224, £16.99, ISBN: 9780701188023

Author has late-blossoming romance with authoress, both divorcees, and they live together in a cramped house in Harrogate full of stepchildren and then buy a derelict summer house surrounded by… Read more

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Don’t jump, Felipe!

Peering over my son’s shoulder as he forced himself through a pile of practice IGCSE maths papers in readiness for this week’s exams, I was shocked both by the absence… Read more

Female undergraduates were goaded into growing vegetables by being threatened with a diet consisting only of rice

A Green and Pleasant Land: How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War, by Ursula Buchan – review

16 March 2013
A Green and Pleasant Land: How England’s Gardeners Fought the Second World War Ursula Buchan

Hutchinson, pp.357, £20, ISBN: 9780091944155

Here are some statistics about wartime fruit- and vegetable-growing in England which this book tells us. In 1942-3, there were 1,750,000 allotments, amounting to 100,000 acres, or an area the… Read more

Leaving Sussex

16 February 2013
Motherland William Nicholson

Quercus, pp.544, £16.99, ISBN: 9781780876203

I read William Nicholson’s new novel in proof before Christmas. ‘The must-read book for 2013 for lovers of William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks,’ it said on the back. Well, I… Read more

Telling tales out of school

26 January 2013
Wild Writing Granny Mary Sheepshanks

Stone Trough Books, pp.285, £15, ISBN: 9780954454272

The difficult thing about writing a memoir is this: how do you avoid numbing the reader with endless thumbnail sketches of the hundreds of characters who have crossed your path?… Read more

As dark and heavy as plum pudding

15 December 2012

Dressed up as a child-friendly, pocket-sized hardback, just the right size for a Christmas stocking and with a pretty front-cover illustration of two dear little children in a snowy fir… Read more

Keeping calm and carrying on

10 November 2012
These Wonderful Rumours May Smith

Virago, pp.401, £14.99, ISBN: 9781844088102

An ordinary woman, rather like yourself.’ These were Peter Fleming’s words when he commissioned Jan Struther to write what became her ‘Mrs Miniver’ columns for the Times. Critics complained then,… Read more

Radio insomnia

29 September 2012

It’s 2.43 a.m. Unable to sleep, you reach out into the night for company: literally. Out goes your arm, towards the radio on the bedside table, and you grope for… Read more

There’s something about Mary

23 June 2012
The Colour of Milk Nell Leyshon

Penguin Fig Tree, pp.171, £12.99, ISBN: 9781905490943

I like books which have their own linguistic microclimate. Fictional first-person narratives are where you tend to find these.  The moment you step inside a good one, you enter a… Read more