High life

My lack of schadenfreude worries me

Something has been bothering me of late, and that is my total lack of schadenfreude. The malicious pleasure at someone’s misfortune never counted a lot, but it’s now totally absent, and it worries me. Take, for example, the case of John Bercow, the preening popinjay show-off whose physical stature matches the respect he earned as

Low life

Elegy in a country churchyard

‘I love this old watering can,’ said my sister, sprinkling the miniature rose. ‘Though I do worry about soaking Mum. How far down is she? Do you remember?’ I said I thought about five foot. The country churchyard is sheltered by hedges and trees and the graves are decently spaced. On Mothering Sunday mown grass

Real life

Covid has given me a superpower

Since recovering from Covid, I seem to have quietly been developing supernatural powers. At first I thought I had simply lost my sense of taste and smell, but a year on the situation is more complicated than that, I am starting to realise. I can’t really taste or smell anything in the conventional sense. If

No sacred cows

My £50-a-week chocolate habit

As I’ve got older my tastes have generally become less refined. During my youth I dutifully slogged through Kafka, Camus and Sartre, but my current bedtime reading is Sharpe’s Trafalgar by Bernard Cornwell. With movies, I used to feel obliged to watch subtitled masterpieces like La Règle du jeu and Le Salaire de la Peur,

Dear Mary


War, wine and the brilliance of Beychevelle

If only toasts and good wishes were weapons of war. At every serious repast I have attended since the invasion began, someone has raised a glass to the heroes – and heroines – of Ukraine. The rest of us have responded with a blend of solemnity and moist-eyed emotion. One’s emotions are strange. I can

Mind your language

When did brothers and sisters become ‘siblings’?

I never cared much for the word sibling, though I hardly knew why. The reason must be that it was introduced by a scientist, Karl Pearson, who in 1900 wrote of the ‘inconvenience of our language having preserved no word for either member of a pair of offspring of either or both sexes from the


Charles I Sits for an Equestrian Portrait by Van Dyck

Dismounting lightly as a thoughtful child, The tiny king looked younger than his years, And older than eternity. He smiled, But Van Dyck noticed a faint sheen of tears In his unguarded gaze. Then, with a sigh, Charles asked: ‘How long until you’re done, d’you say?’ ‘It will depend, Your Highness, on the eye,’ The


The streets are closed with hazard tape, wrecked by big oil and snaky traffic jams. The road crew works by geosat to trace the burnt-out cable where a blackout starts. Last week, the spigots flooded, storm drains blocked and now a drop in gigawatts clears the street and turns the dragon-headed streetlights out. Crew men

The Wiki Man

Should the young pay less tax than the old?

In evolutionary terms, it is obvious why we get more conservative with age. Two strong forces, acting in the same direction, lead us not to bet on rank outsiders when we’re nearing the last race of the day. First, older people have more experience to draw on when making decisions: if you already know what

The turf

The British shone at Cheltenham

For Barbara and Alick Richmond, Living Legend’s game 12-1 victory in Kempton’s 1m 2f Magnolia Stakes last Saturday was their first in a Listed race and it showed. Living Legend had been driven to the front two furlongs out and held on bravely to prevail by a nose. ‘Come here you,’ said Barbara to the