High life

My unforgettable night with a musical genius

Nostalgia barged in like gangbusters. What brought it on was a brief article about the most charming and enchanting of young women, Nancy Olson. Seventy-two years ago, she was in that rare gem of a movie, Sunset Boulevard, playing the rosy-cheeked screenwriter who was the love interest of William Holden, the writer who was handsome

Real life

More from life

How to make a true apple strudel

It’s possible that, like me, your first encounter with the Grande Dame of the Austrian pastry world, the apfelstrudel, was not in fact in one of the famed Viennese grand cafés, but rather from the freezer aisle at the supermarket. If it was anything like mine, it was probably a latticed, puffed version; the one

No sacred cows

How science became politicised

Here’s a paradox. Over the past two-and-a-half years, a cadre of senior politicians and their ‘expert’ advisers across the world have successfully promoted a series of controversial public policies by claiming they’re based on ‘the science’ rather than a particular moral or ideological vision. I’m thinking of lockdowns and net zero in particular. Yet at

Dear Mary


A toast to the field marshals

August may not be the cruellest month but it is often the most dangerous one. Now that it is over, and rosé is giving way to grouse, we can console ourselves. There has not been a world war. We merely face a number of middle–ranking crises. Over fortifying bottles, I was chatting about such matters

Mind your language

The changing language of ‘mental health’

It is easy to laugh at young people asking for sympathy because ‘I’ve got mental health’. I think I heard the journalist-turned-teacher Lucy Kellaway on the wireless recently noticing in a half-baffled way the tendency of pupils to call mental illness mental health. Mental health hasn’t quite achieved that meaning in standard speech, but it



Neutral as a wheel it is not culpable for what it picks up.   Shock jocks, phone-in bigots, ministerial lies and bleating celebs. A cup cannot be blamed for what fills it.   No judgment. No fear of offence just submission to whatever is snatched out of the air by chameleon range be it war,

At a Distance

They’ve taken down the trees round Keeper’s Pool. The water’s lifeless, bright and calm, the only creatures left are two white swans, their nest a circled heap of twigs and litter a few yards from a park bench looking at the view – the golf-course, flagged and sweatered.   Forever symbols in some poem; what

The Naked Limbs

           You told me that you’d read,                 And were struck by                 That night in bed, A sermon on the naked limbs that lie                 Inside your soul,            And as you told me so, Our youngest son, whose loud voice cried, rushed            Usurpingly to climb Inside our sheets and quilt, with soaked


Her grief is like the shadow play of bones snapped in an old X-ray unsleeved to show what love had done to her and her bright skeleton. Lit up, half-cut, she starts to flag still clutching her green shopping bag of gin and ashes as she weaves through deep, midge-haunted silences exhausted to this break

One Day in Italy

‘To arrive at the place you know not, you must go by the way you know not.’ – St. John of the Cross   How many times the bloody GPS led us astray. It pointed us down stairs, over a cliff, into a pathless field barbed-wire barred and pocked with curious cows.   Castel Gandolfo,

The Wiki Man

The mathematical formula that proves London is over

Some years ago, an Australian neurologist was in the habit of walking barefoot across his lawn. This being Australia, the lawn was slightly prickly, and the experience was painful but not intolerable; until one day, when one of the pricks in his heel was more pronounced than usual. He had been bitten by a snake

The turf