High life

Umbrian idyll

Città di Castello, Umbria A few years before the end of the 19th century, King Leopold of Belgium summoned his favourite banker, Baron Lambert, for an intimate chat over lunch. ‘My dream is to have a little place in the sun,’ said the monarch to the banker. ‘Somewhere down south, where everyone runs around without

Low life

Tree talk

All my life I’ve tried to acquaint myself with trees by learning which ones are which, but the task seems beyond me. Wouldn’t it be praiseworthy, for example, to be able to recognise the 32 native species of broad-leafed tree — willow, oak, lime, ash, wych elm, and so forth — and the three conifer

Real life

Cosmic codes

Iam a great one for omens. So the arrival in my inbox of two emails, completely unconnected, from two different people called Dirk had to be interpreted as a sign. The chances of two people in Britain being called Dirk outside the pages of comedy science fiction are pretty slim. The chances of them both

More from life

Status Anxiety | 7 June 2008

‘See that pot plant?’ said Jeremy Clarkson. ‘I could get a column out of that.’ We were at a supper party in Hay and indulging in that parlour game often played by newspaper columnists whereby we try to outdo each other when it comes to the ingenuity with which we can transform any subject, no

Spectator Sport

Spectator Sport | 7 June 2008

As hard luck stories go, it might not be up there with Oliver Twist, but dammit last weekend my Sky went down. In that pathetic, fat-arsed nerdy way I had been planning the ideal weekend: bouncing happily from the climax to the 20/20 Indian Premier League, to Wasps and Leicester in the Rugby Premiership final,

Dear Mary

Dear Mary | 7 June 2008

Q. During a lavish lunch party last month, our host was insulting about my new boyfriend, whom I had brought along with his permission. His actual words were, ‘He’s not my particular cup of tea, darling.’ He said this privately to me, not to the whole table. At the time I laughed it off and


Saffron studies

Recently I enticed my niece to a gastronome’s dinner during the London Food Festival. She is about to enter university, and I thought it was about time she learnt to taste. The evening proved a disaster; after a lengthy discussion of saffron she turned to me and asked, with quiet rage, ‘How can they carry

Mind your language

Mind Your Language | 7 June 2008

Dot Wordswoth on pens and puns ‘Why,’ asked my husband, looking up from his book, ‘is Joseph Gillott a very bad man?’ ‘What?’ I said. ‘Because,’ he replied, as if I had acknowledged defeat, ‘he wishes to accustom the public to steel pens and then tries to persuade them that they do write.’ By the