High life

Why doesn’t Stephen Fry boycott the Saudis as well as the Russians? 

Call me sentimental, but I’ve never seen a better opening ceremony than the Sochi one, evoking Russia’s great past in literature and in many other things. The ballet sequence was tops, especially the acrobatics by the black-clad dancer portraying the cruel officer in War and Peace who seduced Natasha. All those hysterics about boycotts and

Low life

My night in Zambia with Ian Dury 

Every time I hear that song ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’ played on the radio, I think, Lord, how I miss Ian Dury. Then I wish they’d play something other than that plodder, especially when there are so many great songs of his to choose from. Some people knew all the words to

Real life

Let’s make Andre Rieu the leader of the world 

‘Please, I beg of you, take me to see André,’ was my mother’s heartfelt plea. And so it was that we turned up at Wembley Arena — she, my father and I — to experience the global phenomenon that is André Rieu. André Rieu is a Dutch violinist and conductor who tours the world staging

Wild life

More from life

Oh no. Have I let my children have too much self-esteem?

Two new books have been published recently on the thorny issue of social mobility, one optimistic, suggesting various things parents can do to maximise their children’s chances of success, the other pessimistic, concluding that a child’s fate is more or less sealed at birth. Paradoxically, the optimistic book is incredibly depressing, while the pessimistic one

In praise of Milton Keynes

Who would ever have thought it, but I have become quite fond of Milton Keynes. Although I live slightly closer to the ancient city of Northampton than to this widely mocked ‘new town’ of the 1960s, I definitely prefer the latter. Northampton is a fine example of the ruination of an English market town by

Dear Mary


A spirit to warm Bruegel’s ‘Hunters in the Snow’

The ostensible subject matter is misleading, as is any conflation with his lesser relatives’ wassailing peasants and roistering village squares. But Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s work is profoundly serious. It has a formidable intellectual content, a Shakespearian emotional range: a sardonic and stoical view of the human condition. There are paintings — ‘The Triumph of

Mind your language

A learned poet’s mystifying mistakes

I enjoy Poetry Please, but was shouting mildly at the wireless the other day when a northern woman poet was using the whining intonation that some seem to think the proper voice in which to recite verse. So I was glad that Bernard O’Donoghue came on, with an accent formed by a childhood in Co.


Meeting in the Small Hours

He was there again in the small hours: not this time in a dream, but in a dream of dreaming. Even so the two of us looked aside, stuck for something to discuss that was not a matter of life and death, so we fell back on football and the elections. Then suddenly he started

The Wiki Man