High life

A brief history of harlots

I write this as a follow-up to last week’s essay on muzzling after making whoopee. I’m on my way to Patmos, an island so difficult to get to, it has kept the great unwashed away. From now it is the only island I will grace with my presence, until the next time, that is. It

Low life

Walking the Somme

Where the 36th (Ulster) Division attacked at 7.30 a.m. on the first morning of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, I ate a cheese and onion sandwich and a KitKat. What happened was this. Charging forward from saps dug out into no man’s land from the frontline trenches in Thiepval Wood, the Ulsters overran

Real life

We have incurred the wrath of the shoot boys

Since telling the shoot we won’t let them use the land we rent, we have been beset by a series of unfortunate events. It began more than a year ago now, when we first dug in our heels and said there were to be no standing guns in the fields where we keep our horses.

No sacred cows

Football’s never coming home

I failed a moral test last weekend. A friend offered me a free ticket to the Euro 2020 final and I accepted, knowing my 13-year-old son Charlie would be bitterly disappointed. I had told him I’d try to get two tickets so I could take him, but all my efforts had come to nought and

Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How do I avoid hugging at a funeral?

Q. I have been double-vaccinated but am especially at risk and, since I know of at least four double-vaccinated people who have still caught the virus, am anxious to avoid being infected myself. So far I have confined my socialising to outdoor events — however a funeral for a much-loved great-uncle looms and among those


The wine that made me change my mind about rosé

Some time ago, I wrote that rosé should only be drunk south of Lyon, but one could start on the first bottle around 10.30 while brushing away the last shards of breakfast croissant. Although I received appreciative comments, I am no longer sure that I agree with myself. I recently discovered Domaine de Triennes, which

Mind your language

The ding-dong over being ‘pinged’

‘Ping, ping, ping went the bell,’ sang my husband, making his eyes wide and jigging in his best imitation of Judy Garland, ‘Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings.’ The effect was horrific. And ‘The Trolley Song’ doesn’t go ‘Ping, ping, ping’ but ‘Ding, ding, ding’. Everything else has been pinging, though. ‘Missing a holiday



Lit up and out of tune she’d bawl to make her ten green bottles fall but near the end, its song and dance, they came down like an avalanche; decades of empties drained and tossed in stairwells, basements, cellars, lost to blackouts or, pulled back once more, a locked ward off a corridor it took

Pear Trees

In the Mugello I Pear trees, unpruned, but still producing fruit Grew by the farm, Leaves dusty yellow as the pears. How many years since they had taken root? I stretched my arm To them as if across the years And bring them back into the present day, Clutching the form, Pears that resembled rounded


Speak into my good ear. The house is bubble-wrapped with rain. It’s late. To better hear your voice through this worn out device I lean in closer to the page. To better hear the sleep talk tangled in its sheets I lean in closer to your lips. Speak into my good ear. The crackle of

The Wiki Man

The CV trick that guarantees you an interview

Sometimes the opposite of a good idea is, as Niels Bohr said, another good idea. But the converse is also true. The opposite of a bad idea can easily be an even worse idea. Something like this seems to have happened with the expansion of British higher education. When I left university in 1988, if