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England, their England

Ian Fleming understood the attractions of an English summer. At the end of Dr No, James Bond is in Jamaica, his arch enemy dead, his knockout girlfriend, Honey Rider, about to leap into their double sleeping bag. And yet, despite being in paradise, Bond longs for ‘the douce weather of England — the soft airs,

Gay Damascus

A few years ago, I spent a month in Damascus. I arrived late in the evening but was so eager to see a city I’d long wished to visit — getting a visa had proved nightmarish — that I soon found myself in a little coffee shop round the corner from my budget hotel. I

On the edge of his seat

Michael Gove’s plans for education don’t allow for a moment’s pause When I walk into his office on the seventh floor of the Department for Education, Michael Gove is sitting behind his desk with his jacket off. He is hunched over, writing a note on House of Commons letterhead. His left arm is pushed right

Transylvanian hay-day

An afternoon’s diversion on the way to Constantinople, 75 years ago One day when we were invited to luncheon by some neighbours, István said, ‘Let’s take the horse’ and we followed a roundabout uphill track to look at a remaining piece of forest. ‘Plenty of common oak, thank God,’ he said, turning back in the

Patrick Leigh Fermor remembered

When I was asked to select a passage from his work that encapsulated the spirit of Paddy Leigh Fermor, who died last Friday, a crowd of images leapt to mind, from his encounter with the grotesque burghers of Munich in A Time of Gifts to the eerie vespers of A Time to Keep Silence, to the

Brush up your Shakespeare

‘William Shakespeare was the most influential person who ever lived,’ is the audacious opening line of Canadian writer Stephen Marche’s recently published book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything. It’s the sort of bold claim that makes you immediately think of other contenders: Jesus? Muhammed? Newton? Freud? Oprah? And while we’re at it, how exactly should influence