High life

The magic of black and white films

He is a rich English lord with a very large house and his wife is a beautiful American with a mid-Atlantic accent. The lord is portrayed by Herbert Marshall, a screen idol of the 1930s and 1940s, his wife by Norma Shearer, a Hollywood superstar whose eyes alone enslaved men and whose figure caused me

Low life

The art of breaststroke

I’m house-sitting for the foreign correspondent while he attends the funeral of his beloved father-in-law Toto, the last of the languid Old Etonian gentleman bankers. And he has a pool. And what a pool it is. The days here are roasting; the sun is now the enemy. Already dead leaves crackle underfoot. So I swim

Real life

I demand my right to night

The LED streetlamp outside my house was fitted with a ‘compromise’ shield acceptable to a vegan that looked as if it had been made on Blue Peter using sticky-back plastic, and that was bad enough. But a few weeks later, we were sitting in our living room and the light from this streetlamp seemed almost

Wine Club

Wine Club: six wonderful wines from Mr Wheeler

Order today. The first red wine I ever drank was a scrumptiously succulent Beaujolais, and I’ve had a fondness for the region and its wines ever since. At 52, my father was getting on a bit when I was born and he was desperate to educate me in the delights of the grape as quickly

No sacred cows

Why country house opera is just the ticket

Last Saturday I went to the opera for only the second time in my life. This was at the invitation of David Ross, my former boss at the New Schools Network, who hosts an arts festival called Nevill Holt Opera at his house in Leicestershire every summer. Launched in 2013, it is now a mainstay

Spectator Sport

The brilliance of Ben Stokes

Test cricket, bloody hell! For years, it’s been getting the last rites – now it’s the most exciting way anyone can spend five days. The scale of England’s synapse-stunning victory over New Zealand at Trent Bridge is boggling enough: England’s fifth-highest run chase (299) and fastest ever; the highest number of boundaries scored in a

Dear Mary


More spectacle than food: Ave Mario reviewed

Ave Mario looks like Clown Town, a soft-play centre in Finchley with a ball pit so large you could drown in it and lie undiscovered for years. Apart from the crucifixes on the walls, of course, which are specific to Avo Maria. (I have yet to find a soft-play centre that looks like St Peter’s.)

Mind your language

Have we made a hash of rehash?

My husband put one foot forward at an angle to the other and grasped his left hand with his right. ‘Occidit miseros crambe repetita magistros,’ he declaimed. He was quoting Juvenal, the seventh satire (‘rehashed cabbage is the death of wretched teachers’), though I don’t think he could manage much more from any Juvenal satire,


Some days I want to be Nicola Walker

and stare perplexedly into the middle distance with one crease, one particularly characterful furrow knitting my brow, not an old lady furrow oh no something about the way I hold this furrow in this ongoingly perplexed stare will imply a whole panoply of barely suppressed emotions, a gamut even, simmering away under the surface of

Joining the Spiders

Caught out in the wrong shoes, I choose to join the spiders in a crevice in the old park wall.   To them, all weather is the same; all time is time to do some work.   I watch them working, watch their old webs breathing as I breathe, now tilting brickwards,   now tilting