I cross-country ski the old-fashioned way, not skating but on machine-made narrow tracks. It is known to be the best exercise in the world. Both upper and lower body get the maximum workout as one churns along a beautiful course in Lauenen, a tiny nearby village that looks like Gstaad did 60 years ago. I used to bring my children to the lake here during the summer, warning them time and again about a horrible monster that lived underwater and specialised in grabbing little kids.
Early on St Valentines Day I walked down to the car park where the raindrops were knocking off the young almond blossom petals. The slow-dropping rain was refreshing after the January drought. In the car park the red car was shining wet instead of furry with dust.
I drove for 20 minutes on a winding road through low hills, intensively cultivated since the days of Roger the Norman, but abandoned since the Grande Guerre.
‘Do you have any questions?’ said the man at the insurance company after an hour of me trying to take out a new car policy.
‘No. I wouldn’t know how to ask you a question about what has just gone on even if I wanted to,’ I replied, because insurance is now so complicated there is no way a person not employed in the underwriting industry can understand it.
And that would not matter, except we do need to get our heads around it, because we have to change it every year.
Cooking for romance is no laughing matter. The stakes are high. Get it right and woo the love of your life — lifelong happiness, marriage, kids. Get it wrong, and who knows what will happen? At best, you’re serving up a disaster sometime around midnight. You’re not getting lucky. You may be poisoning your intended.
Romantic meals should be for all year round, not just for Valentine’s Day — but there are a few rules that it’s wise to follow.
I was a bit irritated by all the millennials saying the Superbowl half-time show made them feel old. The 15-minute musical extravaganza at Sunday’s game was a tribute to the golden age of hip hop and featured Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Eminem and Dr Dre. The reason it made so many people in their thirties and early forties feel a bit long in the tooth is that all artists are now candidates for the Hall of Fame.
Q. As if it wasn’t bad enough to overhear one side of a conversation as it’s bellowed into a mobile telephone, there is now a worse menace on trains and in restaurants. Those using the speaker function for calls are creating intolerable noise pollution because others nearby are forced to overhear both the tinny caller from down the line and a voice raised to compensate for the distance between mouth and microphone. Mary, have you got any idea how to tackle this?
Across oceans and continents, less favoured nations produce more history than they can consume. In these islands, the English — as opposed to the Scots and the Irish — merely consume a lot of well-written military history. The other evening, stimulated by a few decent bottles, someone raised a hoary question. If we could have been born in an earlier century — pre-20th — which would we have chosen? What epoch was worthy to compare with the Antonines and those Good Emperors, as praised by Gibbon?
The consensus was that, assuming a strong constitution and plenty of money, the long 19th century in Britain, from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to 1914, would have been as good as any.
In The Archers, Ambridge put on its own set of mystery plays dramatising the Nativity and Passion. BBC Radio 4 broadcast them separately from the soap opera, in which the village policeman has been driven to conversion by playing Jesus.
My husband, commenting on all this, said that ‘of course’ the word mystery meant a trade or craft, as the medieval plays were performed by companies of trade guilds. He might have been reading the website of the Chester Mystery Plays, due for their five-yearly performance in 2023: ‘The word mystery comes from the French mystère meaning “craft”, and apprentices joined the guilds to learn their mystery or craft.
(i.m. Marie Colvin, 1956-2012)
All autumn, the chafe and jar
of nuclear war
— Robert Lowell, ‘Fall 1961’
My father, who’d had
‘about as much as he could take’
by ’44, and still woke
swearing at flies
and soaked in sweat,
read the Telegraph
in dread and disbelief
over his first cigarette,
narrowing his eyes
against the scroll of smoke...
dreaming a bitter,
of coffee, we squint
at a screen instead of print,
and see plump child-men
jerked by the strings
their sad posturings
that could turn us to smoke
before we can even laugh.
‘The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.’ That’s Niels Bohr. Or, as Oscar Wilde put it: ‘In art there is no such thing as a universal truth. A truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true.’
Like physics and art, many other fields require that you embrace contradictions — because you can’t avoid them. Take innovation. Yes, a great deal of progress is combinatory: two or more technologies are combined to accomplish some hitherto impossible task.
Certain sections of the media love to run a knocking story and when champion trainer Paul Nicholls’s horses failed to win as many races as usual over the past three weeks, the groaners were soon at it. Was the magic missing? Had the maestro mislaid his baton? The Nicholls response was characteristically bold. He sent out his star young chaser Bravemansgame, his best hope for the Cheltenham Festival, to contest a novice handicap at Newbury last Saturday in which he had to give lumps of weight to a couple of handy performers in the shape of Grumpy Charley and Pats Fancy.