High life

Six decades and two chat-up lines

 Gstaad In this freewheeling Swiss village of the 1950s, the unconventional was the norm and monumental drinking commonplace, but the manners of the players were always impeccable. Yes, there were ladies of lower-class parentage and with a dubious past, but they covered it up with a grand manner and an affected aristocratic confidence they had

Low life

What I learned working in the lunatic asylum

In 1984 I was 27. Since leaving school I had done unskilled manual labour, when I could get any. Then l worked as a nursing assistant and then a trainee nurse in an 840-bed psychiatric hospital at Goodmayes in Essex, formerly the West Ham Lunatic Asylum. It was like a walled town. I ate, slept

Real life

More from life

The Italians are disgusted with our holidaymakers

As the holidays draw to a close, Italian newspapers have been reporting with perplexity and distaste on the outlandish behaviour of foreign tourists in Italy, by which they mean young people from northern European countries. One report told of a couple making love in broad daylight on a bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice,

Some horses go better for a woman

Mrs Oakley returned from her latest book club with an uplifting story. The Mother Superior of an Irish convent was 95 and failing. On her deathbed she asked for a drink and a nun went for fresh milk. Espying the bottle of John Jameson occasionally used by the visiting Father O’Shaughnessy for refreshment, Sister Agnes

Spectator Sport

What does Duncan Fletcher actually do?

Some years ago, when the last Conservative government was limping towards defeat, someone published a book called 101 Uses for a John Major. It was cruel and fairly funny, the premise being that since he couldn’t run his party, there must be some other way he could be employed. Perhaps an Indian publisher is considering

Dear Mary

Dear Mary: Show me the tactful way to pay for a lift

Q. My neighbour is really lovely and always helps me chainsaw trees. He used to be the herdsman at the farm but was laid off last summer when they sold the herd, so now he is unemployed. Friends from London often borrow my cottage when I am away and I am sure my neighbour would


Rhubarb has the loveliest, craziest dining room I have ever seen

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: the city is full of glassy-eyed narcissists eating haggis pizza off flyers that say Michael Gove: Prick. I saw the Grim Reaper in the Pleasance Courtyard, of all places. Even Death likes an audience these days, has a media strategy, an agent, a gimmick. But this is not a review of

Mind your language

What’s humanitarian about a humanitarian crisis?

‘Our first priority,’ David Cameron said this week, ‘has of course been to deal with the acute humanitarian crisis in Iraq.’ One knows what he means, but isn’t humanitarian an odd way of putting it? If it had been a vegetarian crisis or a disestablishmentarian crisis, it would be one either caused or suffered by


The Origin of Poetry

Forgive the figure curled like a question mark in the corner no one speaks his language He tried to read a newspaper and failed, print swimming like tadpoles in a jar At night he speaks to Napoléon of empires and dying horses in the day-room he recalls his wife She comes as ghosted as a