Foreign life

Navalny’s final agony at the Polar Wolf gulag

One winter’s night before the Ukraine war, I was on a train that stopped at a remote station deep in the Russian arctic. It was late November. The mercury stood at 15 degrees below zero – the hard, dry frost of the far north. The train stood silent, wreathed in the coal smoke of the

Real life

Why won’t Tesco bank let me change my address?

‘Thanks for calling Tesco bank,’ said the voice, before rather lavishly promising to get me to a member of the team who was going to help me. This wasn’t quite how it turned out, although I would say, up until the moment I asked to change my address I was a very satisfied customer. If

More from life

Chelsea buns are the best of all buns

The Chelsea bun was first baked in the Bun House in Chelsea in the 18th century. It was a bakery which found particular favour with the Hanoverian royal family, as its pastries were reminiscent of those from whence they came. But these buns were for everyman: they were customarily bought by the poor on Good

Wine Club

Vinous treasures from Yapp Brothers

Oh dear, I’m about to be ‘Yapped’. Jason and Tom, those evil geniuses behind Yapp Bros – in fact they’re step-bros – are taking me on their next buying trip. I love them dearly, but rarely return from such expeditions unscathed, and yet again fear for my well-being. Unrivalled as they are in rootling out

No sacred cows

My war reporter friend Sean should win a Bafta

My oldest friend, Sean Langan, was back in the news this week. He’s carved out a niche for himself as a maker of low-budget documentaries in conflict zones and his most recent film was shown on ITV on Monday night. He keeps costs down by shooting them himself on a hand-held camera, which isn’t easy

Spectator Sport

Can England rain on Scotland’s Six Nations parade? 

Watching England play Wales in the Six Nations the other day, a lacklustre match between two middling sides and distinguished only by lashings of Welsh hwyl as the visitors outperformed their role as underdogs, I remarked to the Irish friend who was with me: ‘The Welsh don’t like the English, do they?’ ‘Get in line,’

Dear Mary


Mind your language

How do you say Southwell?

They were talking about the origins of the Bramley apple on The Kitchen Cabinet on the wireless last week, and naturally they spoke of Southwell, that agreeable minster town in Nottinghamshire. I was surprised, almost let down, when a local man pronounced the place-name to rhyme with mouthw’ll. I had long been careful to pronounce


Punch and Judy Revisited

for Anna Punch has made up with Judy and put his big stick away. He’s happy to cuddle the baby. He’s a new man as from today. A husband on best behaviour. A loving father restored. But preferring him as raver the audience feels cheated and bored. Bring back the Judge and the gallows the