Two weeks ago in St Moritz I ran into both Nicolas Niarchos and Nikolai von Bismarck, two talented young men and Old Harrovians whose parents are friends of mine. This week I was proud to read the former’s byline and to see the latter’s pictures from the warzone in Ukraine. Good on them, the Fourth Estate could do with talented amateurs rather than world-weary pros. But don’t get me wrong. By amateurs I mean those who write and photograph for the love of their craft, not because it’s their job.
Speaking pretty good English, Dr Tayeb came straight to the point. Was I eligible for the ground breaking new cancer treatment? He was afraid not. The radioactive test scan had illuminated the bone tumours very nicely, but the more dangerous one in the liver had remained occluded. So in my case the new treatment – a series of targeted infusions – could have only a ‘suboptimal outcome’. He was therefore not recommending that we go ahead.
The window of the new shop was as brightly coloured as a circus entrance, and stuffed full of items bearing no relation to each other, from chocolates and candles to vases and old chairs. The unusual name, too, made the place seem like it might have some mystical, hidden purpose.
The builder boyfriend wandered over the road from our house to explore this latest niche store to open up in the village.
When he came back he said: ‘Do you remember Papa Lazarou from League of Gentlemen?’
I do indeed remember the demonic circus character who featured in four episodes of the TV show.
A reader upbraided me gently the other day saying he felt I was overly effusive about the wines I feature in these pages. He hinted that I must be in the pay of the merchants in order to endorse quite so heartily whatever six random wines they care to offload on me.
Well, I promise I’m not in anyone’s pocket. Just to be clear, the offers work like this: I chat to whichever merchant we’re featuring and between us we try to come up with a pertinent/interesting theme, region, country or producer.
This Sunday’s Academy Awards will be a litmus test of whether Hollywood can uncouple itself from the political agenda of young woke radicals that is proving so unpopular in the US. Joe Biden had a stab at it during his State of the Union address, criticising the ‘defund the police’ movement for fear of a Democrat wipeout in the midterms, and the New York Times did an astonishing volte-face last week, publishing an editorial in defence of free speech.
Rugby Union, bloody hell. We’ve got to talk about Eddie, but before that, what about something much cheerier? Just when it seemed the game was for the big bruisers of northern Europe and the southern hemisphere, Italy show us that it ain’t necessarily so. It seemed impossible that anyone could upstage France’s victory parade on the last day, but that is just what Italy’s heroic XV did, by upsetting the only team that had come close to bringing down Antoine Dupont and his crew of Gallic legends.
Q. My husband has developed an irksome habit whenever he goes abroad without me. We have cameras outside the house which are programmed to alert him by iPhone when anyone comes or goes. As soon as I go into the garden I receive WhatsApp messages commenting on my activities, such as ‘I’m not sure you watered the garden for long enough’ and ‘You forgot to bolt the shed door’. Mary, I find this ‘spying’ annoying – what should I do?
Blacklock is the fourth restaurant of that name – there are others in Soho, Shoreditch and the City of London. It sits in a former royal coach-makers in an alley near the Garrick Club under signage that says ‘Chop’.
We descend to a cavern. The walls are exposed brick, the floors are dark wood, and the ceiling hangs over exposed pipework. There is a map of a more ancient and more interesting London on the wall, from the days in which chop houses were as common as raw sewage, or horses.
‘Half! Half! Half!’ exclaimed my husband like a performing sea lion. Not that sea lions perform any more, but you get the simile. He was emphasising the pronunciation of the first syllable of Hertford, which, as he rightly said, has no T sound.
He had worked himself up because on Twitter there was a froth about the way to pronounce some place-names: Hawarden as Harden, Wemyss as Weems, Marylebone as Marrabun and Cirencester as Sissister.
Red Swingball bats and the Disney eye
of an inflatable dolphin pressed against
the hatch of the Renault 16 in front.
Lorries ahead, cabs to trailers to cabs;
faces at coach windows, all lanes blocked.
I slump in the back seat. We edge forwards.
I twiddle with the window winder.
Nearer the bridge. And see it: black smoke,
down the embankment a white car,
a man on the hard shoulder. Almost home,
round my mate’s, tell him about the joke shop
on the pier, the big dipper, that car on fire.
Everyone around me doggedly refuses to understand that I have never been able to live in the reality of things and people …
Debussy – letter 8 July 1910, the piece L’Embarquement pour ailleurs still incomplete
I have joined the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society, fee 1 shilling.
No boat needed and no history of a boat.
I am cast ashore, Emile, in Crail.
Crail – en Ecosse – my friend, a name like the scraping of stones
where the wind pushes me forward and the streets lean up to me.
From a photograph of Himmler taken by an unknown German soldier in Ukraine, summer 1941
In a meadow heavy with the scent
of everything that blooms
without anticipation of death,
two Ukrainian peasant girls
encounter the Reichsführer SS.
Freed from their labours they smile
and greet the slight bespectacled man
who appears benign, as he gently winds
a thick grass stem around his finger.
What a beautiful land, he opines
granted you by the fortune of birth.