High life

The joys of uninhabitable islands

Isle of Patmos Two hundred years ago last March, the Greeks rose up against the hated Turks who had occupied most of the mainland for 400 years and, with the help of Britain, France and Russia, drove the infidels back to where they had come from. The war ended with the London Protocol of 1830,

Low life

A date with destiny – and chemotherapy

I was shown to a room divided into three cubicles, each with a reclining chair and bed table. In the first, a nurse was vacuuming fluid from a man’s lungs. He was large and physically helpless with a beautiful smile. He had no voice but croaked breathlessly over the whirring noise of the machine. I

Real life

To be jabbed – or not to be jabbed?

The doctor’s receptionist was adamant. ‘If you had not had the vaccine you would have been even more ill with Covid than you are now,’ she said. The builder boyfriend’s father argued back and forth with her for a while, but the conversation went nowhere. His GP wasn’t in the least concerned that he had

Wild life

Is today the day I become a Kenyan citizen?

Nairobi Since my father first caught sight of Mombasa from his ship in late 1929, at least some of my family has lived continuously in east Africa until now. After Kenya’s independence in 1963, many Europeans opted to become citizens of the new country, but my parents did not. All my life, I never had

No sacred cows

The true cost of my week in Wales

Rather miraculously, my daughter managed to leave the country last week to go on holiday with a group of friends. To celebrate finishing their A-levels, they had bought tickets to a music festival in Croatia, but it was cancelled at the last minute due to a surge in Covid cases. Having been denied every other

Dear Mary


The beauty of wine from the Rhine

In an apparently benign — almost prelapsarian — setting, the Rhine is an epitome of the human condition. Scenery is rarely more beautiful or more glorious. Yet it can be equally hazardous. This is a river that arouses mysticism, and its temptations. By swimming in those waters, men seek to affirm their unity with the

Mind your language

Double dutch: the many meanings of ‘Holland’

The title of the keenly awaited volume of memoirs by John Martin Robinson sounds like a crossword clue: Holland Blind Twilight. Would that be a Dutch kind of unseeing twilight or a drinking-session blind at twilight when Hollands gin is consumed? Of course not! It’s plain enough. Blinds are often made of Holland, a linen



He walked each day the same, Picking around Inside his broken, frameless mind For bits of comforting, Pushing his feet With care among free leaves On pavements his for the walking Where no one stopped him with talking : A hatless, witless man. He knew the shabby parts Picking around: The tree-wreck of a rusty


How sad are our misapprehensions. How much we are misunderstood Despite our best efforts, Despite the best of intentions. With the scribble of a smile we hope To address the matter in hand, Like a frank and forward glance, Like a speeded envelope. As with any double bluff, Any take-it-or-leave-it offer, A guess may well

A Consultation

You need to do more formalised walking the doctor said. Why not buy one of those formalised walking devices that measures your tread? They’re good. I had one and loved it until I felt it was judging me. Then I stamped on it. I liked this doctor — Lebrun was his name. To some degree

The Wiki Man

What do oven chips have to do with virtue signalling?

Why does virtue-signalling matter? It’s a fair question. After all, if people display virtuous behaviour, need we care about their motivation? I understand why some are irritated by the term; deployed unsparingly, it can be used to denigrate any act of decency. Yet, if the phrase is relatively new, the concept isn’t. Several of the