How to solve ‘range anxiety’

In ‘The Adventure of Silver Blaze’, Sherlock Holmes mentions ‘the curious incident of the dog in the night-time’. ‘But the dog did nothing in the night-time,’ argues Inspector Gregory. ‘That was the curious incident,’ replies Holmes. You never hear anyone say: ‘We finally stumbled across a charming little petrol station nestling among the trees’ Along with Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘Unknown unknowns’, this is perhaps the most famous example of what you might call ‘perceptual asymmetry’. We mostly act instinctively based on what is salient, giving little thought to what is easily overlooked. It is hence surprisingly easy to change what people do simply by changing what they pay attention to. A

Alone and defenceless: the tragic death of Captain Cook

The principal purpose of Captain James Cook’s last voyage, which began in Plymouth on 12 July 1776, was to discover the elusive Northwest Passage. Attempts had been made before, in vain, from the Atlantic, but this time it would be from the west, from the Pacific.  On the way, Cook was to return an Anglicised Polynesian named Mai to Raiatea, ‘a ragged volcanic island’ about 130 miles north west of Tahiti. Mai takes up much of Hampton Sides’s narrative, offering ‘a poignant allegory of first contact’, before being deposited home with his cargo of English domestic farm animals and his suits.  Prior to that, Cook had investigated, in New Zealand,

Douglas Murray

Following Napoleon: my exile in St Helena

St Helena In an attempt to escape from the world, I have come with friends to St Helena. It is quite a good place for the exercise. Until a few years ago the only way to get to the island was a five-day boat voyage from Cape Town. Shortly before Covid, an airport for this British overseas territory was finally completed at UK taxpayer expense. To protect some local insects the runway was put at a slightly wrong angle, making it difficult – sometimes impossible – to land. The weekly flight from Johannesburg therefore refuels in Namibia in case landing is impossible and the plane has to about-turn. A lifesize statue

Was Marco Polo a ‘sexpat’?

25 min listen

When I recently came across a book review asking the question ‘was Marco Polo a “sexpat”?’, I knew I had to get its author on to, well, discuss this important question some more. The 13th century Venetian merchant Marco Polo’s account of China was one of the earliest and most popular travelogues written on the country. Polo spent years at the court of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis, and whose family founded the Yuan dynasty in China. My guest today, and the author of that book review, is the historian Jeremiah Jenne. Jeremiah has lived in China for over two decades, and he is also the co-host of the fascinating podcast Barbarians

The true valour needed to go on pilgrimage in Britain

Every summer solstice, thousands of people gather at Stonehenge to greet the longest day of the year. Judging from the druids in the crowd, you might think this tradition dates back to pagan Britain. In fact, it was started in 1974 by members of a hippy commune who decided to host a free festival among the stones. The Pope, the Dalai Lama and John Lennon were invited, along with a handful of British Airways hostesses. These ‘interactions between ancient and modern faith’ fascinate the travel writer Oliver Smith. On This Holy Island is a journey across Britain, telling the story of a dozen pilgrim destinations and the spiritual seekers drawn

‘You can stare at a cow you will soon eat’: The Newt, Hadspen, reviewed

The Newt is an idealised country house in Somerset which won the World’s Best Boutique Hotel award last year. It is small, beautiful and mind-meltingly expensive, even for the Bruton Triangle and its mooing art galleries. Poor Somerset! It never wanted to be monied enough to have a triangle, but the rich make their own mythology. Since they paint every-thing grey – and now green, I learn at the Newt – they need it. A triangle fills the day. The Newt is for people who think that Babington House is stupid (it is) and though the Newt has its own issues – like the King, its taste is almost too

‘Is it France? I don’t know’: Hôtel de Crillon, Paris, reviewed

Hôtel de Crillon sits on the Place de la Concorde, a vast square renamed for bloodshed, then the lack of it – it was the Place de la Révolution, with knitting and bouncing heads. Now it is placid, and the Crillon is the most placid thing in it. No one does grand hotels like the French, except perhaps the Swiss, who have nothing better to do. Hôtel de Crillon was one of twin palaces commissioned by Louis XV before the French butchered his grandson and his wife outside them: it looks like Buckingham Palace but prettier and with possible PTSD. It has been a hotel for 115 years and next

‘I pity MPs more than ever’: the Cinnamon Club, reviewed

The Cinnamon Club appears on lists of MPs favourite restaurants: if they can still eat this late into a parliament. It lives in the old Westminster Library on Great Smith Street, a curiously bloodless part of London, and an irresistible metaphor wherever you are. When once you ate knowledge, you now eat flesh, but only if you can afford it. Now there is the Charing Cross Library, which lives next to the Garrick Theatre, and looks curiously oppressed. Perhaps soon it will be a falafel shack and knows it. There is also the Central Reference Library, which could be a KFC, and soon will be. Public spaces are shrinking. They

‘The lasagne is perfect’: Hotel La Calcina, Venice, reviewed

Pensione La Calcina is one of John Ruskin’s houses in Venice. He stayed here in 1877, after completing The Stones of Venice and going mad, and there is a plaque for him on the wall: a stone of his own. It is next to the Swiss consulate on the Zattere, but never mind them. I think the Zattere is for people who have tired of Venice. It has a view to the Giudeccacanal, and the waterbus to the airport: to the exit. You can breathe here. I am staying in San Marco, where I can’t. My son falls from a water gate into a canal, and Italian grandmothers tut at

Robyn Davidson explores yet another foreign country – the past

Robyn Davidson never set out to become a writer. ‘It did not form my identity,’ she tells us early on in her memoir Unfinished Woman. ‘In my own mind I had simply pulled another rabbit out of a hat. As I had done all my life with everything.’ The rabbit, in this case, is the ability to capture an exciting and complex life with insight and humour. When she decided to leave the underworld, she was sexually assaulted at knifepoint Born in 1950 on a cattle station in Queensland, Australia, Davidson was the second daughter of a handsome war hero from a privileged background. Home was a place full of

With Diana Henry

41 min listen

Diana Henry is a critically acclaimed, multi-award winning cook, food writer and author of 12 books including the classic cookbook ‘Roast Figs, Sugar Snow’, which has just been updated and re-released twenty years after it was first published. Diana also writes for newspapers and magazines, and presents food programmes on TV and radio. On this podcast Diana shares childhood memories of her mother’s baking, how ‘Little House on the Prairie‘ influenced her writing and when, on a French exchange trip, she learned how to make the perfect vinaigrette. Presented by Olivia Potts. Produced by Linden Kemkaran.

Is your pet killing the planet?

As a travel writer, I used to joke about the so-called ‘downsides of the job’. The stupidly complex shower-fixture in the five-star Maldivian Paradise. The unexpected commission to go to Denmark in winter. The vague but real sting of disappointment upon realising that the free hotel pillow-chocolate is actually a mint. But in recent years a genuine and troubling downside has arisen. When I meet someone and tell them what I do, the listener often winces, perhaps with a hint of moral superiority, and says something like: ‘Don’t you feel guilty about your carbon footprint? You’re killing the planet!’ This query pains me because, while I may question a few

Sticky, slithery, squelchy, smacky: the authentic Chinese food experience

During the early days of the pandemic, a video clip of a Chinese celebrity slurping bat soup went viral – no matter that it was taken from a travel show filmed in 2016 on Palau, a Pacific island some 2,000 miles from the Huanan wet market in Wuhan, and regardless of the fact that the Chinese don’t like munching on bats in any case. Wuhan was Covid ground zero, and filthy Chinese eating habits were to blame. In Invitation to a Banquet, Fuchsia Dunlop sets out to skewer misconceptions about what she calls ‘the world’s most sophisticated gastronomic culture’. This contention may surprise foreigners brought up on sweet-and-sour pork balls

How to holiday like a Roman

For most people in the ancient world, holidays meant local public festivals – in Rome there were 135 a year – when politicians staged extravagant games and theatrical shows. But the elite mostly spent summers in their own or their friends’ villas, well away from the stench, heat and mosquitoes of Rome. We tend to go abroad to ‘get away from it all’, though Seneca would have doubted that would do us any good – because it was ‘a change of character, not of air’ that people needed. He also quoted Socrates asking, ‘How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you

Why don’t more tourists visit Ethiopia?

Standing on a cliff edge looking at where the Blue Nile is just a trickle, watched by a gelada baboon on a distant rock and staring over miles upon miles of some of the most beautiful countryside I’d ever seen, one thought struck me: why is there hardly anyone else here? Ethiopia is stunning to look at, once you get out of the capital, Addis Ababa. It offers history, culture, architecture, religion and everything in between. Yet when you tell anyone you’re going there the most common response is: ‘Really? Why?’ In a country twice the size of France and with a population of 120 million, there were times when I

Forget Amsterdam – spend a weekend in the Hague

I love Amsterdam. I go every year for the galleries, the opera, the beer, the genever, the rijsttaffel, the brown cafés and, well, the fun. I’ve had many a fine time there, sometimes with and sometimes without dear Mrs Ray. It’s a top place.  I was cut to the quick, then, on hearing recently that the good burghers of Amsterdam had asked any British tourists in search of a ‘messy night’ to stay away. Admittedly, this controversial campaign is aimed chiefly at 18- to 35-year-olds on stag parties, rather than senior railcard-holders like me. But any drunk and disorderly behaviour risks a hefty fine and a criminal record – and since

I’m a holidaymaker… get me out of here!

Reading about all the travel chaos, I began to regret my summer holiday plans. Wouldn’t it have been more sensible just to stay in Acton? But Caroline and I had arranged to go to Ibiza fora friend’s birthday party the weekend before last; then, after returning to London, we were due back in the Balearic Islands, this time with the kids. There was no turning back. The first thing to go wrong was that our British Airways flight to Ibiza from Heathrow was cancelled. Not that BA notified us. The first inkling I had that something had gone awry was when I tried to check in using the BA app

What Britain can learn from Romania

Romania gets a bad rap here, associated as it often is with organised crime. In recent years around half a million Romanians have settled in the UK, making them the fourth largest group of foreign-born residents. But the irony is that as Romanians head to Britain in search of a higher standard of living, we Brits should really be booking our flights to Romania to remind us of how our country once was. Romania has everything: fascinating medieval towns, unspoilt countryside, vibrant major cities and a 150-mile coastline. There are even still horses and carts on the roads. But the appeal is more than that: it’s the spirit of the

Hold the haggis: the changing face of Scottish food

Ask someone south of the border for their thoughts on Scottish cuisine and they’ll inevitably offer up thoughts of two Gaelic gastronomic inventions: haggis and deep-fried Mars bars.  Despite the wealth of produce available – and exported – from the country, Scottish fare has struggled to shake its tartan-clad clichés Despite the wealth of produce available – and exported – from the country, Scottish fare has struggled to shake its tartan-clad clichés. Take a table in London and you’ll find Orkney scallops, Isle of Mull oysters, highland venison and Outer Hebridean whisky on restaurant menus, while bonnie chefs like Quo Vadis’s charismatic Jeremy Lee and industry darling Adam Handling lead the capital’s

The politics of sun loungers

The poolside was deserted when we passed on our way to breakfast. This time, I thought, as we ate at the still-quiet restaurant buffet, we’d triumph. Yet arriving back at the pool after eating, all the sun loungers closest to it had already been claimed – by owners who were nowhere to be seen. Reserving loungers might have been against the hotel’s policy, but removing the towels and beach bags that their claimants had placed on top of them felt like an act of aggression. Instead I sulked silently from my bed near the bins as, an hour later, the family of four who’d taken the plum spot I’d had my