Rose George

Violence overshadowed my Yorkshire childhood

We might be twins, Catherine Taylor and I. We were both girls growing up in Yorkshire in the same decades – I in the West Riding (where an alley is a ‘ginnel’), her in the south (where it’s a ‘gennel’). We are children of the Yorkshire Ripper years, conditioned to be constantly scared of the

The scandal of rubbish disposal worldwide

Above a foul towering dump in Delhi a cloud of vultures and Siberian black kites fly in hope, ‘careening over the mountainside like some dreadful murmuration’. Here some of the world’s million waste pickers stash water bottles along their route, ‘like climbers making camp’. Oliver Franklin-Wallis concedes that his subject – the dirty truth of

An old Encyclopaedia Britannica is a work to cherish

Two thousand years ago, a young Cilician named Oppian, wanting to rehabilitate his disgraced father, decided to write Halieutica, an account of the world of fishes, as a gift for Marcus Aurelius. It was a mixture of possible fact and definite fiction – if only there were octopuses that climb trees and fishes that fancy

The kiss of death

I once threw Tony Parker’s Lighthouse across the fo’c’sle of a ship at sea when I read that his characters were composites. Oral history should be historical, or it goes into the ocean. So it is a shame that I sometimes question Xinran’s authenticity in this account of the loves and lives of four generations

A different kettle of fish

Fish. Slippery, mysterious creatures. They are mysterious because of where they live, in vast waters, and because they elude the historical record, too: fishing equipment is soft and decays (bamboo, hemp, lines made from kelp, cedar bark, women’s hair). Brian Fagan is an archaeologist, a profession that we associate with dust and soil and stone,

Cinderella in China

She was a foundling in her own family, shunted to adoptive parents for two years, then to the edge of China, to a fishing village on the East China Sea, and to a furious, alcoholic grandfather and a grandmother sold at 12 into marriage for some pottage, and never given a name. Is that colourful

Making waves | 14 July 2016

The tour guides of Ephesus, in Turkey, have a nice party trick to wake up their dozing coach passengers. As the coach drives along, they say, ‘This is the ancient port of Ephesus’, and the passengers look, as I did, at fields and trees and nothing else. They peer for the sea and are told

Very much like a whale

In principle, freediving is simple and perilous: divers take one breath, then dive as deep as they can, with no tanks or air, and come back up again. Watch a video of this — or Luc Besson’s 1988 film The Big Blue — and you have to hold your own breath, because it is beautiful,

Lover and fighter

I don’t like boxing. If I ever get into a boxing ring, I’ll be in the corner with the governor of California, Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown, who in 1963 called for ‘the abolition of this barbaric spectacle’ because another man had just been beaten to death in the ring. That man was Davey Moore, who had

Suffering a sea change

The oceans cover seven-tenths of our planet, and although it may not seem like it above the surface, they are very busy. Helen Scales and Christian Sardet are marine biologists: Sardet is apparently known as Uncle Plankton, and those multitudes of drifting organisms — ‘plankton’ comes from the Greek planktos, meaning to wander or drift