Sandy Balfour

Why do the British love cryptic crosswords?

Everyone loves an anniversary and the crossword world — if there is such a thing — has been waiting a long time for this one. December is the 100th anniversary of the publication of what is generally recognised as the first crossword — although back then it was called a ‘word cross’. It was set

Leading the way in the dark

It was Peter Fleming who noted a principal difficulty for the traveller in the 20th century. There were no journeys to be made, he said, that had not been made already, and he knew that in anything he chose to do, ‘other, better, men’ would have gone before. Under such circumstances, ‘only the born tourist

Watching the human comedy unfold

I remember once swimming in the Batha river in central Chad. Despite recent rains the river was sluggish, warm and muddy, so much so that it was not immediately clear what was the point. I was uncertain of which way to go. I could not see my feet. I was covered in mud. And yet

Tips for technique and tactics

In 1994 the membership of the American Contract Bridge League voted S. J. Simon’s 1946 classic, Why You Lose at Bridge, the best bridge book ever. To that extent, all bridge books live in its considerable shadow. According to Simon you lose at bridge for two reasons: lack of skill and losing tactics. He doesn’t

A long and winding road

Having read The Prester Quest almost at a single sitting, I think I can say without fear of contradiction or a libel suit that Nicholas Jubber is full of it. But his is a most passionate, exuberant and charming kind of ‘it’, and his account of travels in Italy, the Levant, Sudan and Ethiopia in

One man’s Mexican dream

The author of a weighty tome on a 16th-century attempt to create a Utopia in Mexico might well expect to be exempt from Elmore Leonard’s advice to ‘leave out the parts readers tend to skip’. A book that runs to 60 pages of footnotes, bibliography and index might even be required to have such parts.