The Top Drawer

  Through the wonders of the friend's grapevine we contacted Emile and Denise. We had decided to buy a house by the sea in southern Brittany and sent them, as we did many others, our wish-list, just in case they knew of anything suitable. As if by return, Denise sent us the details of a…

Magic Spells Safety

Within minutes of leaving home I realised that something was very wrong. I was on my way to the baker's and while my early-morning brain had ensured I put on my cycling gloves and my cleated shoes, it had made a muddle over my crash helmet. The absence of a chin strap and the feeling…

Mother Nature’s Unfinished Business

  In the five years before she died, my elder sister Susan was plagued by shortness of breath. For Ann, the dominant last symptom was pain. For Mike, whose recent operation has made all the difference, it was ankle swelling. Odd as it may sound, all suffered unnecessarily because their bodies responded inappropriately to their…

An Orchid with Coquettish Tendencies

Bee orchids have small flowers, short stems and, in meadowland, are easily missed. They are also rare, protected and are seen as one of nature's great mimics with flowers that have an uncanny likeness their insect namesake. If put together as a rectangle, our garden in France, with its orchard, spinney, fruit and vegetable patches,…

Roll over Beethoven

We are inseparable. For years my iPad and I have been constant companions. But despite the magical ways in which it gives me access to friends, stores my data, informs me about almost anything, and supports me when I write and publish, there are times when it also drives me mad. I have not yet…

Mr Fox takes a Break

Unlike Rome, which plays host to wolves, or the suburbs of Berlin, where the intruders are wild boar, my patch in south-west London boasts an urban fox. With his lush orange coat speckled with white and grey, George - or should it be Vivienne - is impressive and, in his demeanour, takes the description of…

Not the 10 o’clock Snooze

It is almost two months ago to the day since I had my operation. As is common in men of my age, my prostate had grown uncomfortably large and was in need of a trim. The operation went well, but the immediate post-operative weeks brought some challenging moments when I contracted two bacterial infections that…

An Island People

Whoever is elected as the next President of France, he or she will wield more power than almost any other leader in Europe. What's more, with an unprecedented eleven candidates, of whom five were credible contenders, the choice presented to French voters has been more complex than ever before. In Tréguennec, a Brittany village with…

Jumping for joy

Mauricio Pochettino is the Argentinian-born manager of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club ("the Spurs"). He is seen as hardworking, assured, focused, steely and staid, and also as one of the best managers in the Premier League. Towards the end of a recent match he suddenly ran full pelt down the touch line jumping high into the…

Another world

I had been forewarned about the opening scene a few weeks earlier when I bought our tickets. I was about to pay when the smiley face of the man in the box office suddenly turned serious. He looked me in the eyes and with great solemnity delivered a prepared statement: "I should warn you, the…