My Struggles with Anna

This is the story about me and chess, and culminates in well over a hundred games played against Anna over Christmas.  She always won, often very easily, and I could never fathom out exactly how she did it. Playing so many games over such a short period is a new experience, but I was hooked.…

Becoming Fluent in French

Over the summer in France, Bernard and I had lunch together each week to catch up on the news. We spoke in French and while I understood him easily, when it was my turn to speak, I was hesitant and my sentences were dotted with errors. Then, one day something changed - for the first…

“It’s the Bottle”

Henri was standing at the side of the road hitching a lift. Like me, he was heading for the neighbouring town of Pont L’Abbé; in all, the drive would take about ten minutes. These days I rarely give lifts to strangers but the sky was leaden, the forecast was for rain and he was alone;…

Tales from Two Exhibitions

I rarely come away from an exhibition without some new insight. The exhibits themselves will be important but it is new ideas that will dominate and, if I am lucky, change how I think. And so it was with an exhibition at the British Museum on ‘Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece’. It jolted…

Two Parties and Three Gems from Santa

  Over coffee after a long walk a friend described my attitude towards Christmas as ‘bah humbug’. Such a comment would normally go unnoticed; this time it made me think. My mother was a romantic secular Jew who, throughout my childhood, made Christmas a magical event, and so it remains. The exchange of cards and…

The preserve of the tongue-tied

Mrs Miller moved like a tortoise. All her movements were slow, nothing sudden, nothing jerky; she was certainly not someone to be hurried. It was a concern about her shortness of breath that brought her to the clinic, and the diagnosis was soon clear; she had developed asthma. But, for her sake, her eerie slowness also needed…

How six good notes saved WW2

This story, which spans almost seventy years, starts in the late 1940s when my wife Rohan was still a New Zealand toddler. Before she left for England aged three, she had two favourite babysitters, Ted and Margaret. Both were music students and, as it transpires, both shared a happy disregard for the perfectly-tuned piano. Fast…

Reopening gambit

After closely observing my peers, I have concluded that when people retire their approach to life remains much the same as it did when they were earning - busy people stay busy and lazy people do rather little. During my own career I was actually too busy - some say a workaholic! My days were…

In search of humble pie

In general, my French lessons follow a fairly standard format. After a session in which we catch up on the French news and on any important student news, our teacher goes round the table asking each of us in turn if we have a presentation to offer. Most of us will have prepared something and,…