A Baker and a Magician

 There is something magical about bakers and bread-making. How is it possible that a bland mixture of flour and water can be turned overnight into the delicious, still-warm loaf I get each day? After years of dreaming, I finally asked our own baker if I could watch him as he worked in the early hours.…

What’s in a Word?

Within no time I had accepted Armelle’s invitation. There are few sports I don’t enjoy watching and the chance to be a spectator at a tournament of sarbacane - in English ‘blowpiping’ - was irresistible; it was, for me, a first.  The tournament, which would last most of the day was the third part of a three-round…

This Land is Her Land

Dina could not be more of a Londoner. She was born and educated in the capital and now, as a thirty-two year old, it is where she lives and works. Added to this, most of her close family - mother, sisters, aunts and uncle - live only a short bus-ride away. Despite all this, she feels like a stranger.…

Alice’s Story

As soon as we had installed ourselves in Brittany for our spring stay, it was time to catch up with friends. After five months away there was plenty to talk about. We shared news about families, jobs and health, we learned the local gossip, and, inevitably we swapped views and insights about Brexit, the Gilets…

Peter the Renovator

Three or four times each day I walk past the church of St Mary Magdalene in the centre of Richmond. The paths that run through its cemetery are part of my route to almost everywhere. In one form or another, a church has been there for nearly 800 years. However, despite my love of old…

Gadgets, Toys and a Case of Metal Fatigue

Gadgets fascinate me; the simpler, the more ingenious, the more useful, the better. There is something about a pencil sharpener, a spirit level or even the humble paper clip that I find absorbing but others rarely share my interest. Were I to start explaining to my wife, Rohan, the details of the Post-it’s endless re-stickiness,…

It was a Good Year for Uncle Joe

Stalin was not a popular man. Indeed, according to the display in Russia’s State Museum of Political History in St Petersburg, Stalin’s regime was an abomination. Through films, posters, contemporary documents and a life-size mock-up of a family’s squalid living quarters, visitors are left in no doubt - from the perspective of the museum’s curators,…

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…

Freedom Amongst the Bluebells

I am addicted to reading the inscriptions on park benches. Those on gravestones used to be my favourites - ‘I told you I was ill’ was one of the best. However, around us in Richmond graveyards are rare while benches are now commonplace. Our council even has a website setting out its rules for public…

Family Ties

My wife, Rohan, has been dreaming of visiting Saint Petersburg since her teens. She has a warmth for Russia, for Russian literature and for the Russian language and, fittingly, she studied Russian at school and took it up again after retirement. For years, Rohan has cherished a photograph of her grandmother, Annie Forsyth, taken in…