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.…

London’s Singing Lift

There is an unwritten code of conduct for those riding in a lift. First: say nothing, and if you have to speak, keep your voice hushed. Second: avoid eye contact with fellow travellers; stare ahead or look down at the floor. With such solemnity, being in a lift is a dour affair. Well, usually! There is…

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…

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 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,…

Reconnecting Down Under

The Australian artist John Peter Russell is one of my heroes. In 1884, at the age of 26, he went to France where he stayed for forty years. There, he was befriended by Rodin, Van Gogh and Monet, was one of Matisse’s key teachers, became a highly respected ‘French’ impressionist, and was then wiped out…

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…

Short Changed

  Readers in bygone days might have described me as a cad and a bounder. My misdemeanour - having fallen out of love, I have decided to reveal all. My infatuation was not with a person but with what I saw as an altruistic ideal. Discovering otherwise came as a horrible surprise and while we…