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.…

Through the Brain Barrier

            During a week in June, my approach to birds changed radically. For years my interest in birdlife had been limited to garden visitors such as robins, wrens, chaffinches and blue tits. Rarely had I bothered about those further afield. Indeed, during walks in the countryside it is ‘disinterest’ that…

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,…

Every Rug Tells a Tale

Turn right as you leave our Paris studio and in two minutes you will be peering mesmerised into the Galerie du Luxembourg. With its brightly displayed rugs covering walls, floors and diverse pieces of furniture, walking straight past would be unthinkable. And if interest in the rugs palls, there is always some human diversion on…

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 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…

Divided we stand

While the invaders in our Brittany garden were welcomed by my wife they had me in a real spin. I am a very tidy gardener, not to say obsessional, and in my view these six, albeit very imposing invaders simply got in the way. They would have seeded themselves in the spring and by the…

Pipped at The Post

Although it hurts me to say it, after years of believing myself to be quiet and unsociable, I have had to accept that this may not accord with reality. It would seem that, if anything, a more apt description might be gregarious and talkative. It is true that I will speak to complete strangers, asking…

La vache qui ne rit pas

A perplexed Charles de Gaulle once asked “How can one govern a nation that has 246 varieties of cheese?”. That was in 1962. Since then the position for French presidents has worsened. An estimate by their minister of agriculture suggests that the number of cheeses now exceeds 3500, and in late June, on a visit…