A Right Royal Wedding

A Right Royal Wedding

What is the secret of the enduring popularity of the British monarchy?  What curious alchemy is at work?   I can understand why my father, the venerable Read, God rest his soul, was such a fervent  monarchist.   He was, as he frequently told us, one of Churchill’s few.  He fought for King and country, though I doubt the King was that impressed when he wrote off three Hurricanes without even seeing the enemy.   It’s enough to make a st-st-statesman st-st-stutter.   But sixty years on,  and a sequence of public relations disasters,... Read more »

Intimations of Hope

Intimations of Hope

The idealistic Konstantin, humiliated by his famous mother, the actress Irina Arkidina, his play publicly dismissed as ridiculous, tries to shoot himself but instead shoots a seagull and presents the corpse to Nina, the daughter of a neighbouring landowner, whom he adores.  Nina is disturbed and disgusted, but shows it... Read more »

In the Mind’s Eye

In the Mind’s Eye

At the age of 14, Rene witnessed his mother, being pulled out of the river;  her lower body was exposed and her nightdress was over her head concealing her face.  Was it her, and if it wasn’t where had she gone, what had happened?   But Rene never talked about it;... Read more »

I believe in miracles

There was a kind of magic that earlier spring, under the Quantock ridge, where Hope Corner Lane crossed the Kingston Road.  If we left home early in the half light, before breakfast, the white owl would still be ghosting alongside the hedgerows on silent wings to take a last late vole... Read more »

Gabrile Orozco; meaning out of chaos.

Gabriel Orozco is like his ball of plasticine, Yielding Stone 1992,  rolling along, always on the move, always picking up new ideas, things from the streets, imprints, objects, impressions.  He installs whatever he thinks is interesting, often distorting them to remove their utility, change their function, so that they engage... Read more »

An Ideal Husband

So how should we regard the delectable Mrs Chevely, with her arch looks and glittering Lamia gown  so wonderfully nuanced by Ms Bond?  Lord Goring has no doubt.   ‘She looks like a woman with a past, doesn’t she?   Most pretty women do.  But there is a fashion in pasts just as... Read more »

Diogenes in the Age of Reflection

‘You’re rather like Diogenes in his barrel’,  David declared on his fourth visit to my little cottage in Edensor.   Was that a compliment?   Well, on the principle of the glass being half full, I decided that it was.  I quite liked the idea of being perceived by the medical fraternity... Read more »

Flu, and the yellow bird has flown

Sorry to moan, but I’ve got flu.   At least that’s what I think I’ve got.   It could be the return of the auld trubble – the malaria, but it doesn’t quite fit the pattern.  I begin to feel wobbly and shivery about dusk every afternoon, not every other day like I did... Read more »

Making sense of coastal erosion

The east coast of England is being washed away.  Tidal currents sweeping down from the north are gradually eroding the coast from Flamborough Head south to Suffolk, moving shingle and silt down into long narrow spits as at Spurn Head and Orford Ness,  collapsing the shingle banks in front of... Read more »

Despatches from Derbyshire Ice Field (3)

0645 GMT  07/12/10 Successful expedition.  Grytviken basking in balmy zero.   Back on shelf at minus 14, well stocked with lamp oil, whalemeat, blubber, pickled cabbage and two bottles of aquavit!!  Freezing fog.  When we speak outside, the words stay in the air and hang around the tent.  Voice message from Oates... Read more »

Despatches from Derbyshire Ice Field (2)

  0610 GMT  04/12/10   Minus 15 with precipitation!  Visibility 200 yards.  Ice!  Transport held fast.  Frost forming on rigging.  Troops down in mouth.  Fog freezing on beards!   Try to encourage.  ‘Chin up!’  But supplies low.  Half rations. Last banana.  No brandy.  Fear mutiny.  If no improvement, will try dash to base camp tomorrow   Scott, i/c expedition. Read more »

Despatches from Derbyshire Ice Field (1)

0755 GMT 2.12.10. Snow flurries overnight but pressure rising.  Blizzard yesterday made transport impossible; even sledges didn’t run.  By 6pm, snow tractor got through.  Now stuck in drift. Troops digging out.  Mount Sheffield completely cut off.  No radio contact.  Supplies will last another week.  Plenty of logs for oven.  Bags of flour,... Read more »

Et tu, Vincent; the unkindest cut of all!

Cuts will hit poor 10 times harder than rich – report.   This was the headline in this morning Guardian.  Well, of course they will!  It’s common sense, if the government makes cuts in public spending, it's the poor,  many of whom are single parents and pensioners, who will suffer most.  They'll suffer most because... Read more »

You shouldn’t ever go back

I rarely watch television.  Most of it is rubbish; idiotic game shows, predictable soaps, tedious news commentary and mind numbing adverts.  But ‘The Song of Lunch’,  the dramatisation of Christopher Reid’s narrative, superbly performed by Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson,  was something different.    Shocking, intense and bleak, the poem is... Read more »

Because – you’re worth it!

She didn’t believe in anything very much.  Communism, fascism, altruism, capitalism, collectivism; they were all the same to her; forms of subjugation and oppression.  No, what Ayn Rand believed in was objectivism, "the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life,... Read more »

Lost Soul

I’m not sure she knows me now.  Most of the time she sits pulling the hem of her dress across her bare knees, leaning forward and then lying down in her chair, picking at her sleeves, trying to undo her buttons; her face a sad mask of confusion.  She seems... Read more »

Gulags in our cities; the terror that awaits all of us.

It’s the smell that hits me first.  Not the ferrety lemon yellow scent of the whole building, but a dense, dark, dirty green,  pungent ammoniacal stench of soaked-in urine that has started to degrade, the stench of hell.  This I become aware of a subdued moan; ‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh... Read more »

The averted face of care

The carers leave notes for each other on the wall above the work surface in her kitchen.  The one this morning read,  ‘If the district nurse or any member of the family ask you to help them move Doris, you must say NO!’  I went through to the bedroom.  Mum was... Read more »

Je t’aime.

In one video,  the artist stopped people in the street and asked them to look into the camera and say  ‘Je t’aime’ (I love you).   Her subjects found it so difficult.  Their body language was so defensive.   They laughed, looked away, crossed their arms, shuffled their feet, lit a cigarette.... Read more »

Yoga in the Park

We had completed the first set of asanas and were just relaxing into the pranayamas ‘Now alternative nostril breathing.’  Pinch your nose between the thumb and ring finger of your right hand, breathe in through the right nostril,  close the right nostril, breathe out through the left, breath in through the... Read more »

En vacances avec Monsieur Hulot

He’s one of those awkward people,  too tall and not quite coordinated.  He doesn’t so much walk as bounce along on the balls of his feet, his body held forward as if nearly falling over.  it’s like he is not of this world. He seems out of place, confused as if... Read more »

The Real Thing

I thought it was going to be too clever by half, a criticism so often levelled at Stoppard and parodied in the character of Henry, the playwright.  Was his writing the real thing or just or just the defensive manipulations of an expert wordsmith, obfuscating, confusing, keeping everything ambivalent.  Or... Read more »

Origins, space and time in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

David Nash has a real fascination with wood.  He knows his material intimately.  He knows how it weathers, dries out, splits along the grain.  He understands how it chars and how it becomes waterlogged and rots.  Wood expresses the fundamental elements of life; earth, fire, air and water.  Nash is... Read more »

The Depressive Dance of Denial

It is August 1939, the world is going to change forever but the bright young things still cling to the escapism of the previous decade.  Alcoholic hedonism helped this generation blot out the traumas of the First World War, and now they use it to blank out the looming prospect... Read more »

Through a Glass Darkly

The family are on holiday in their house on an island in the Swedish archipelago.  The sky and sea are grey, the house basic, the paint stripped, the wood bleached by the salt air, the family exposed and vulnerable.  Karin has been ill in hospital with schizophrenia.  Her husband Martin,... Read more »

A political love-in!

They’ve done it.  The marriage took place in the rose garden., the sun was shining, the birds were singing.  They were a couple, finishing each others’ sentences, joking with each other, touching each other, singing from the same hymn sheet.  All differences had been resolved.  They had pledged their loyalty... Read more »

The party’s over; it’s time to call it a day …….

It always ends in tears.  Gordon Brown had been at the top of British Politics for 20 years and now he’s gone.  Not only did he resign as Prime Minister, he ruled himself as leader of The Labour Party and said he would step down as MP.  Suddenly people are... Read more »

Bush and Blair; a hubristic ‘folie a deux’.

They were made for each other,  weren’t they?  Not so much a marriage made in heaven as an accident waiting to happen.  There was George W. Bush, the rich privileged son of a previous senator and president, the playboy, the drunkard, the ne’er-do-well, who went into politics by default.  He was... Read more »

Lost in Translation; the vanishing cultures of South East Asia.

In the more remote villages, they live in long houses, constructed of bamboo and rattan,  cook on open wooden fires, squat on the dirt floor to eat from a low table and sleep on a low wooden platform.  They wear traditional clothes, grow their own vegetables and hill rice, brew... Read more »

Concensus and Coalition. Would a hung parliament be such a bad thing?

‘Nobody wants a hung parliament.  Politicians of different convictions would never come to a decision.  It would lead to paralysis.  It would destroy confidence in the economy just at the time we are recovering.’   At least this is what Labour and the Conservatives think.  Well, they would, wouldn’t they?  They’ve... Read more »


‘Just follow me dad!’  Alex reached the end of the lane and then turned left into an relentless wall of oncoming traffic, easing his bike across the path of motos, tuktuks, cars and trucks which just turned a little to miss him without altering their steady 20 mph, until he... Read more »

Too tired to remember Easter.

Easter passed me by this year.  It’s not because I’m an atheist.  I think beliefs, faiths, meanings are essential to our well being, but very personal and for me not to be culturally regulated.   I believe in love, metaphysics, forgiveness, wild places and regular exercise.  No, it was because I... Read more »

A fine creation from a doomed insect.

It’s the finest, most delicate thread in the world and can be dyed and woven into smooth yet light clothes fit for an emperor let alone a modern man of distinction or a lady of style and discernment.  This cloth is the bee’s knees, the cat’s pyjamas or, to more... Read more »

the ‘umble spleen.

It lurks tucked up behind the stomach, a soft black leather purse moulded to the contours of adjacent organs like a dark shadow, the sort of organ you’d ignore, a remnant, a vestige, a redundancy.  No wonder surgeons removed the spleen with impunity if they were operating on the stomach. ... Read more »

But they don’t get Malaria in Finland!

Certainly not in the north in late winter, they don’t.   How on earth would a mosquito survive temperatures of -10.   But this illness was strange.   I know it’s cold here, but shivering that starts when you are sitting in  a warm room; the shaking that won’t stop despite going to bed... Read more »

Sweetness from the top of the tree

The male is shaped like a fork with the central prong much longer; the three pronged like a knobbly green tuber, buy both can be used.  When they look ready, the villagers prop their  ladders against the tree, just a bamboo pole with rungs on each side, and climb up. ... Read more »

Jungle Bugs

From a distance, it looked like a rotten stick, covered in white lichen, such as you might see in Derbyshire, but no!   The lichen was moving.  I looked more closely.  The stick was covered with hundreds of bright white insects,  each one decorated with appendages resembling flower parts, tiny stamens,  bifurcate... Read more »

A Muse on Fruit

Alfred Russel Wallace, who nearly beat Darwin to the discovery of evolution, described it like this.  “It is like buttery custard, flavoured with almonds intermingled with wafts of flavour that call to mind cream cheese, onion sauce, ground cherries [sherry wine?] and other incongruities.  It is neither acid nor sweet... Read more »

They burn money here.

It is 7 o'clock in the evening just a few days after the new year; the year of the tiger.  Any baby born this year will be strong and fierce, like the tiger.  A man is squatting in the gutter tending a little bonfire.  I make as if to take... Read more »

When the orchestra is mad, who can be sane?

Tom Stoppard is of my generation.  Although, of course, I never knew him personally,  he has been part of my growing up.  I took Marion to see ‘Jumpers’ in the nineteen seventies.  It was the play that I remember best.  I still have the script somewhere.  It inspired a love... Read more »


‘Oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.’  It was like a metronome, every second.  Simon worked out that at this rate, she would say oh dear, 3600 times an hour,  up to 50,000 times a day,  15 million times a year.  But the mantra had some more intense... Read more »

Discovery! With a frozen grape.

Frozen grapes are delicious served with chocolate truffles and cream.  If you let them warm up a bit, you can bite through them and feel the cold juice squirt around your mouth.  But Roz found this difficult.    ‘I can’t eat these. I have sensitive teeth.’ ‘Well just try swallowing them and... Read more »

Summoned for Christmas

Getting a summons for driving without due care and attention just added insult to injury,  I had been knocked unconscious, fractured ribs, vertebrae, punctured my lung and my left kidney. But my letter advised me that it would go better for me if I admitted culpability.  I felt hurt and... Read more »

Possession; on stage and off it.

Good actors, declared Sir Richard Eyre, speaking last week at The Guild of Psychotherapists annual lecture, have to be possessed by the characters they are playing.  They have to immerse themselves in their character’s world, feel what it is like to be them, experience the passion and then act it... Read more »

Time and Tide

Time is the measure of things moving.  It’s like history; one bloody thing after another, but if nothing happens there is no time, ho history, nothing.  We know by determining the rate of decay of radioactivity in rocks that the earth came into being 4,558 million years ago.  This sounds... Read more »

Tempus fugit.

Time flies, the old man cried, as the alarm clock struck him on the back of the head.  For the elderly, time does indeed fly; not just the clock but the days, the weeks, the years.  Time seems to shorten, to press in on itself, as we get older. But for... Read more »

The Shiver Spot

It was really too cold to go running this morning; just off freezing and pouring in rain. I slipped on the mud and was soaked through in seconds, losing any insulation afforded by my leggings.  My hands soon felt like blocks of ice, but my back, which was covered with... Read more »

Mediobogdum; a rant!

By Jupiter, it’s grim here. Three months perched on a mountain at the edge of the empire  with nothing to do, except watch the sheep and wait for those damned Brigantes to attack the fort again.  Why?  Why don’t we leave them to get on with it?  We'll never beat... Read more »

A curious tale of butterflies, ants, wasps and the passage of thyme

The large blue butterfly is the largest and rarest of our blue butterflies.  Clouds of them can be seen fluttering over heathland on a summer evening, but in the eighteenth century the passion of Victorian gentlemen for collecting butterflies nearly drove them into extinction.  Conservationists tried to protect them by... Read more »

War without end; Amen.

Armies pursued each other around Europe; soldiers, little better than animals laid waste the countryside, taking what they wanted, burning, raping, killing, no longer knowing, if they ever did, the reason why.  It had been a good war for Mother Courage, for a time. She became a camp follower, trailing... Read more »


Reader!   If thou hast a heart famed for tenderness and pity, contemplate this spot. In which are deposited the remains of a young lady, whose artless beauty, innocence of mind and gentle manner obtained her the esteem of all who knew her. But when nerves were too delicately spun to bear the rude shakes and jostlings, which we meet in this transitory world, nature gave... Read more »

A Night-time Visit

  It was half past nine in the evening and quite dark.  The phone rang.  It was dad.  He was very agitated.   ‘There are people in my house - lots of them; men and women.  They’re sitting on my settee. I have told them to go but they won’t.’   ‘Who are they... Read more »

People watching; their lives in their faces.

  A troupe of black musicians with southern accents and joyful, toothy grins were waiting to board the flight to Stockholm.  They wore earphones and were jigging, jerking, twitching, beating out syncopated rhythms on their knees, table and the arms of their seats.      In the restaurant, a conclave of heavy metal... Read more »

A Bridge too Far

Psychotherapy is a strange world.  It claims to help people resolve conflict and change, yet the whole profession is deeply split.  The psychoanalysts, humanists and behaviourists are all convinced their approach is only true one, but when it all boils down, there is more to connect different therapies than to... Read more »

Are accidents ever accidental?

A few years ago, while staying in London,  I was coming down the stairs carrying an open suitcase,  but there were more steps than there were at home, I couldn't see where I was putting my feet and I was preoccupied with anxieties about being away from home.  Three steps... Read more »

Peer review or publicity; how to solve a problem like Ida.

Ida was no more than two feet in length, she had a cat-like face, a long tail and judging from the shape of her ankle, walked upright.   Cladistic analysis might have suggested she was probably related to lemurs, but she was heralded as a missing link between other mammals to... Read more »

It only hurts when I laugh; living with an injured back.

When I was a physiologist,  I used to ponder the cause of the sensations I felt in my body, the reactions of my gut, what is was about feeling sick that made me yawn or sweat, why a headache made he muscles on the back of my neck sore.  I... Read more »

The dangers of going to bed.

It had been a long night.  Although my hospital bed allowed me to adjust my position,  the slightest movement of my back was agony, and I could not get comfortable.    The plastic mattress was damp with sweat and my pyjama top was rucked up my back and impossible to adjust.  I... Read more »

There’s a gap in my life.

I have absolutely no recollection of what happened.  I stayed and wrote up my notes for a bit.  Then I went into the basement, collected my keys and drove up through Broomhill and westwards out along the Fulwood Road towards the moors.  I can't remember what I was thinking.  Mum... Read more »


  I was running along the narrow track that threaded its way along the grassy slope.  The deer were feeding far below me.  The rain the previous night had made the mud slick and my feet slipped at every pace.  I was concentrating on the way ahead when a faint hissing... Read more »