City life

My life of genteel poverty

Every year at the beginning of April, I tell myself I must top up my Isa before the 5 April deadline. And all my friends tell me I must. My financial adviser tells me I must. Articles in the press and adverts on social media tell me I must. And every year on 6 April

Real life

Will I ever get my HRT?

The novelty of living in a place where a policeman called Ambrose lives in a house whose door you can knock on if you need him will never wear off on me. I’ve asked around and no one here can remember any crime, aside from years ago they seem to recall there was a murder.

No sacred cows

My father’s greatest act of kindness

I’ve been busy planning a trip to New Zealand and Australia. I’ll be gone for about five weeks from mid-June, which is by some distance the longest holiday I’ve ever had. Except it won’t be a holiday, since I’ll be spending quite a bit of time raising money for the Free Speech Union’s sister organisations

Dear Mary


The glory of German wines

I have had three recent conversations, all lively if unrelated – and all well lubricated. The first concerned Anglo-Saxon England around ad 700. Recent discoveries of coin hoards suggested that economic activity during that period of the Dark Ages was more extensive than had been supposed. Without damaging the coins, it had been possible to

Mind your language

We ought to banish more words

Why do people say: ‘You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment’? Are they using it as they would a Shakespearean quotation such as: ‘The lady doth protest too much’? Or do they think that by speaking the line made famous by Ian Richardson in House of Cards, they generate wit anew so



(after Mallarmé) The moon grew sad. Abstracted seraphim, weeping with their bows in their hands, in the calm of misty flowers, played on mortal violas white sighs glazing the deep blue of His corollas –  it was the sacred day of your first kiss. My reverie, content to be martyred like this, drew a lucid

Dog Years

Instead of scattering your ashes, let’s go for another walk, across those swaying fields you’ll sprint half the length of, sun low as I dawdle your lead, watch you weaving free through waist-high grasses, time blurring as wind whittles away at gritstone edge. You’ll sniff your way up the scree, village blinking below like so

The Wiki Man

There are three sides to every story

The psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who died last month aged 90, was perhaps most famous for his dictum that: ‘Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.’ This is often known as the focusing illusion. The theory explains, say, why a recent Lottery winner with bad toothache