Alec Marsh

Alec Marsh’s latest Drabble & Harris book is Ghosts of the West, published by Headline Accent.

I’m a middle-aged man in Lycra – and I’m proud

It began after pint of beer on a Friday evening and a grudging realisation that, well, getting a little bit more active would be no bad thing. Before I knew it, I’d talked myself into doing a 60-mile cycle through the Essex countryside the following Sunday morning – part of an organised cycle race, charmingly called

Penknives aren’t dangerous

The company that makes the world-renowned Swiss Army penknife has decided to introduce a range of penknives that come… wait for it… without knives – citing increased regulations ‘due to the violence in the world’. It isn’t the knives that need changing, but rather the poorly-applied laws The problem is that a Swiss Army penknife without

Why the old are getting younger

Researchers at the Humboldt University of Berlin have discovered that we no longer consider ourselves old until we’re 74. What’s more, by the time you reach 74, you think old age begins at 77. Which is something to celebrate – just don’t tell the Department for Work and Pensions or they’ll get more bright ideas about pushing

Why we read crime fiction

An exhibition dedicated to 20th century British crime fiction has opened at Cambridge University Library. The artefacts on show range widely through the history of the genre, from items associated Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle right up to modern exponents of the form, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin.  Lurking somewhere in many of

The irresistible horror of the farm shop

Picture the scene; you’re Kate Middleton and it’s Saturday lunchtime. You’re out enjoying suburban Windsor. The Audi is safely stowed – along with hundreds of other cars mostly produced in Germany, the Czech Republic or the West Midlands – in a nearby car park the size of the deck of the USS Harry S. Truman and

Are school reunions really that bad?

Outside a visit to the dentist, there are few things in life as unappealing as a school reunion. That’s particularly the case when it marks an anniversary with a big number attached. In our case, 30 years. On the face of it, it’s a micro-disaster in the making. The plan is to take a hundred

What critics get wrong about Zulu

It is a great mystery how Zulu, a tale of imperial derring-do from the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879, has avoided being cancelled. On the face of it, this is a film that revels in one of the most heinous, most blood-thirsty chapters of our colonial past, one tinged with technologically enabled white supremacy. Here is

Raise a glass to the age-old charm of port

When Christmas comes, there are few guilt-free pleasures that match the sheer wonder of port (aside from re-watching Dr Strangelove in the wee hours on BBC2). Sweeter than a mince pie and more intoxicating than a pre-Christmas visit to your GP’s waiting room, a glass of port is guaranteed to lift your spirits. And by

It’s time to ditch the Christmas turkey

This year A Christmas Carol is 180 years old, first published in December 1843. It had sold out by Christmas Eve. And it has a lot to answer for, not simply ­­because it ultimately spawned Kelsey Grammer’s Christmas Carol musical, but because it is credited with having popularised the idea of turkey as a festive staple.

What Ridley Scott gets wrong about history

The film director Ridley Scott says that those who worry about the historical inaccuracies in his new biopic of Napoleon should ‘get a life’. Or as the told The Sunday Times last week: ‘When I have issues with historians, I ask: “Excuse me, mate, were you there? No? Well, shut the fuck up, then.’ If

We need an international University Challenge

As the autumn nights close in and the heating goes, there are few pleasures so improving for body and soul than half an hour spent in the company of University Challenge. Not only do you learn a bit (well, until you forget it) but nothing makes a middle-aged man or woman of a certain disposition

Is a Great British Space Race about to take off?

Brits have, for many years, taken a back seat in the Space Race, but that could soon change. An all-UK team of astronauts could soon be heading into orbit, as a result of a deal signed by the UK Space Agency and Axiom Space, an American company that organises visits to the International Space Station

The joy of shaving brushes

Have you ever considered the harm that men’s daily shaving regime does to the world? I know, if you considered the harm of everything you do on a daily basis then none of us would get up in the morning, but… Think of it: assuming there are three billion men in the world who each

A driver’s case for 20mph limits

Speeding kills, we’re told. But in the right circumstances, exceeding the limit is no bad thing. Take motorways: few drivers seem to stick to 70mph, yet most journeys are perfectly safe. Indeed, when I’m behind the wheel, I like putting my foot down as much as the next driver. Fortunately in the 30 years since

Mad Max meets Mr Toad: The Morgan Super 3, reviewed

When you first lay eyes on Morgan’s new Super 3 – a three-wheeled car categorised, intriguingly, as a motorbike in the US – it does take a moment to get your bearings. First, in an age when all cars essentially look the same, this one appears to be back to front. Set wide, two front

Why the British seaside still reigns supreme

It’s the time of year to revisit one of life’s great imponderables. British seaside holidays. Why do we do them? Which other experience – save perhaps attending a British boarding school in the past – does as much to remind you of the essential unfairness of life? Forget the costs involved (if Marianna Mazzucato wants

Get ready for the petrol station renaissance

Do you have a favourite petrol station? I do. It’s a scruffy little place in East Bergholt in the wilds of north Essex. It has two elderly-looking pumps that I think have padlocks on them when no one is around. I’ve never managed to buy fuel from them, but I’m determined to before it’s too

The joy of Suffex: England’s county that never was

There is a point on the dreaded A12 – a road so soulless it makes the M4 looks like Shangri La – when you reach the end of Essex. If you’re driving from London it takes you a surprisingly long time; there’s a lot of noisy beige concrete to go over – about 60 miles’

Glastonbury has become the new Last Night of the Proms

Time was when the pinnacle of the summer’s musical experiences – certainly from a UK television perspective – was the Last Night of the Proms. Preceded by weeks of more staid performances of classical music which most people did not tune in to, the conclusion of the Proms season, which dates back to 1895, was

The forgotten genius of Alfred Munnings

At first glance, the substantial yellow house on the turn of the country road could be a Trollopean rectory, one long sold off to a lawyer or boardroom executive. This is Castle House in north Essex – set in the flat, luscious landscape made famous by John Constable – which was for 40 years the