Blog - People In Mind

The Lionheart

We arrived during the last week of an exhibition at Speyer on Richard the so-called Lion Heart. It was a magnificent affair. So the next day we decided to visit the Castle of Trifels where he spent a year waiting to be ransomed. Richard was on his return from a...

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Authentic or Not?

I was asked to look at a painting and pronounce whether it is an authentic work by Zoffany, an 18th-century portrait painter.  Is it really his autograph work? As I write his name, my memory conjures up visions of gentlemen and women, in formal or informal poses, in...

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Intimacy to Insult

When did ‘thou’, ‘thee, ‘thy’ and ‘thine’ die an unnatural death? They lingered on in regional dialects into the last century, but I suspect they dropped out of common usage well over a century ago in the more formal Victorian era. Intimate insult was used during the...

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A Children’s Concert

Daniel is eight years old. Sometimes when he wakes up early in the morning he goes into the garden to play his recorder, if it’s not too cold. If it is, he plays it softly in the kitchen. In March, he told me, he could be playing in the Albert Hall. ‘Who was Albert?’...

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Fact or Fiction?

I can’t recall how many summers ago I was sitting with friends at a table on a lawn surrounded by flower beds. It was probably too late for birds to be singing, but they echo in my memory of a perfect moment of stillness – a pause in the dance of time. At some point...

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Toothsome

I was in a pleasant conversation a few days ago with three friends. While sitting on a sofa next to one of them, I looked out of the first floor bay window down on a typical calm suburban back garden with a lawn, shrubs and mature trees. I lowered my head to rummage...

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Snake Charming

I can’t free my mind of an article I read recently concerning an exhibition in London. It described a couple who kept snakes in their London flat. Memories stirred: of a vicar visiting a parishioner, a visit to a zoo, to a Palladian villa, or of opening a cupboard...

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Coconut Milk

My friend and her husband invited me to stay with them in Indonesia where he was working in the Italian embassy. She and I sat in her sitting-room overlooking the garden where banana plants seemed to sprout as we talked. She introduced me to the local fruit and...

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Beneath one’s Feet

Square, bluey-black when dry, bluey-grey and slippery when wet, the old paving stones in the medieval heart of Rome, or sampietrini, were originally a cheap way of paving the streets with off cuts from blocks of basalt used to pave ceremonial buildings. They wear...

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Chimneystacks

Something was missing. I was looking idly out of the car window at fields unfolding, wide skyscapes, then at the outskirts of a small town. New buildings were thrusting out into prime farmland. There’s a shortage of housing, but I can point out many brownfield sites...

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A Gift?

I always looked forward to Tristram Hunt’s articles in the Observer when he was a university lecturer and later became a Labour MP. It was a pity that he gave up any idea of ever being promoted in his party because of the posh associations of his first name. My heart...

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Clouds, Climate and Character

                It’s only a coincidence but every year, in the depth of the sad, dark days, I celebrate my birthday, 29 December, as the day when at long last there are a couple more minutes of daylight, increasing daily from then onwards. The winter solstice in the...

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Who to invite to a New Year’s Eve party?

Every year we invite twelve guests to welcome the New Year, and after dinner this year each was asked to talk of a person, past or present, they would choose to invite. Like any host, I worried a bit about how these unknown guests might mix! The first was portentous,...

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Christmas Trees

I’m willing to bet that in the bumper Christmas edition of the TV series on Queen Victoria we will have Prince Albert starting the tradition of the Christmas Tree. We may even enjoy his brilliant idea for the Great Exhibition of 1851, but his death so soon after will...

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The Greenness of Grass

I look out on the grass in front of Beverley Minster and marvel at how green it is. In all these years I have never seen it such a rich shade of green. Have I changed, or has it? Perhaps I am influenced by a book I’m reading set in China after the Communist revolution...

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Into Winter

In the Château de Chantilly there is a gem of a work of art. It’s an illuminated manuscript referred to as the ‘rich hours of the Duke of Berry’ – Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. It is so fragile that it is rarely on display, but on the one occasion that I did...

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An Oliveless Autumn

Autumn is particularly lovely in Tuscany with the red pomegranates – often with an open gash – set in bushes turning bright yellow. No olives to speak of this year because of the relentless dry spring and summer. In May the sun dried the small, unexciting flowers off...

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Using the ‘vulgar tongue’ on a Beach in Genoa

No peace for a woman lying on the beach reading a book. Young men were circling. One asked why I was reading Dante’s Divina Commedia. I explained, haltingly, that I was trying to learn Italian and, in reply to one of them holding out his hand, I insisted that I would...

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Living History

Twenty-five years after coming to studynot far away at York University and publishing her bestseller, the Wild Swan was back again, standing in the pulpit of Beverley Minster to promote the same book in the Beverley Literature Festival. A quarter of a century has...

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What would Prince Albert think? 

  Last Monday, after seeing a Canadian friend who has been living in London for 25 years and a young Italian post-graduate medical student, I wandered through Hyde Park to pause beside Prince Albert. He was seated high above me under a golden canopy, but we were both...

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