Blog - People In Mind

Harbinger

Each year I see snowdrops not only as the harbinger of spring when the earth awakens from its winter sleep, but also of hope. The word ‘harbinger’ derives from ‘herberge’ or lodging, denoting protection, like the French inn, the ‘auberge’. The harbinger was someone...

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Incomers

I’m not often irritated by young children, but when my friend’s five-year-old kept on coming up close to look at my face and repeat ‘blood’, I thought he was just trying out a new word and brushed him off, a trifle impatiently. But though the tiny spot on my nose...

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Terezin

I have just spent an unsuccessful ten minutes searching for a page of the Sunday Observer that I cut out to keep. Strangely, it too was about loss – a long pink column to the right of the page, blank below the name of a female poet who was at Terezin. Some years ago...

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Maelstrom

Waterfalls unite beauty with a wondrous spectacle of sound and sight. Leaning perilously over a bridge or crag, such as the spectacular Iguaçu waterfall between Argentina and Brazil, the thrill of beauty laced with fear shivers through one - unforgettably. Below is...

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Shambles

This word is being used again and again for what is happening in the ‘mother of parliaments’, or, to give it another name, in the Palace of Westminster, London. ‘What a shambles!’ Indeed, but where does that expression come from? The most picturesque street in the...

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Fragments

These fragments I have stored against my ruins’ -  T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland (near the end) Still clear in my memory is the sense of freedom I felt as an eight-year-old when, in a class spelling bee, I went to the top of the line for remembering ‘Mississippi’...

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Time for What?

Just as we were raising our glasses to usher 2019 in, with a quiver of apprehension, the illumination of the west front of the Minster outside faded into darkness. We were toasting darkness. Appropriately. Only half-admitted, the warm light of hope did not last into...

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Trees at Christmas

I thought a lot about seasons during a November visit to Ecuador ago during the spring bulb and rose season a few years ago. Close to the equator, the sun rises and sets at about six in the morning and evening all year round. While driving through a nondescript town...

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Seasons Greetings

Quite irrationally I am irritated by the use of ‘season’s greetings’ at Christmas. If you do not wish to mention Christmas, why not just send greetings for the New Year instead? There are four seasons in most parts of the world, and in one of them, summer or winter...

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A Stylish Style

Fingers poised, I am about to type out a lecture on the period of art styled Mannerism, but am uncertain where to start. Yes, Florence again, not in the workshops that forged the talent of young Michelangelo and Raphael in the late 1400s, but in the Florentine court...

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Passages

Ginnels or snickets as they are often called in Yorkshire, small alleys almost tucked out of sight. People emerge out of them unexpectedly, as if from nowhere. They lead to carpet warehouses, tiny trinket or joke shops that come and go, rarely there when one seeks...

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Memory’s  Path

It may be the approach of winter but now, instead of looking up at a stone retaining walls beside the rutted track in Tuscany where I imagine I’m walking in the footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci, I’m looking down at what is underneath my shoes, travelling from ruts to...

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The Military Cross

He was well into middle age before my sister and I were born. We were told to keep away when he fell into an inexplicable rage for no reason we could understand. ‘It’s shell shock,’ we were eventually told, but were none the wiser. All he said was that he was wounded...

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Guido and the Charcoal burners

If you crossed the mountains to the east of the once malarial, now drained Tuscan valley of the Val di Chiana into the Tiber valley in search of the enigmatic painter Piero della Francesca, you used to pass woodland clearings with the huts of charcoal burners, their...

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Temptation and Passion

I first noticed flowers with a tight mass of red petals one June in the garden of the Medici villa at Castello, north of Florence. They were on a large bush or small tree with masses of shiny dark green leaves and looked like the flowers in a paradise garden on a...

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Olive Harvest

Olive picking has begun early this year in Tuscany. The grape harvest has only just finished on the lower slopes of our valley. Two generations ago vines trailed along the edges of the strips of fields on the terraces but they have since died, untended. They used to...

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Wild West Wind.

‘O wild west wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being, Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing’ Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red ...’ Last weekend I stood silently on the crest of a hill surveying the sun...

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What Colour is Peace?

In all the fevered debates shadowing the UK’s departure from the European Union one word is rarely mentioned – peace. The historian Winston Churchill behind the better-known politician passionately supported the formation of the 1951 European Coal and Steel Community....

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Woodlands

Not many years ago a young couple in our family received a present from Iran. It came in two special postal deliveries and created quite a stir in the small flat where they were living at the time. The wife is a British Iranian, so it was no surprise that her Iranian...

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Serendipity

Not long ago UK voters chose ‘serendipity’ to be their favourite word though it only entered the English language about 270 years ago. It was invented by Horace Walpole – son of the first British prime minister, Robert Walpole – in 1754 from the Persian story of The...

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