Blog - People In Mind

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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Farneta II

Friends were coming to stay. They had come before so we were looking for a new place to show them – the Abbey of Farneta! We had not wanted to return and disturb memories after Don Felice died. It was deserted. None of the buzz it had when he was alive – what could...

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​Farneta I

Some years ago I was driving across the hills rising above the  Tuscan Val di Chiana and passed a large, abandoned church. A few days later I returned to find the 10th-century Abbey of Farneta and Don Felice. The Abbey had lost most of its surrounding buildings by the...

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Tuscan Shrines

Summer has ended in a series of thunderstorms and the parched land is already speckled with shoots of green. No hailstones as big as tennis balls, the locals with vineyards and olive groves murmur in relief, but both harvests are bad this year. That is because of the...

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Crackling

Beppino’s family have lived in this Tuscan valley for centuries. He was standing on the terrace above us surveying the valley. I thought, ‘Leonardo da Vinci once stood here to draw his map of the then malarial valley, now in the collection of Queen Elizabeth. He...

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Living History

There was some excitement in the class of seven-year-olds. We were to welcome two new members in our class. I didn’t think more about it until I passed two strangely-dressed women at the school gates; their hems too long and their faces deeply lined, they looked much...

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Just Stones

When driving through the patchwork of green fields and grazing sheep in North Yorkshire  this weekend, I marvelled at the hard simplicity of the stone walls. Once these hillsides and valleys crossed by fast-flowing rivers must have been as strewn with stones as the...

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Just Stones When driving through the patchwork of green fields and grazing sheep in North Yorkshire  this weekend, I marvelled at the hard simplicity of the stone walls. Once these hillsides and valleys crossed by fast-flowing rivers must have been as strewn with...

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Iran in Retrospect

‘Is Iran a police state?’ I asked Ali, our excellent guide. He hesitated. The organisers of our tour of Iran asked us not to name anyone we would like to meet there as we are requested to do on our visa application. Any meetings should be arranged through our guide....

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North of Tehran – the Caspian and Beyond

Tehran, we were warned, would be characterless. It was. There was no heart to the town which seemed like a lot of villages which had spread and amalgamated into an amorphous mass. I remember endless streets that all looked the same as we went from one museum to...

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Echoes in a Persian Garden

Whenever one wonders where the idea of a garden started, one finds that the Garden of Eden was first realised in Persia and travelled the world woven into prized carpets. That must explain why the gardens in India, from Kashmir to Agra, were created by Muslim...

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Events Crowding In

  Time to think has raced past me week after week while I organise a house clearance and experience how discouragingly difficult it is to find space to put furniture, bedding and too many objects while deciding whether to keep them or not. When still in the midst of...

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