Blog - People In Mind

Beached

Not far away is Spurn Head, a wobbly tip of land that sticks out into the North Sea. Much of the land around it is below sea level and prone to flooding. The Greenwich meridian passes through it and whales swim around it. They sometimes are swept on to the beaches and...

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Thrills

It was thrilling, an excitement that bound you in its own terms. Powerless, you are in thrall to a group of men chasing a ball! Enthralled once meant ‘enslaved’, a thrall meant a slave. Now we are willingly enslaved by our emotions, in thrall to excitement. We need an...

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Iceberg in Heatwave

Visitors to the Minster stop and gaze at our June glory – two standard rose bushes smothered in blossom, as they have done ever since I planted them over 15 years ago. I had long forgotten their name, though I could see them on my closed eyelids wherever I happened to...

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Chance

Some years ago I was having dinner in a handsome brick townhouse built in the early 1700s when a small soft piece of leather with a ribbon in a bow was passed around - a tiny child’s shoe. It had just been found under centuries-old plaster, recently removed to...

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Tale of a City

If we define a city as a town with a cathedral, then Lichfield is a city. Its grubby cathedral standing proud in its walled precinct would ‘lose its face’, I was told, if cleaned because the local reddish stone crumbles under jets of water. Inside there was a buzz of...

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Exotic

Some time ago I travelled through Asia on a British Council lecture tour. It started in Jakarta where I stayed with friends. I was overwhelmed by the exotic colours, vivacity, chatter and humdrum chaos, but fascinated too. Banana bushes – or trees? – seemed to grow...

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Mayflowers

Here in Yorkshire white-flecked hedges mark out meadows, pastures and wheat fields. There are even mayflower woods clinging to hillsides. Where the hawthorn hasn’t been trimmed beside the roads, it grows into low trees waving bouquets of tiny-petalled flowers. When...

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Sound and Fury

  ‘In a full-hearted evensong Of joy unlimited...’  Yesterday evening a thrush serenaded us as we sat under a serene blue evening sky. He started in the chestnut tree outside my window, perched behind one of its many candle-like flowers, then flew to perch on the roof...

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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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