Blog - People In Mind

The Lumber Room

One of the most powerful of many memorable sequences in the Visconti film of Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) is when the hero and heroine – Tancredi and Angelica (acted by Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale) – run, frolicking, through the attic rooms of an immense and...

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Leonardo da Vinci’s Valley

The Etruscans from 800 BC onwards drained and cultivated this fertile valley and held their Olympic games to the west of Cortona where the great burial tumuli still stand. The Romans took over the Etruscan canal network until it fell into disuse after the decline of...

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At the Flick of a Finger

When we first arrived in this Tuscan valley there were only a few electricity poles strung up from the main road below.  Our neighbour Renato, who had been born in the valley, was thrilled because he could have light ‘at the flick of a finger’. The current was so...

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Topsy Turvy

Some years ago young summer travellers to Scotland returned tanned on a late summer ferry from Dover to Calais. We were returning from a rainy Tuscan summer and looked at them enviously. One vivid memory was of a visit to Perugia. A host of umbrellas hurried along the...

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The Pattern of Centuries

A few years ago I went to the archives of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence to find out when the Tuscan mountainsides were first terraced. I had already walked through every room in the famous picture collection, hoping to find landscape replacing the gold of heaven in...

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Castles A>D

The Lombards moved south from modern-day Hungary in the 7th century A.D. to set up their kingdoms of Benevento and Spoleto. They passed by the Etruscan and later Roman hilltop city of Cortona to rule from a network of castles. Suspicious of cities, they chose to...

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Topsy Turvy

Some years ago young summer travellers to Scotland returned tanned on a late summer ferry from Dover to Calais. We were returning from a rainy Tuscan summer and looked at them enviously. One vivid memory was of a visit to Perugia. A host of umbrellas hurried along the...

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Charred Earth

No rain for nearly six weeks. Occasionally clouds, but light and carefree. Or they pile up on the horizon like mountains shimmering behind a grey haze, and then disperse to leave the sun to reign by day and the moon by night. At dusk this Friday Britain will witness a...

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Ghosts

The very word – ghost – evokes fear and fascination. It conjures up, literally, a host of images from will o’ the wisps dancing in cemeteries to Anne Boleyn running along a corridor in Hampton Court clasping her head under her arm. A country...

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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...

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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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