Blog - People In Mind

Mulberry 

Once there were many mulberry trees in the Tuscan valley where I am writing this. Now I can only find the one in the photo. I can remember when it was covered in berries, sticky and sweet. But the leaves are more important. Seventy years ago there must have been many...

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Sharecropping

I first went to Italy when sharecropping had been only abolished a few years earlier and contracts still had to run their legal course. It was a way of cultivating the countryside, I was told, that had lasted unbroken since Roman times, so for nearly twenty-one...

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Hibiscus

Behind the ruin, which is now the house where I am writing this, were the usual weeds and a few bushes. It was a hot August day, and most were wilting, but on one side I noticed a light purple flower with yellow stamens. Ah, I thought, this is an attractive weed, and...

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Leonardo and the Queen

  As I write, history is palpably being made, so I take refuge in the past. I have been asked how over 600 drawings and sketches by Leonardo da Vinci came into the possession of the Queen of the British Isles. No pictures survive from Antiquity, so no depictions...

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Wattle and Daub

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the indefatigable German immigrant in the 1930s who was passionate about English vernacular architecture, founded the indispensable Penguin guides to the buildings of England’s towns and villages. It may be legend or fantasy that he wished to...

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Fame

Giorgio Vasari has a lot to answer for, like many people with a mission. An artist himself, he covered the ceiling of the huge council chamber in the Palazzo della Signoria in the centre of Florence with earnest historical paintings of battles and heroes, there to...

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Landscape

As a child, the Nottinghamshire novelist D.H. Lawrence used to watch his father walking slowly back home up the dew-strewn pastures between his mining village and the pits after a night shift and later wrote, ‘that is the landscape of my heart’. Those words came to...

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John and Boris

A few days over 200 years ago in May 2019, a young, impecunious and terminally ill poet sat writing poetry in Hampstead on the north road out of London. The rented house where he lived still preserves the sensitive stillness that pervades his poetry. The stillness of...

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Midsummer

Most days I allow myself a few minutes of fantasy exploring a zone chosen at random on the large globe on one side of my desk. I pause to wonder at the amount of land in the northern hemisphere and the wide expanse of sea in the southern one – a seemingly chance...

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The Tennis Court

Soon tennis will start at Wimbledon, rain permitting! The world-famous championships are about to begin in the prosperous, leafy suburb of London. It’s the season of long, languid summer evenings around the midsummer day on the 21 June, the longest day in the northern...

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Humpty, Trumpty…

  This is the start of a poem by my grandson which he waved in the air outside Buckingham Palace when Trump arrived there last Monday. Ten next month, he has started his political as well as poetical journey early! I was three times his age when I marched along...

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Anticipation

In a few days’ time, I shall be diving back into the mind of a seventeen-year-old face to face with an artist in a small ancient town that crouches on a hill less than an hour away from Madrid. In the 12th and 13th centuries, it sheltered dissidents and scholars. It...

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Blank Holidays

May is the month of bank holidays, Afer taking advantage recently of one to visit friends on the outskirts of London, we had a strangely reassuring encounter. It was a lovely spring day: clear sunlight, trees clad in fresh green leaves dappled in sunlight and...

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In Miniature

An image to hold in the palm of your hand or hang in a jewelled case on a chain around your neck, just hidden under clothes but close to the heart – your symbol of deepfelt emotion. The miniature paintings of Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver in Elizabethan England...

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Visiting Verrocchio

500 years ago Leonardo died in France. In 1452 he was born to a peasant girl in the village of Vinci not far from Florence. His father, a Florentine lawyer, had no legitimate male heir, so decided to adopt him. He probably always felt he was an outsider, so it would...

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Florentine lilies

My early enchantment with Tuscany must have been influenced by EM Forster's 'A Room with a View' which took place at this time of year. The month of May caught the last of the nightingales and the very first fireflies that dance over the meadows throughout May and...

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Palm Sunday

Rome. Clear skies with an occasional cheeky cloud puffing its way over us. A crowd milling in the park in front of a long low building of mostly young people who are about to carry the palm fronds which are heaped against the park wall. Children are darting in and...

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Fluidity

Like dogs snuffling for truffles, literary agents are trying to scent out the next craze in publishing – the quest for a new James Joyce, or a safer risk travelling back into the past – another Hilary Mantel. More likely another Hilary Mantel. A book with a strange...

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Incredulity

The British nation, once known for its common sense, has tumbled into a ditch of its own making while the rest of the world, particularly our neighbours across the English Channel, are incredulous. How could this historic bastion of strong, wise values, honed by...

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Unforgettable

It was a chilly five o’clock departure, well before dawn. Most of us had tried to buy tickets for London on the train leaving Hull at the same time, but none were available. Even the corridors were packed with passengers standing all the way to the capital. I handed...

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