A Dickens of a year draws to a close. We’ve had a lengthy party, celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of one of our most cherished writers. It’s been marked in all manner of ways: in commemoration, in lectures, in biography (a very good one by Claire Tomalin) and in fresh adaptations of some of his books for television and cinema.
In fact the year has been bookended by visual adaptations of Great Expectations, a novel that might be said to have put the mellow in drama, the first a three part BBC series screened last December, and now a new cinema version directed by Mike Newell,... Read More
Let me begin with a personal anecdote. Father has travelled extensively across the world on business, usually flying first class. On one trip to Hong Kong he saw Leon Brittan, then Deputy European Commissioner, in the departure lounge for the flight back to London.
I should add that Brittan, who formerly had served in Margaret Thatcher’s government, is a politician for whom he does not have a great deal of time. "Never mind", he thought, "he's on his own. I'll ignore him." But no sooner had he boarded the flight than he discovered that he was the only 'independent' in the first class... Read More
Some of my school chums went to Durham University in the north of England, girls I used to visit for long weekends when I was an undergraduate. It was a super opportunity to explore a part of the country I did not know that well - Northern England and the Scottish borders. There is still a wonderful romance that clings to so many places here, an echo of old, unhappy, far off times and battles long ago.
One of the places we went to was Flodden Edge, the site of the camp of an invading Scottish army in 1513 led by King James IV in person. The battle of the same name wasn’t actually fought... Read More
Sunday was Remembrance Day in England, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the exact time the guns fell silent on the Western Front in 1918, bringing to an end an epic tragedy. The dead of two World Wars and all the wars that followed are commemorated every year on this date, our equivalent of Veterans Day. The last of our First World War veterans died a few years ago. This is a piece I wrote in his memory and the memory of so many others.
Harry Patch was our final living link with the First World War, perhaps the defining event of the last century. This man... Read More
Have you ever heard of Jimmy Savile; has anyone beyond these British shores, I wonder, heard of Jimmy Savile? I expect most have not. He was one of those culturally specific products, a bit like lavatory humour and naughty seaside postcards, that does not travel all that well. I rather think most outsiders, particularly Americans, would be bemused by a man singularly lacking in talent, wit or charm who was turned bit by bit into that horror of horrors – a much loved national treasure.
Let me enlighten you. Savile, who died in October of last year, was a TV presenter and popular icon,... Read More
Well, now, what can I tell you about Tunisia? Let me begin with one striking fact: Americans were notable by their total absence! I was there for over three weeks, travelling from place to place, and came across not a single Yank. I’m not saying that there were no American people in the country, just that I did not meet any.
This is the first time this has ever happened. I’ve travelled extensively across the globe and wherever I go, no matter how unusual or out of the way, there is always America. The absence of American citizens is not really that surprising given the fuss over... Read More
Dear readers, this will be the last Letter from Ana for a bit. I leave for Tunisia this coming Sunday and will be away for just over three weeks. I’m so looking forward to it, my third trip to North Africa, following Egypt last year and Morocco a few years before.
I simply love to travel; it’s in my blood. We had some wonderful vacations when I was a child, visiting quite a few unusual places. I’ve continued this family tradition. The more unusual the destination the better I like it. I’m not a travel snob, though; I’m as capable as most other people of doing touristy things and... Read More
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