Still finding London’s war memorials whenever I go. This one’s in Baker Street. If you want a literary record of the Second World War, then VS Pritchett’s London Perceived, written in 1962 but republished with a new foreword in 1985, reflected how the post war building boom saw London lose its “almost Venetian” low skyline. Funny to read as a Londoner who’s grown up with a much more diverse city and rather likes the skyline from Waterloo Bridge.



An unexpected find on a walk recently, I love the mix of beautiful and elegant scripts here that have been put together with as much love and care as colours in a painting.

Haggerston, October 2017.

Bread and ashes

Tabasarn, in south-eastern Daghestan, spoken by about 90,000 has, I was once assured by a tipsy linguist, eight genders. Scholars, he assured me, enjoyed introducing new, unfamiliar objects to the Tamasars to see which gender might be assigned. Apparently a samovar was unanimously assigned to the seventh gender, though no one could say why.


A typically hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy type intervention from this delightful book that talks you through the politics, landscape, history and languages of this region, along with a good smattering of rollicking travel tales (Tony’s friend Chris generally sleeping upright in his green sleeping bag like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and staring at the local cheese trying to decide whether it would make his hangover better or worse.)

Here’s some more on the local linguistic melting pot:

Many languages here have a prolix proliferation of cases: one analysis of  Tsez identified forty-two different locative case markers, which can describe precisely what space someone or something is in, at, under, by, near, away from: a hollow space, a flat space, a space that might be a trifle uncomfortable or sadly lacking in alcohol…Abkhaz, a notoriously difficult language, has fifty-eight [consonants] ; one of its dialects, Bzyp, has sixty-seven…Essed Bey insisted that Tabarsarn was so difficult that the Tabasars…preferred to speak an easier, neighbouring tongue.



Sissinghurst was a place I’d long wanted to visit, and I’d tried to get there in July, but feeling rather tired had postponed it.


But last month, spurred on my the imminent end of the National Trust season and last of the summer days I set off.


If you don’t have a car, both google maps and the NT website make it unnecessarily complicated to get there from London. The quickest way is to take a train to Ashford and cab over, but it’s not the cheapest (it’ll be nearly £40 each way for the cab). Or you can wait for half an hourst Ashford, travel on another 20 minutes to Staplehurst and pick up your cab there (about £18 each way). Up to you if saving £20 is worth the extra hour on your journey. What you shouldn’t do is trust that the bus from Staplehurst will be there. It won’t – it leaves 2 minutes before your once an hour train from Ashford arrives, and on Sundays you’ll then have another two hours to wait.


Moral of the story: learn to drive, or just look big and pay up for a cab. Either way, when you get there it’s completely worth it.


Walled gardens lead off each other, doors opening into rooms of light and shade,


colours clashed and melded and everywhere the wonderful orange brick set off the leaves.


Around the edges were grand flourishes – an allee of lime trees, an abandoned statue, a lake,


a pergola of roses looking up to the sky,


and finally the orchards and vegetable gardens.


Hard to believe that this is Kent and not the American mid-West when you look at these photos.

All photos September 2017.



The last day of Antwerp we talked about whether it was worth going to see this. It’s the home of the painter Rubens, built when he was already rich and successful as a base to trade paintings from and I’d been keen, but now I was feeling lazy, and there were biscuits to buy, naps to have. I wasn’t so bothered about seeing a lot of art.


But it was five minutes from the flat, on the way to the station and actually this place – far bigger than expected, and showing a delightful mix of the art Rubens himself collected – was a charming mix of Italianate gardens, domestic rooms and fine art.


Possibly my favourite thing after the Begijnhof and Mode Museum?


All photos August 2017.

Ham House


Blazing hot on bank holiday weekend, reached by a welcome walk through trees or by the river.


Cool and dark inside, with tapestries, leather walls, portraits and a gallery


and then back outside to the grounds in the midday heat. August 2017.


Favourite place


Probably my favourite place in all of Antwerp, where we went for a tranquil hour early in the morning after tea and birthday cake. Built for an order of women who’d withdrawn from the world but supported themselves by seeing or spinning, each cell is still occupied by secular inhabitants now, and the cobbled streets, lawn and hollyhocks reminded me of Oxford colleges.


photos August 2017.