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Cycling in the Country

Horse drawn vs horsepower- the off-grid life… The most irritating thing about living in the Oxfordshire countryside, or “the Cotswolds” as image conscious persons like to refer to the area, is the number of cars that race through it. Not just ordinary cars but huge articulated lorries seeking short-cuts; thundering through narrow hedged roads they are a terrifying sight. Then we have builders’ vans, gi-normous tractors large as houses with trailers and, worst of all enormous, pretentious SUVs like Jeeps, Rangerovers and other cheaper versions of the same. I simply loathe these monsters and cannot understand the need for a sports utility vehicle, but every third car seems to belong to that category.

A Spanish Tale

Gerald Brenan and Dora Carrington For Marcel Proust it was enough to remember a childhood cake dunked into a cup of tea to light the fire that would become ‘In search of lost time’. For Gerald Brenan, that cake was “several large pieces” of turrón from Jijona. He tried it when he was ten, when […] Read more

How to be an Aeropress Barista

The Aeropress lesson I have after many years of trying to make a good cup of coffee finally learned to make one under the tutelage of Radu, the maestro of roasters and baristas in Nerja and possibly the whole of Southern Spain. His standards are high. Miniature hand grinder at the ready, miniature scales at […] Read more

Ordering Chaos

I have been to a few literary festivals- Jaipur, Hay, Oxford- which give off a kind of frenzied energy which reminds one of the commercial drive behind the high-minded facade. I suppose because I had free entry to events, was being treated like a privileged visitor and in a state of near ecstasy over my environment, I thought Mantua had a definite edge over the others.

The English countryside, and especially the area known as the Cotswolds, has become a commodified concept to be bought and sold, gambled with, invested in and corrupted. I am sorry to have to concede that I have arrived in quasi joke-land where all the cliches about wealthy farmers driving Lamborghini tractors, speeding country boys and […] Read more

Country Tales

Some people decided that the countryside was a kinder place when they moved out of cities in a kind of panic, when normal life seemed to have gone forever and green spaces beyond the suburbs offered an alternative habitat. I believe for many it was a desperate move, allowing access to clean air but also, […] Read more

Family holiday in Andalusia

It’s like watching a movie on the terrace of Lisboa Slow Food and though the photo shows a dull cloudy sort of day its actually sunny, but the wind is up. Most days the terrace is full of coffee drinkers and breakfast eaters because it gets the full sun, stretching its long rays across the […] Read more

On Being an Ersatz Oligarch

A snap of the fingers and a tom yang soup appears…

Lost villages

the "lost village"

The lost village of Acebuchal On January 13 it was warm enough to be eating lunch dressed in a tee shirt up in the mountains of Andalusia and while waiting for my thick potato and rib soup to cool a little I experienced a sharp feeling of deja-vu. potato and rib soup with chickpeas Sebastian’s […] Read more

Blackened Beanfields

Droughts happen, floods happen, but this was also the year that had thrown up the Covid plague. The world had changed within the seasons

The marmalade of my youth

“I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade…” (D.H. Lawrence) The little marmalade, aka lemon, tree. In the garden (in truth a pocket handkerchief sized plot) of the very first house my parents built and owned, my mother planted a miniature orange tree- Calamondin according to a […] Read more

Some years ago in more carefree times I was drinking coffee and enjoying an olive oil bread roll made by Hafiz, the original owner of the Magic cafe. The Magic Cafe Two women (one wearing a turquoise headscarf) Eat cake, drink coffee With silent relish. A small reward, so innocent, at the end of a […] Read more

Vikram Seth at home 28 years ago THE SUITABLE BOY COMES HOME reads the headline “Vikram Seth’s book has universal appeal with its many levels and versatile use of language” The Pioneer Book page of January 27, 1993 Nearly thirty years ago I was a columnist for the Pioneer newspaper in India. I wrote a […] Read more

The cog in the machine

This is not me bragging, but my entire life has skipped by with hardly an aspirin or at the most a paracetemol slipping down my gullet. Admittedly, there were the times I was laid low by Delhi belly, chicken pox in my thirties, a little breakdown after my divorce when I flushed the anti-depressants down […] Read more

The gang from Kampos

As soon as the last visitors drive away to the airport in Kalamata- winding through the craggy mountain landscape with its olive groves and villages garlanded with pomegranate trees studded with scarlet fruit- the gang from Kampos descends to the shoreline to harvest its abundance for the household supply of oil. Dora and Ionnis from […] Read more

Mostly a Lament (for Kashmir)

Stricken by a passing lorry willow wands lie prostrate, un-feathered (green daggers loved by W. Morris) whipped off their tree forever.   Wading in a mountain torrent, avalanche of water biffing black rock gentling green eddies, spuming white depths, the wall-eyed Kashmiri ghillie tore strips off bendy willow branches, trussing trout brown slippery cold, tricked […] Read more

Dentists I have known

The white coat, the soothing tone, the plastic glass of antiseptic rinse, the long chair, the presence or absence of music, the masked attendant- the stuff of nightmares! Having just returned home after a lengthy session (painless, I must add and an almost pleasant experience in relation to the build-up of dread) I remembered the […] Read more

lollipop pink helmets

Outrageous, even for Delhi. A child riding a Vespa! Down the neem avenue next to dusty Afghan tombs flanked by Royal palms (commanded by Lady Willingdon) A smaller child riding pillion, perky with new-oiled hair and squashed like mash potato between paratha of driver and the other, a cushiony elder's hips and arms making an […] Read more

King of Fruits

The only redemption for the fiery furnace of Indian summers is the extravaganza of mangoes. Over 300 varieties of a seasonal treat that is, sadly, denied to diabetics because when ripe it is the sweetest fruit of all. The summers of my childhood are memories of prickly heat, afternoon naps under the fan, looking for […] Read more

Out of a man’s heart

The most important discovery I have made about cooking is this: how my dish turns out depends entirely on whom I’m cooking for. This puts me in the category of  amateur  cuisinière, because in my book a professional is another sort of creature altogether. The act of cooking is not about impressing X or Y […] Read more

lollipop pink helmets

l The tombs of the Lodi kings in Delhi Outrageous even for Delhi- a child riding a Vespa! Down the neem avenue next to dusty Afghan tombs flanked by Royal palms (commanded by Lady Willingdon) A smaller child pillion riding, perky with new-oiled hair squashed like mash potato between paratha of driver and a cushiony […] Read more

Post-Lockdown, a bit dated perhaps but not much

Do we mourn the demise of engines of commercial engagement, their cogs and wheels grinding via esoteric systems that busily serviced what passed for the city’s culture? Oxford’s three or four theatres, the beloved Phoenix Picture Palace, Holywell Music Room, Sheldonian and St John the Evangelist musical venues plus the familiar shops and eating houses- […] Read more