Dasgupta’s SOLO: A Spectacular Literary Symphony with Jazz Riffs on a 20th Century Life

A blind Bulgarian chemist sits alone in his flat, sweltering in the Sofia summer heat. As he approaches his 100th birthday, his still sighted mind’s eye inevitably ranges over a 20th century that brought constant revolution, both to him and to Bulgaria. He is Ulrich, (more…)

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Happy 90th Birthday Uncle John

This is a post I wrote 4 years ago on the occasion of John Stott’s 86th Birthday. Quite a lot has changed since – not least the fact that he has moved into a retirement/care home in Sussex, and is not really able to move around now. But with this milestone, it seemed entirely appropriate to repost, not least because everything I said in this tribute remains true. (more…)

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15 questions to ask of popular history

Having come up with a couple of other similar lists for Lars Dahle’s online culture project (20 Questions for Novels & 12 Questions for Albums), here is the latest, on one of my personal passions: history writing. Popular history books are big business. Which means that lots of people must be reading them… Which means they are definitely worth approaching with considerably more care and attention than many give them…

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Crosses on Black Combe, over Whicham, Cumbria

We all went for a trek in the fells above Whicham today and while we were up there, a local farmer had placed these 3 crosses on the ridge – when we got down to the bottom, we noticed that there was a sign on the Church gate announcing today’s installation of the Whicham Crosses ready for the weekend. (more…)

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The joys of Ugandan English

Not quite sure how I came across this wonderful Wiki page – but for any who have ever lived or visited Uganda, or East Africa generally for that matter, it is a treasure trove. Definitely worth printing out as a precautionary measure to keep in your back pocket.

Which reminded me of some things we wrote in our monthly newsletter when we were living there… exactly 7 years ago  – simply can’t believe it was that long ago now.

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Canning’s Riddle

George Canningwas Foreign Secretary, and briefly Prime Minister. But he is also credited with this little work of genius (which is perhaps one of his most lasting legacies).

A Riddle

There is a word of plural number
A foe to peace and tranquil slumber.
Now any word you chance to take
By adding “S”, you plural make;
But if you add an “s” to this,
How strange the metamorphosis!
Plural is plural then no more
And sweet, what bitter was before.

What is the word?

Can you solve this without googling it?! (more…)

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Le Carré on writing: a narrative masterclass

Having quoted a rather light-hearted bit from this excellent compilation of interviews, I’ve been reflecting on some of the things John Le Carré has said over the years about how he goes about his work, especially because of his insights into how and why narrative works (which thus helps us to engage with narratives of any sort). I’m particularly intrigued (more…)

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How churches argued when “men were men” & other mediaeval nuggets


Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England is a lot of a fun. It’s a very refreshing take the social history of a time and place, offered in the guise of a Michelin guide to the 14th Century. This is not to say that it is tr

ivialising or populist in the worst sense. Much though I and the children enjoy the zaniness of Horrible Histories, they are necessarily slight and far too oversimplified.

This book is, thankfully, by no means a horrible history – although it is clear that the history of the period could certainly be horrible. It is a scholarly but wittily written book that opens eyes and even stimulates all the senses to evoke what life was really like in an unimaginable age. As befits any time-traveller’s guide, it is all written in the present tense, and thus full of possibility (like any good DK or Lonely Planet guide). It is an irresistible invitation for readers to be fully immersed in an alien culture.

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