A few days in Paris

Having taken my son Joshua to Rome for 3 nights when he was 10, my daughter decided she wanted to go to Paris for her 10th year Dad & Daughter time. So off we toddled last week for a few days to see the sights. And a fab time was had by all. (more…)

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Q’s Espionage Festival: 3. Soviet Spies, John Stott and fleeting encounters

This is a mildly unserious combination of Q’s Espionage festival and Friday Fun. But London W1 is a spy-historian’s paradise – there are so many spots around here that saw Cold War duty (and the KGB certainly knew their way around). For a start, the formal gardens of Regent’s Park were regular rendezvous points for Cambridge Spies Kim Philby and Donald Maclean with their KGB handlers. But there’s another couple of connections that are even closer to home. (more…)

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The intrusion of musical grace and Steven Galloway’s “The Cellist of Sarajevo”

I don’t cry in movies. Sometimes I’d quite like to. But that’s a different story. I just don’t. Usually. But one of the greatest films of recent years (and that is no hyperbole) made me weep: The Lives of Others. The scene in question is one that affected many other friends similarly. It is the moment when the Stasi agent, Gerd Wiesler, eavesdrops on the playwright Georg Dreyman playing a piano piece given to him by an old friend driven to suicide by being blackballed by the East German officialdom. (more…)

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Q’s Espionage Festival: 2. A review of Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I was in fear and trembling before watching this movie. Not because of any potential hide-behind-the-sofa moments – but because I so wanted the film to succeed, but feared it would fail spectacularly. For the BBC series with Alec Guinness as George Smiley is one that i’ve watched countless times. And it never ceases to surprise and thrill. Even though cinematically the look and feel seems very dated, the production doesn’t age. So when I heard about the new film, my heart groaned slightly. But fortunately, I really shouldn’t have worried. This film is a triumph. (more…)

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So did Sherlock Holmes (HonFRSC) REALLY live round here?

Sherlock Holmes is always with us. Every time I walk down Baker St (which is often because we live just behind it), the point is driven home. We love Benedict Cumberbatch’s contemporary take on Sherlock, but that’s not what I’m getting at. For a bit further up the street from us, there is in fact a “Sherlock Holmes Hotel”, believe it or not. But let’s be clear about this. There is no famous London Blue Plaque at 221B, because, of course, he DIDN’T exist. (more…)

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Q’s Espionage Festival: 1. Gordon Corera’s The Art of Betrayal

BBC Security Correspondent, Gordon Corera‘s new book, The Art of Betrayal – Life and Death in the British Secret Service covers ground that will be familiar to all students of the Cold War and spy fiction fans. But he does so in a very readable, engaging but authoritative way. The British Secret Service was in some ways one of the last relics of British imperial glory, with an ability to strut across the world stage despite other aspects of British influence declining. (more…)

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Step inside a story: a perfect metaphor

We’re back from a joyous couple of days in Oxford – including a happy return to the Museum of old Ashmole himself, stunningly redesigned and rebuilt. If you’re there before mid-Jan, check out the temporary exhibition of one my all time artistic heroes, Claude Lorrain.

But my purpose in posting today is a rather fun ad campaign around the streets of north Oxford. A pair of footprints… to begin with you’ve no idea what it’s on about. It could lead to a host of things. But like the best teaser campaigns, it works… you want to know more. (more…)

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Friday Fun 13: Beware men with Guns and Megaphones

The US cop show has immersed us all into the clichés of American gun culture. It is one aspect of American life which most of us find hardest to comprehend (especially when it gets defended theologically by the Christian right – though if this is where you are coming from, please help us out here – I do want to understand how it can still be justified other than on purely pragmatic grounds). After all, in contrast to most police forces in the world (including across Europe), the British police do not carry guns while on normal duties. And I would argue that we are all much safer as a result. (more…)

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Jerusalem – the city with its very own book.

I really don’t think this book lives up to its hype, but I did work my way through roughly 3/4 of Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s epic Jerusalem, The Biography. It is a very uneven and, at times, curiously flat read. It is also (perhaps inevitably)  littered with sweeping statements and an over-reliance on just afew partisan scholarly perspectives. This was especially frustrating when it came to plumbing the huge depths and breadths of biblical and archaeological scholarship. But there were clearly some gems and insights. And so thought I’d share just one or two. (more…)

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