The Belle Époque in France was the exotic epoch between the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 and the Great War of 1914. It witnessed a cultural explosion – Impressionism, Zola, the Ballets Russes, the Eiffel Tower, the Paris métro, the Paris Opéra and the Moulin Rouge. It was here that Toulouse-Lautrec, all four foot of him, drank absinthe (hidden in his cane), talked and loved and sketched the demi-monde – that eclectic classless mix of pimps and pansies, artists and aristos. Read More

Paul Klee

There is no ‘school’ of Klee, he is unique. His art should ‘be read like poems, or listened to like pieces of music’ wrote the critic Georg Schmidt. They can be appreciated for their sound, and for their pure visual appeal; but also for the theory that lies behind. They are based on a ‘perfectly definite melody of colour’ and form. Klee loved Bach and Mozart, and his art mirrored the fusion of these two masters, the fusion of ‘art Read More

Queen Elizabeth II

HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II (1926-2022) The late QUEEN ELIZABETH II was not born to rule. Her father, the stammering, diffident Duke of York was thrust on the throne as George VI when his elder brother Edward VIII chose Wallis Simpson over duty, and abdicated in 1936. It was just as well for the nation. Edward’s sympathy for Hitler was apparent, particularly to the PM Stanley Baldwin, whose subtle machinations speeded Edward’s exit. George was a good king and good Read More

King Charles III

A KING FOR OUR TIME KING CHARLES III did not waste his time as Prince of Wales, as a king in waiting – unlike the Duke of Windsor or Edward VII who both, when heir to the throne, abused their position to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh or racetrack. King Charles is an authority on architecture, horticulture, organic farming and history; he can fly a plane, sail, is an expert rider, climber, fisherman and shot, and a fine Read More

Inspiration! Women of Influence

‘The movement of the present day to place women in the same position as men is mad and utterly demoralising.’ Queen Victoria Victoria’s views about suffrage were common at the time. Which was why women in the UK (and US) only got the vote in 1919. The 1832 Great Reform Act went so far as to define voters: ‘male personsʼ. [Not until 1973 did all 50 US states allow women to serve on juries.] This discrimination provoked campaigners like Emmeline Read More

The Art of Alice

Picturing Alice. ‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’ Quite so. There have been hundreds of illustrators for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871); but John Tenniel is the greatest (and the best known). He established the image of Alice. Yet he was not the first. That was Carroll himself, whose real name was Charles Dodgson (1832-98), a shy but brilliant maths tutor at Christ Church, Oxford. He Read More


‘Their roar is around me. I am on the brink of the great waters – and their anthem voice goes up amid the rainbow and the mist.’ Grenville Mellen, 1881 Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge, spanning the border between New York State and Ontario. The falls – American Falls, Horseshoe Falls and the small Bridal Veil Falls – formed 12,000 years ago, when water from Lake Erie carved a channel Read More

The Sixties

THE SIXTIES  ‘It was the time of my time. I will never have so much fun again, ever.’ Even back then Michael Caine knew ‘it was the good old days’. ‘What we decided was f*ck it, leave your baggage of class, colour and religion at the door…’ It was the best of times. For some. The ‘pill’ liberated women, Mary Quant and the mini skirt liberated legs, Vidal Sassoon liberated hair, the Mini liberated the road, the constrictions of girdles Read More

The Art of Rugby

P.G. Wodehouse admitted to knowing little about rugby except that ‘each side is allowed to put in a certain amount of assault and battery and do things to its fellow man which, if done elsewhere, would result in 14 days, coupled with some strong remarks from the Bench’ (Very Good, Jeeves, 1930). Rugby is of course a collision sport, and as the French scrum half, Pierre Berbizier, said – ‘if you can’t take a punch, you should play ping pong’.  Read More


‘Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest / Drink and the devil had done for the rest…’  Treasure Island, R.L. Stevenson’s story (1883) of peglegs, parrots and buried gold has immortalised (and glamourised) the cutthroat world of piracy on the Spanish Main. Some things are just fiction, like ‘walking the plank’ – as Captain Hook (an Etonian gone wrong) did in Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904). Yet the camaraderie of these outcasts is true; they were a collective, a sort of Read More