Vietnam 2: State Of The Art

‘Those are the hidden police,’ says Tung. ‘Everyone knows them.’ They’re really not very hidden, and nor is the Communist propaganda, but seeing Communism from this side takes the bogeyman status out of it a little. Yes, there are probably too many ‘improving’  workers’ statues around, but since 2005′s Open Door policy things have changed, […]

Vietnam 1: Hanoi

The curse of travel lies in selection; what do you fit in, what to leave out? I always want to shout at tourists in London; ‘Leave that, it’s not the real London, this is!’ And so, as I did in Delhi, I fall victim to bleary-eyed first impressions and mistake-making. Time is limited; my partner’s […]

In The Footsteps Of Martin Sheen

‘Saigon. Oh, spoons. I’m still only in Saigon.’ Wasn’t that what Martin Sheen said? Then there was that Robin Williams chap. A little too fond of the sound of his own voice, that one. And wasn’t the heat on in Saigon, according to Jonathan Pryce in ‘Miss Saigon’? Yes, armed with my copy of ‘Meditations […]

Going Mad In Latvia: Day Three

The book hand-off across Riga between old and new libraries took stamina in these temperatures, but the sight of so many adults and children passing books across the city was a joy. My friend Izabella once went to Arkangel. I asked her, was it as cold as this? She said ‘No, this is colder.’ So […]

Mistakes In Latvia: Day Two

Started off being too loudly friendly, frightened everyone off. The history of Latvia is one of enduring hardship and occupation, which probably accounts for the quiet reserve of its people. The January cold is a living thing here that bites and gnaws. It actually hurts. Warding it off involves hot chocolate, gloves, hats, dead furry […]

Mistakes I Have Made In Latvia So Far

Two weeks ago Latvia switched to Euros, so I have the wrong money. January has a special kind of cold, a Russian cold that cuts deep into your heart and numbs your brain, rendering all normal thought impossible. I’ve quickly discovered the flaws in my wardrobe, the sweater that doesn’t quite cover my midriff, and even […]

Baltic Exchange

I wanted to go somewhere snowy and Northern, but sadly my conscience can’t allow me to go to Putin’s corrupted and despoiled Russia while homophobic hatred is on the political agenda, so instead I’m on my way to Latvia. Sandwiched between Estonia and Lithuania, opposite Sweden across the Baltic, is the Latvian capital, Riga, which […]

My Bookshop Hitlist No.1: Bookpeople

The building aint’t pretty, but it’s what’s inside that counts. You can love a bookshop without ever having gone there, because friends you like and trust know and recommend it, so today a big shout-out goes to Bookpeople in Austin, Texas. Look at the crowd it gets for events, dammit – sometimes we’re lucky to […]

The Great Champagne Conspiracy

  New Year’s Eve is the time to open that special bottle. Great Britain imports more champagne than anyone else in the world, but for the second year running sales are well down and continuing to fall. The French dug up over 40 villages to plant more champagne grapes when sales were booming, and are […]

A Star On Christmas Night

That’s it for another year (almost). Watched the Queen (Time for all of us to reflect, Commonwealth Games, baby photos) and ate a Banned-In-The-UK lunch (capon fattened on brandy), now considering a bracing (i.e. hurricane-facing) stroll along beach. Meanwhile, here’s a star from one of the most magical cathedrals on earth.