Observatory

Creating The Right Atmosphere

In the writing of any story, atmosphere plays a far larger part than most readers realise. It’s something you have to consciously select when setting out a scene. I often set London in the rain because it is emphatically not a sunny city. The ‘invisible rain’ which cannot be seen falling but makes the streets […]

British Eccentrics: A Postscript To Eggs Like Fanny’s

Following on from yesterday’s comments, I took another look at Fanny. At the heart of her cookery were Escoffier’s rules, so this morning I followed her technique for plain simple scrambled eggs and suddenly realised the difference, and why she became an influence on chefs. To a postwar rationed bankrupt nation her food was aspirational. […]

Christmas Cheer

‘Christmas is going to be just like any other day in this house – dead miserable.’ – Tony Hancock As I’m lying in bed with a stinking cold and thinking about cancelling Christmas, Hancock’s ghastly yuletides past, from a time that knew about real austerity, spring readily to mind. There’s a goose being cooked somewhere […]

The Ottoman Intellectual

  ‘What, him? An intellectual? That thing over there, lying on the ottoman scratching himself? That’s your idea of an intellectual, is it? Well, heaven help us. The only thing he knows about books is how to run them.’ – Tony Hancock talking about Sid James What now constitutes our idea of an intellectual? The […]

Judgement On Nuremberg

London is simply too eerily blue-skied and sunny at the moment, so we hied ourselves off to visit friends in Nuremberg at the weekend. Bavaria’s second city was snowless but not exactly Christmas-free, with seven Christmas markets, too many Bavarian sausages and too much Glühwein available on every corner. Our charming friends live in an elegant […]

Ageism Is An Old Idea

My crime books deliberately use elderly leading characters, which leads to quite a lot of debate with readers. Somebody said to me recently, ‘We really look after older people here – there are care homes everywhere.’ I was horrified by her casual acceptance of the idea that the best thing to do with older people […]

Living In A Box

You can have your genetic code analysed to find out where you’re from, but it can’t tell you who you are. I recently had dinner with some very nice social-data analysts, who told me that statistically I was an outlier who didn’t fit their paradigms. The press is full of data telling us about how we […]

We’re Going Where The Sun Shines Brightly: Travel Horror Stories

Today I’m slipping through the eye of the hurricane between the Catalan protests and the General Strike planned for Friday. The road to the airport has been unblocked and I’m outta here. Oddly, despite my bad experiences in seven years of owning a flat in Barcelona (mugged, robbed, insulted, caught up in terrorist attack etc) […]

Bombage To Catalonia

Only one thing could mess up my travel plans. Summer dies. Autumn storms sweep in. It’s still around 24C in Barcelona, but it’s wild and wet, with the kind of thunderstorms that usually only occur in horror films. The local ladies are now wearing their autumn outfits, which involve padded jackets and layers of scarves. […]

The Future Isn’t That Much Fun

Remember when you first did something that felt like genuinely being in the future and how excited you were? It might have been getting in a new car, or seeing a movie in 3D, or trying a new kind of computer for the first time. For me, it was a trip on Concorde. I went […]