Observatory

Season’s Greetings From Krakow

I thought that after the darkness of Auschwitz and Birkenau would come time for happier things. The tragedy at the Strasbourg Christmas market overshadowed that – I was in the same market two years ago, and what astounded then me is that it is the most secure market I’d ever visited, effectively being on a […]

Auschwitz: Beyond Hope

Beyond belief, but not beyond understanding The bus to Auschwitz was playing Christmas songs. An hour and a quarter out of Krakow the driver switched from Perry Como to Cliff Richard just as we passed the dark birch forest surrounding the site of the camps. It appeared like an image from old war films; the […]

The Writers’ Secret Weapon

It’s a beverage whose trade was used to build a workforce of drug addicts Last night at the Crime Writers Association Christmas Party someone reminded me that I wrote a couple of pieces about the ritual of tea, and asked if I could find them, so I’ve combined the main points into a single article. […]

I’m Not Older, You Just Got Here Late

Not having a  phone didn’t make life better ‘Hall of Mirrors’ just came out in the US and I’ve had some nice pieces written about it, along with a slew of questions about growing up in the sixties (although admittedly I entered that era in single digits). But after yet another patronising ‘people of your […]

Never Mind The Balkans

Mr Trump may not know his Baltics from his Balkans, but I suspect many others would have trouble sticking a dart into the right part of a map. The Balkans cover the countries in the Balkan Peninsular, roughly South-Eastern Europe below the Balkan mountains. You’ve got about twelve languages, give or take a few, in […]

New Ways Of Seeing Conflicts

There’s a bit of a war theme running through my head this week because of the Armistice commemorations, and the sense that the passing of one hundred years since ‘the war to end all wars’ might bring some sense of closure. I hadn’t watched the BBC documentaries made by Adam Curtis about post-war life for […]

You Don’t Have To Get Fat Working At Home

Working at home means never being far from the fridge, in London at least; it’s perilously close to my desk. After living in France I went to Barcelona primarily to work, because the days are so ridiculously long that I can average about four hours more a day. Everything starts late; to cope with the […]

Six Things I Carry Everywhere

Whenever I travel I spent the hours before my flight in a frenzy of charging-up. It seems that travelling light now involves carrying 10 kgs of tech around, and it all has to be filled with ‘the new electricity’, as my great-grandmother called it. But there are a few essential items I need to keep […]

On Or Off The Beaten Track?

I’m here in Spain visiting monasteries and vineyards, and should probably not be standing on a rock protruding over a sheer drop when there’s work to be done. Priorat has not yet become a popular region to visit. Like Penedes, it’s home to some of the finest cellars in the world, has fabulous restaurants, walks […]

My Father (Part 2)

(Contd) My dreams of a university education evaporated when I saw that I would have to get a job and ease the family’s finances. I went knocking on the doors of advertising agencies, and was immediately offered a placement as a copywriter in a Regent Street company on the condition that I learned to type […]