Sonnets, highways, and napkins in the fridge


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Tax-rolls for the names, the Agas Map of London, rope (or not rope) ferries, lute music, woodcuts and their elements, leagues and miles, Estienne’s Guide des Chemins de France, post horses, ruffs and collars, the (not very long) way from the Quai des Bernardins to the Rue des Anglais in Paris, the right way to take a bow, original frontispieces,  light hours in November, and Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, Cadiz 1596, wives inheriting, Channel crossings, Thomas Platter… Continue reading

A Long Game of Make-Believe


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Am I very wrong in thinking that make-believe must be the most universal of all childhood games? We all traveled to far-away worlds, didn’t we? And made-believe to be this or that in castles, jungles, and star-ships? With or without dolls, toy soldiers or plush animals, alone or with other children, recreating stories heard, or making it up, rehearsing work, motherhood, war, fear, society – always halfway between a technical test of life and unbridled What If… Continue reading

The Way through the Woods



Some Kipling today.

I’ve always loved this one, and was reminded of it last night, as I sat in the garden at twilight, watching as the small grey bats flew circles, quite a dance, lower and lower around me, entirely unafraid…

They shut the road through the woods
      Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
      And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
      Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
      And the thin anemones.
      Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
      And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
      Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
      Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
      Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
      And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
      Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
      As though they perfectly knew
      The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

I don’t know whether there are ghostly presences in my garden – although the house was built on the site of a Napoleonic battlefield, so who am I to say there aren’t – but the idea is a very pleasant one to entertain on a blue-green summer evening, in a garden gone slightly wild, where birds and bats and hedgehogs are reasonably sure that no one will bother them.

The Tale of the Lost Book


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This story was told to me years ago, one summer afternoon, in a centuries-old library in Mantua. It was whispered by an elderly scholar, as we took a short break after hours of patient, careful philological work…

It begins with a boy of eighteen, the shy, bookish sort, with the kind of passion for Ancient Greece that makes one court girls by lending them books of Greek poetry. Continue reading

Are we back yet?


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So – are we back yet?

A little hard to tell. I mean, theatres are opening again next week. Opening with all sorts of restrictions, as was to be expected – like playing with gloves whenever there are props to be touched, and masks when the actors need to go near each other, and keeping safe distances in the audience, and onstage, and backstage… As I said, nothing truly unexpected, but it will be hard to get used to… Continue reading

Lord Jim for kids…


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When I found out that there was an Italian edition of Conrad’s Lord Jim for children, reading age 10+, I couldn’t rest until I saw it with my own eyes.

Because, really: from age ten? Ten?! And I wondered because, on first reading it at the slightly more mature age of sixteen, I’d found LJ such hard going. I’d also eventually fallen in love with it in several fundamental ways – but, heavens above, it had been hard. And mind, I don’t mean technically difficult to read – although both language and structure are definitely not easy – but emotionally exhausting. And here was this children’s publisher, springing it on ten-year-old kids? Continue reading