November 13, 2023
Painting with light - John Blakemore

Unexposed photographic paper is akin to John Locke’s tabula rasa. Translated from the Latin, the surface was a ‘clean slate’, a uniform grey, ready to receive the white chalk marks of thought and experience. He qualified this by saying that at birth the mind is a “white paper,...

November 5, 2023
Bostadh on Great Bernera, Isle of Lewis

Bostadh (or Bosta) on Great Bernera island on the north-west coast of the Isle of Lewis is another of those atmospheric edge-of-the-world places - an outpost on an outpost. One crosses the narrow strait under the gaze of the Callanish VIII megaliths as if to remind us of a time before our own -...

October 30, 2023
Eilean Glas Lighthouse

A lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides, facing inwards across the Minch and the Little Minch, is planted on the southern tip of Lewis and Harris on a peninsula on the east coast of Scalpay island - itself barely two and a half square miles of Lewisian gneiss - like an outpost on an outpost on an...

September 24, 2023
There are too many honey bees in the garden

The front garden of a good friend and neighbour of ours was recently commended by a passer-by for the pollinator-friendliness of his Michaelmas daisies. “So many bees. It’s wonderful”, was the observation. “Well done!” Yet Ivor disagreed. Like us, he sees Apis mellifera, the honey...

September 24, 2023
The Marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus)

Episyrphus balteatus, the Marmalade Hoverfly, was first given its Latin name by the Swedish entomologist Charles De Geer in 1776, yet it had already been accurately painted by Jan Van Huysum in about 1718 - in a painting entitled Still Life with Bird’s Nest, currently...

by J. A. Baker
August 12, 2023
The Peregrine by J. A. Baker

“The hardest thing of all to see is what is really there.” With these prophetic words, J. A. Baker began his 1967 volume entitled The Peregrine, a book that plays out in the Essex countryside over a ten-year period, having at its heart the deep-freeze English winter of 1962-63. It is a...

June 11, 2023
Wells Cathedral's Chapter House steps

There is a slender marble column rising up at the foot of Wells Cathedral’s celebrated Chapter House steps. It floats off the wall behind it, supporting a boss from which the rib-vaulting of the ceiling above flares upward. Beneath the marble, a plain stone corbel is locked into the wall...

by Sander van der Linden
April 19, 2023
Foolproof - Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity

Comparing misinformation to a virus, as Sander van der Linden does in Foolproof - Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity, is a smart move. After Covid-19, most of us are now armchair virologists who like to think we understand infection, inoculation, immunity and R-...

by Seirian Sumner
April 16, 2023
Endless Forms - The Secret World of Wasps

Esoteric subjects need enthusiastic guides, and one might struggle to find a guide with as much fizz and crackle as Professor Seirian Sumner (at UCL), author of Endless Forms - The Secret World of Wasps. Most readers might be pre-indisposed to the subject anyway. “Wasps”, as...

by Naomi S. Baron
February 24, 2023
Words Onscreen - the Fate of Reading in a Digital World

The author of Words Onscreen - the Fate of Reading in a Digital World, Naomi S. Baron is not only a professor of linguistics at the American University in Washington, DC, she is also an engaging and entertaining writer. This sweeping survey of the mechanics of and attitudes to reading...

by Rupert Read
January 10, 2023
Why Climate Breakdown Matters

Let’s talk about climate breakdown. That’s right: not climate change or global warming, but climate breakdown, even climate chaos, so urges Rupert Read in his courageous and welcome Why Climate Breakdown Matters. As a former spokesperson for...

by Robert Byron
December 27, 2022
The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron

If there is a template for travel writing from which the likes of Bruce Chatwin, Wilfred Thessiger, Patrick Leigh-Fermor and Eric Newby were shaped, perhaps it comes in the form of Robert Byron, the author of The Road to Oxiana. Chatwin himself, in the introduction to the Picador...

by Sherry Turkle
December 24, 2022
Reclaiming Conversation - The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle

Conversation is not unlike a muscle: left unused, it can wither. Parents and teachers who help their charges exercise this muscle see the process close-up. In a supportive environment, they question what has just been said, gently encouraging the re-thinking and refinement of spoken thoughts....

October 30, 2022
Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert

The Frick Collection has a temporary home in the Bauhaus-concrete Breuer Building on Madison Avenue in New York. It is replete with remarkable works of art collected by Henry Clay Frick (1849 - 1919), the coke and steel industrialist, who bequeathed his art collection and its residence to a...

October 26, 2022
Extinct & Endangered - the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History in New York has been holding a thrilling yet terrifying exhibition of large-format insect photography, entitled Extinct & Endangered. Their entomological curators selected 80 specimens of dead insects held in their collection, classing them-...

by George Monbiot
July 21, 2022
Regenesis by George Monbiot

Midway through George Monbiot’s Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet, in conversation with Iain Tolhurst (‘Tolly’), a stockfree organic farmer in the Chilterns, Monbiot tells a joke against himself by quoting Tolly’s words: “I’ve pissed...

by Oliver Milman
June 20, 2022
The Insect Crisis by Oliver Milman

In his 1992 book The Diversity of Life the great American biologist Edward O. Wilson, who died last December, wrote the following chilling words:

So important are insects and other land-dwelling arthropods that if all were to disappear, humanity probably could not last more...

June 8, 2022
The Cosmic House

The recently opened Cosmic House, in leafy Holland Park’s Lansdowne Walk, transforms a handsome and sober 1840s Victorian brick and stucco villa on the outside into an Arts and Crafts cum Dada cum New Age fantasy on the inside. The house was the brainchild of writer, critic, designer and...

May 22, 2022
The Church of St. Thomas Becket, Fairfield

Way out in open fields, with no churchyard of its own, in a parish of marsh, ditches, sheep and cattle, stands the church of St. Thomas Becket. On occasions when the surrounding Romney Marsh floods, the church has appeared to float above the waters. Even high and dry, its location is mesmerizing...

April 3, 2022
Akhmatova, Yevtushenko and Putin

By pure coincidence, my poetry books - loosely ordered alphabetically - are bookended by two slim volumes by Russian poets. In the late 1960s, Penguin Books published their Penguin Modern European Poets series. At 20p a pop these pocket-sized gems were well-worth the spend and did...

February 24, 2022
Samuel Beckett's hands

Samuel Beckett’s first sight of the words in his head would have been as they flowed from his pen, not as his typewriter’s typebars left their individual ink ribbon marks. His first drafts were in notebooks with a pen (or pencil in the case of Watt). From these handwritten...