On the 8th September 1916, my great-uncle died from wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme. Second Lieutenant Henry Byron, 1st/5th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, was twenty-two. His brother – my grandfather – enlisted at the age of fourteen, had a kidney shot out in Ypres, contracted TB while convalescing, and was shipped home with six months to live. Deciding escape was the only way to survive the miasmas of war-time Liverpool, he worked his way to Australia, jumped shipped in Perth, and died at the age of ninety two. He could never bring himself to return to France and visit his beloved brother’s grave – my daughter and I were the first in the family to do so.
I lay in bed, staring at the flood-lit towers of Notre Dame. The sky-light in my room looked straight onto the cathedral. Founded by Saint Landry in 651 AD, the Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu was the first hospital in Paris, and still cares for ill Parisians. The ghosts of some 1300 years of medical history glide along its marble corridors, whispering in consultation outside the wards, then pass into the old-fashioned lifts to visit the fourteen quiet hotel rooms hidden on the sixth floor.
Hotels can be seen as merely a place to sleep, or they can be another layer in all the experiences of travel. They don’t have to be expensive (fortunately!) but as I love pre-dawn and evening strolls, and watching a neighbourhood change by the hour, I try to pick a place to stay somewhere interesting for my walks. If the hotel comes with its own history, is in a old part of town and has a great cafe or restaurant nearby (hello, Paris!) it’s hard to resist. The Hôtel-Hopitel Dieu offered it all.
I first went to Hong Kong some forty years ago, and immediately felt a bond with her vibrancy and way of life, her noise, her chaos, even the smell of the place. Shopping Hong Kong’s markets are always high on my to do list whenever I visit. Every visit I discover a new one, maybe only a street or two long, but I still have my favourites I return to again and again. They are also a great place to start when discovering The Fragrant Harbour for the first time. Combining local atmosphere with bargains, Hong Kong’s markets are a place where everything from bobby pins to (mostly fake) antiques are for sale – and when the heat and haggling become too much, there is always somewhere to sit and, with a cool drink and a delicacy to nibble, watch the world pass by.
Here are some of my suggestions for both first time and also frequent visitors: Continue Reading →
The train sped through the rainy afternoon, past green fields dotted with stone farmhouses and fat cows. As dusk gathered the train finally stopped in the deserted village of Pontorson. In the gloom it took me a while to find the exit from the station: a walk over the tracks then through a knee-high gate, to the patiently waiting bus.
After some twenty minutes the lights of the island suddenly appeared. Against the darkness Mont St Michel rose from the sea, unchanged from medieval times when the island became a mystical emblem of the heavenly Jerusalem, an earthly image of paradise.
I stumbled into reading this book. My first introduction to Moriarty was hearing my husband laugh as he read Big Little Lies. When our kids were younger he had been head of the local school’s P&C. A school very much like the one Moriarty describes. With much the same parents. Truly Madly Guilty has moved from the school grounds to tree-lined suburbia. Essentially the story revolves around three married couples. Everyday, ordinary couples – and as always with the everyday, they carry their secrets and failings, believing no one else can see them. As the opening epitaph states: Music is the silence between the notes (Debussy). The novel revolves around what is said, and not said – and when the little things aren’t spoken about, they grow to assume profound significance. Continue Reading →
I should start by saying I don’t believe in ghosts. Never have. Belief is probably the wrong word, as it has no role in scientific argument. Belief and facts are two separate issues. (The classic example: 2+2 = 4. I can believe 2+2 =5 all I want, but the fact remains.) The concept of an incorporeal being able to also interacting with the physical world – tapping me on the shoulder then walking through a wall, for example – defines scientific laws. The only I can see is that a being a spirit or whichever term you care to use comes with an innate knowledge of quantum physics as yet unknown to us (just as vampires seem to have a great knowledge of king fu). Continue Reading →