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Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I saw this when I was walking in Hyde Park yesterday - though, strangely, I didn't notice how the colours and postures of the woman and the soldier echoed each other until I got it home and looked at it on the screen.  Which is weird because, given that I didn't notice it, I'm honestly not sure why I was taking the photo..

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Across the centuries

There's a great New York Times piece out about me and Montaigne this weekend, by Patricia Cohen. I love the way she describes my style of biography - "a delightful conversation across the centuries".  Of course historical conversations can go badly wrong, like any other.  There can be arguments, misunderstandings, bullying, or a refusal to listen.  The wrong end of the stick is always there, temptingly easy to grasp.  But there can be enlightening, congenial encounters too. The best conversations help bring what Montaigne called "a gay and sociable wisdom".  At least, that's why I enjoy reading him.

Some writing to do now - then I'll go out in the snow and take some pictures.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Magnificent gremlins

A few days ago, news broke that the U.K. edition of Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom was riddled with tiny errors, because the printers had inadvertently used the last-but-one version of the text.  Instead of the version to which Franzen had added his final amendments, they used the one before. This meant losing a few tweaks affecting characterisation, he says, but mainly he lost thousands of improvements to vocabulary and phrasing.

My sympathy for Franzen is so intense that I feel like weeping.  If this happened to me, I would rage, I would moan; I would ask why the gods hated me.  Every time I saw a copy of the thing in a bookshop, I would die a small death and wish I'd never written it at all. Better to have no book than to have one still haunted by those flabby adverbs and unnecessary intensifiers that you had eliminated just in time. Franzen spent nine years writing Freedom: I suspect this matters to him.

The good news is that Franzen is probably the only one who notices. The writer cares about every word; readers are less likely to bother, not because they are slapdash people but because they are reading. Just as a canoeist does not notice a pebble out of place on the bottom of a stream, few readers notice itsy-bitsy imperfections in a book.  This is so even when the readers are themselves writers. Yesterday's Guardian article quotes Blake Morrison, who reviewed Freedom; he sympathised with Franzen just as I do, but he had spotted nothing wrong.

This is a comforting truth - but it's not quite a full truth. Of course it matters. A finely sanded, polished, cliche-free text tells a better story.  It conjures up images more clearly, and its characters breathe more freely.  They are easier to love or hate or care about.

So I still weep for Franzen - even if Franzen is the only one who sees the pebbles out of place.

I was reading this news over breakfast yesterday - a fry-up with black pudding in Wigtown, Scotland, where I had gone to talk about Montaigne at the Wigtown Book Festival

After breakfast, but before my talk, I walked through the town, a place filled with bookshops and cafes.  In one cafe window I saw this: a collection of customers' favourite words, contributed, transcribed, and hung up to flutter in the breeze.

Then I bought a book, in one of Wigtown's second-hand shops: Canoe Errant on the Nile, by Major R. Raven-Hart.

Published in 1936, it's the story of his paddle up that river in search of all kinds of things.  He writes about crocodiles, temples, folk stories, Islam, and emperors. He talks about rowing in his canoe in the nude ("unless a sun-helmet and sunglasses count as clothes").  And he prefaces it all with an announcement of his main purpose in making the trip.  He says: "I wanted to test a pet theory about the way Egyptian sculptors worked, based on the study of museum exhibits. It proved quite false, and there is nothing about it in this book."

How beautiful is that? I bought Major Raven-Hart because of that sentence.  I'm planning to give it someone today, as a gift - someone I know would appreciate it - but meanwhile the book is sitting on my desk smiling at me.  It seems to want to tell me something. I think it wants to say that error can be a nasty little gremlin, but it can also be a magnificent achievement.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Open House in London

A weekend or two ago it was open day in London - lots of buildings flung their arms open to the masses.  More importantly, you could also wander around the City Square Mile and take pictures of buildings to your heart's content, without being arrested as a terrorist.

I tried my hand at some architecture - the Gherkin (from the outside) and the Lloyds Building (mostly from the inside). Here's a link to flickr for the set, if you fancy seeing them all.

But here's the one I like best: the Gherkin, reflected in a watery silvery way:

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thunder made out of diamonds

When I’m working from home there usually comes a point where I have to get up from my desk and rush out into the air, usually on the pretext of going to the supermarket or post office. But sometimes, once I get out into the street, I realise at once that I don’t need groceries and I have nothing to post.

When this happens, I keep walking past Balham tube station until I get to the best second-hand bookshop in the neighbourhood (also one of the best in London), My Back Pages.

I tend to come out with exactly one book, and it’s never one I had previously intended to buy. Last week it was a Penguin Classic I’d never heard of, by Irmard Keun, called Child of All Nations.

I bought it because I liked the cover:

Child of All Nations was written in 1938, and only translated into English in 2008 – by Michael Hoffman, who is best known for his translations of Joseph Roth. There’s a connection, for Irmgard Keun travelled round Europe for many years as Joseph Roth’s companion. Both were writers and bohemians, both drank too much, and both were in flight from the Nazis, who were burning their books.

The novel is the story of Kully, a young girl whose parents are doing just what Keun and Roth did. The father drifts from one European capital to the next, writing and boozing, and trying to charm or wheedle money out of people. Whenever he does get a few coins, he blows it on inviting impecunious poets and street-drinkers out for absinthe and rum. Meanwhile, Kully waits with her mother in Dutch and Belgian hotels which they cannot afford to leave, for that would mean paying the bill. She picks up languages by the half-dozen, meets children and adults, and plays with anything she happens to find, from rotting crabs to tiny balls of mercury spilled from a broken thermometer. She observes all: an eternally naïve narrator who misunderstands what is going on, but who – of course – really understands more than anyone. The adults are lost and often sad; Kully does not get it, and so she sees things as they really are.

It’s an exquisite, moving book, beautifully written (and beautifully translated). Kully’s father is an unforgettable character: warm, impulsive, generous; intimidating when drunk, shockingly irresponsible, yet somehow reassuring. When he is around, it seems nothing can go wrong; the trouble is, he is hardly ever around. Early on, he is described as having eyes which “sometimes looked as if they had swum far out to sea and weren’t completely back yet.” And when he gives a lecture in Poland, Kully (who isn’t sure what a lecture is) pictures it as a glittering spectacle in a vast castle, attended by thousands of people. It must, she imagines, “must be something like thunder made out of diamonds.”

This book is thunder made out of diamonds too, and it takes you far out to sea. I’m glad so few of the books I find are like this, or I’d never get anything else done; I’d read and re-read them, and perhaps forget to come back.

Here is Irmgard:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Charles Fort

"I am a collector of notes upon subjects that have diversity, such as ... a sudden appearance of purple Englishmen, stationary meteor-radiants, and a reported growth of hair on the bald head of a mummy." Happy 136th birthday Charles Fort!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Art does not have to justify itself

Went to the Barbican last night to see Napoli, Napoli, Napoli, the new film by the maverick U.S. director Abel Ferrara, a man whose public persona can best be described as (to quote one recent blogger) “batshit crazy”.

He was present for a Q&A session afterwards, together with several of his collaborators on the film – which is a documentary about Naples, featurng interviews with inmates of the city’s Pozzuoli women’s prison, as well as re-enactments scripted and performed by Neapolitan writers and actors including Peppe Lanzetta, Gaetano Di Vaio, and Maurizio Braucci.

Now, directors’ Q&As are usually sedate affairs. A deferential chairperson says complimentary things and asks questions to which the director makes smooth, intelligent replies. The audience ask more questions, which are either further compliments or film-student allusions designed to show off. Someone always asks what the director is working on next, and he or she evades this question urbanely. It ends with fervent applause, and satisfaction all round.

Last night was different. The film itself is brilliant, confrontational, often moving, and completely absorbing – more for its extraordinary interviews than for its embedded mini-dramas. The women of Pozzuoli are honest about the crimes that landed them inside: thefts, muggings, burglaries and above all drugs. Some are addicts; some took the rap for husbands or offspring, and others just seem unsure what went wrong. Most emphasise how little choice they had: they live in brutal housing developments in areas with 80 percent unemployment, and when they come out of jail they have even less to go back to than before. One of the most affecting interviews was with a woman from Nigeria, who had come to Europe to earn money for her family, but had to pay back her debt to her people-traffickers, and was given a choice between prostitution and drug-dealing. “So how do you find life in Italy?” asked the interviewer (Gaetano Di Vaio, a man who himself spent years as a Naples prison inmate). “How can I say?” she replied with tears in her eyes. “I have been here five years, and have spent four years in prison. I just don’t like to say.”

After the film came the Q&A. A troupe of writers and actors arrived on stage, seven people in all, including a very personable chairman, William Ward, and Abel Ferrara himself. He shambled into view like Charles Bukowski on a bad-hair day. Sitting down and dragging his chair forward so everyone else was a pace or two behind him on the stage, he pulled out a handful of loose change and jangled it nervously throughout the session, dropping a coin every so often.

The others found seats as best they could and tried to sort out who was translating what and for whom. (In the end, Ward did most of the translating himself.) The questions began – and good questions they seemed to be too, except that within five minutes they had been swept away by an atmosphere of chaos. Whenever a question was put to Ferrara, he would reply by yelling “Ask him!” and pointing to one of the others. If it was put to someone else, he would interrupt loudly, or emit loud barks of laughter. It was messy and fascinating.

There seemed to be no time for audience questions – until a loud voice arose from the back of the cinema. “I have to say this now, because I am going home soon and if I don’t say it before I go, I will have a nervous breakdown.” (I’m reproducing all the dialogue as best I recall it.) “The Mau Mau [a slang term for the crminal poor of Naples] – The Mau Mau in the film: that is me. My mother is in that prison. Now you go in and you spend two months in the city. What can you know about it? You “give a voice” to someone who already has a voice, and .. ”

Abel Ferrara: “WHAT? What did you say?”

Man: “You give a voice to someone who already has a voice!”

Abel Ferrara (almost rising out of his seat): “What is this shit!?” And, as the questioner continued, in English, he began yelling “Speak Italian! Speak Italian!” and pointing to Gaetano Di Vaio– “Speak Italian so he can understand! A film is not made by one person! He wanted to make the film. He brought me in to help.”

“I don’t want to speak Italian. I want to finish my point,” said the man – and now other audience members weighed in as well. One woman, standing on the stairs, shrieked louder than anyone. “Speak fucking Italian!” yelled Ferrara meanwhile. Di Vaio could be seen whispering “Eh?” and making the Italian “What the hell is going on?” gesture with pinched thumb and forefingers to his translator, who struggled to keep up.

The whole of the back row seemed to be surging to its feet and shaking its fists in the air. It looked as though there was going to be a surge of protesters down the stairs – if Ferrara didn’t charge up them first. William Ward tried, in his nicest way, to bring it under control. Barbican officials appeared on the sidelines and made urgent throat-cutting movements. “Ahem, well,” said Ward, “I’m afraid that’s all we have time for.” Ferrara swore and raved. “Time is running short, unfortunately,” said Ward.

At last, the microphone was taken by Peppe Lanzetta, one of the authors and actors in the film, and a man who had so far contributed not a word to the discussion. Quiet, solid, calm, shaven-headed, unflappable, Lanzetta said: “This is a film. Abel Ferrara makes cinema. He is cinema. Cinema is art. And art does not have to justify itself. A work of art just is. You can like it, or not, but a film is there, and that is that.”

This got a great round of applause. And somehow, eventually, we did what audiences normally do at these events. We filed out, chatting. We stood around outside, we had glasses of wine, and then we went home.

The excitement of the Q&A seemed at first to be taking over from the film, and I felt moved both by the intensity of the audience man’s objection (no wonder he felt that way!) and by Lanzetta’s defence of art. Waking up this morning, though, I find it’s not the debate but the film itself that stays with me.

Especially the women. They spoke simply; they often smiled, and many of them were missing teeth. I suspect this didn’t come from eating too many sweets. I think they had been hit, a lot, by many people. They all had their stories to tell, and they very definitely told them in their own voices.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Infinity and utopia in Brighton

Some more street photography, this time done while walking through Brighton to my friend's birthday party. Thus these were all taken with a big bunch of flowers tucked in one elbow crook and a bottle of wine in a bag ...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stand-up comedians

The other day I saw my first real live stand-up comedian - Sean Lock, and very funny he is too.

I don't know how I got to this age without having had this experience before, but I'm amazed at the bliss and luxury of it.  You just lean back in your seat, and someone comes along and puts all their energy into making you laugh for two hours. Why isn't all of life like that?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Secret chocolate agents

Yesterday, I had my first adventure with a group called London Photographic Explorers.

The idea is this.  A number of you meet up in the vicinity of some interesting scene.  You synchronize your watches, get out your cameras, and disperse like secret agents into the crowd to take photos.  Some will take four or five beautiful, professional images of luminous beauty.  Others (me) snap up a mish-mash of scraggily composed, poorly-focussed rubbish and hope to sort out a few accidental gems afterwards.  An hour or so later, you re-meet to see what you got.

Yesterday, the assignment was the Chocolate Festival behind the Royal Festival Hall.

I've never done anything like this before. I couldn't even stay for the "show and tell" part yesterday, as I had a book group to go to (they were talking about my book - a first for me!).  But even during that half-hour dip into the world of photographic explorers, I was amazed at how liberating it was.

Sneaking photos of people in crowds is always great. It opens up ideas for stories or characters, it makes you curious about other lives, it lets you be downright nosy. Unaware of you looking at them, people are ugly, beautiful, cool, funny, pensive, or bathed in a spiritual light (even if it's just a street lamp). But normally I'm so shy and furtive about what I'm doing that the shots come out a blur. By the time the shutter closes, I'm already ducking behind a parked car or simulating interest in a completely different scene in the opposite direction. My pictures turn out to be of people's backs: less embarrassing, but it doesn't make for good shots.

Yesterday, instead, I relaxed. This mission was nothing to do with me: it was just a job I'd been given. My alibi was perfect. I had my sense of entitlement.  It was as if I was wearing an "Authorised Photographer" badge that only I could see - so I got on with the job.

Also, I knew I wasn't alone.  Every now and then, as I roamed (we were all separately circling the clump of chocolate stalls, like sharks circling a raft of shipwreck survivors), I'd pass another agent.  We'd give a sign: a smile, a lift of the eyebrows, a waggle of cameras. Sometimes we'd speak: "Having fun?" - "Getting any good ones?"

And no one noticed.  They just kept eating their chocolate...

Of course I did have some chocolate too.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute

I love odd, funny, plotless, personal books, and have just finished reading one of the best I’ve ever encountered.

Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, by Julio Cortázar and Carol Dunlop, was first published in 1983 in Spanish, but for some reason no English translation appeared at the time. It has now very belatedly been translated, by Anne McLean, and published in the UK by Telegram.

Julio Cortázar is a novelist and short-story writer I had never read before. (I will now.) He wrote somewhat Borgesian tales and fables, I think. But this book is different. It relates a journey he made with his partner Carol Dunlop from Paris to Marseilles in May 1982: a straightforward journey down a single motorway – but with one catch. Driving in a VW camper van, they stopped at every single rest area on the way, alternating between one stop for lunch, and one stop overnight. Thus, they travelled only the distance of two rest stops per day, and it took them a month to get to Marseilles. All month, they never allowed themselves to leave the weird interzone of the Autoroute du Sud. Friends brought them fresh vegetables and fruit every so often, so they wouldn’t get scurvy. Otherwise they lived on service-station food, with the occasional motel stop. Then, together, they wrote a book about it.

The journey was a piece of performance art, really, but it has nothing pretentious about it. If done by someone like Baudrillard, it would have been posy, and it would contain meditations on the philosophical meaning of it all. Instead, it is simply funny and charming. The pages are filled with photographs, mostly of the couple themselves and of their camper van, whom they called Fafner after Wagner’s dragon. They also write about – and photograph – their hideous folding picnic chairs, the “florid horrors”. We see the strange flora and fauna they meet in the rest areas, and meet other travellers, who eye them suspiciously. Every so often, we get an imaginary letter from a woman who – the couple fantasize – travels regularly on the motorway, and who gradually realises that she is seeing the same peculiar couple at a different spot every time. Surely they are not living on the motorway, wonders the woman? Are they ghosts? Have they been there forever? Will they ever leave?

The best character is Fafner, who disports himself in the book regularly, sometimes with his dragon-crest in full flare (that is, with his tent-roof up), or his wings flapping (doors open), or adorning his sides with shadows (parked under a tree in sunlight), or allowing himself the indignity of being draped with laundry. I have my own reasons for being attached to VW vans, so perhaps that’s why I like it.

The book could so easily have gone wrong, but it is gentle and charming, and in its own way it does offer a form of philosophy. Its philosophy is never to philosophise, but simply to observe the little things, to let your imagination go, and to have fun. It is also an ode to companionship. The story is given a poignant twist by a revelation at the end about one of the two travellers. (The two human ones, that is. Fafner is clearly a traveller too, and even the florid horrors seem to be having a laugh.)

It is much less like a Baudrillard book than a novel by Jerome K. Jerome. This is a daft, perverse, companionable trip done purely for its own sake; a pilgrimage whose only goal is itself. It goes immediately into my list of favourite books: the sort I will read again and again, and which I wish I had thought of writing myself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Different tones

“Our life is composed, like the harmony of the world, of contrary things, also of different tones, sweet and harsh, sharp and flat, soft and loud. If a musician liked only one kind, what would he have to say? He must know how to use them together and blend them.” Montaigne, "Of Experience".

Saturday, February 20, 2010


I've started tweeting Montaigne quotes - follow them here.  I'll add one whenever one comes to mind, and, of course, whenever I can fit it into the 140-character limitation.  I'm aware that nothing could be less Montaignean than to think you can express something in a 140-character soundbite and be done with it.  A lot of those characters would be needed just for adding his typical codicils to any opinion - things like, "Or perhaps not", "but I don't know", and "I might be wrong".

I'll try to make up for this by selecting tweets that are as inconsequential, contradictory, and generally untidy as possible.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Gliding lightly

I'll be on BBC Radio 4's 'Start the Week' on Monday 25 January, with Will Self, Steve Jones and Charles Hazlewood.  Already nail-chompingly excited. If I carry on like this all weekend, by Monday morning I will have nibbled all the way up my arms, round my collarbones and back to my teeth.  But I love this sort of thing: the talk, the elation, the chance to blither about Montaigne.

"Speech belongs half to the speaker, half to the listener." - Montaigne, "Of Experience".

"We must glide over this world a bit lightly and on the surface." - Montaigne, "Of Vanity".

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kate McGarrigle and boar tusks

I was sad to hear that the folk singer Kate McGarrigle died yesterday.

But I have to pause there. The huge loss of life in the Haitian earthquake is much sadder.  It has horrified and haunted me.  How can I write about the death of one person, honoured by the world and surrounded by her family, when hundreds of thousands may have died and are still dying in rubble? 

But writing about Haiti doesn't feel possible; it would be an exercise in vanity. Perhaps writing about Kate McGarrigle is too.  It's not really her I'm writing about though.  It's the other things that come back to me when I hear her name, or the mellifluous, twangy music of her and her sister Anna. 

Oddly enough, for a pair of Canadian singer-songwriters, those things are: breadfruit trees, mangoes, hibiscus flowers, coral reefs, hideous axe murders, tropical diseases and boar tusks through human noses. 

There's a simple reason for that: I first heard Kate and Anna McGarrigle in Papua New Guinea.  My parents were living there; in my late teens I went out to spend Christmases and summers with them.  Among their records, rapidly accumulating layers of mould in the humid heat, were two McGarrigle albums: 'Dancer With Bruised Knees' and 'French Record'.  We all loved them, and, in the absence of TV, listened to them of an evening, blasting them out into the Melanesian night until they became a family tradition. 

After the fungus finally warped and consumed the vinyl, I didn't hear 'French Record' (my favourite) again until I came across a CD about three years ago.  It was great to hear it all again: those poised, wry ballads about lonely folk walking along Canadian streets when it's thirty below, or a servant called Perrine who locks her lover in a big bin to hide him, but forgets him there so that he's only discovered six weeks later when he's been nibbled to death by rats.

I guess it's not really Kate McGarrigle I feel this sad-yet-pleasurable mood about; it's my own past - the pleasure of suffusing oneself with nostalgia for a few moments.

"Let the years drag me along if they will, but backward.  As long as my eyes can discern that lovely season now expired, I turn them in that direction at intervals."  - Montaigne, "On some verses of Virgil"

And Montaigne adds a neat quotation from Martial:
"Our lives are two
If we can relish our past life anew."

I've been busy with Montaigne lately.  Haven't yet gathered up the resulting links, but here's one to a radio discussion I took part in last week, on the BBC World Service's 'Forum' programme.  The other guests were the charming historian of science, Hasok Chang, and the novelist E. L. Doctorow: his new novel 'Homer and Langley' is gripping, funny, profound and thought-provoking.

Friday, January 15, 2010


My head is still whirling from the excitement of the launch party last night.  I will refrain from putting up lots of communal party pics, but here I am 1. looking as if Montaigne is about to throw his cat into my arms from a great height

2. looking declamatory:

and 3. just looking tickled pink:

Thank you, everyone!

I do love a party.

"My nature is suited to communication and revelation. I am all in the open and in full view, born for company and friendship." - Montaigne, "Of 3 kinds of association".

"Relaxation and affability, it seems to me, are marvellously honourable." - Montaigne, "Of Experience".

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Good Ship Montaigne sets sail today

Publication day for How to Live!  
Off it scuds, sails high and flags a-flutter, full of hope...

"And if no one reads me, have I wasted my time, entertaining myself for so many idle hours with such useful and agreeable thoughts?"

- Montaigne, "Of giving the lie."

Friday, January 8, 2010

Montaigne and the snow

This is always such a strange and exciting time, when the book you've been working on for half a decade is finally about to come out. A few reviews appear; you dread them, you slaver over them, you get more and more nervous of what might come next.  And you are invited to write all sorts of odd things. 

I am really pleased this time to be writing something for London's Big Issue - not out yet (well I only just finished writing it this afternoon).  It's a little fellow, at 360 words, but it gave me a lot of fun.  The starting point was: what might Montaigne do for us if we could make him king for a day? 

In the writing of it, the idea changed somewhat, since Montaigne would never have done anything as ostentatious as letting himself be crowned king. One of his best-known remarks is, "on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump". Still, it made a great starting point for wondering what he would think of our world in general if he could see it.

Before I could get on to anything more significant (poverty, war, eco-catastrophe), the first thing that came to my mind was the snow currently covering so much of the northern hemisphere.

First off, I think Montaigne would have been amused by the fuss we are making of this snow, at least in my own country. Britain is not accustomed to this, so it has gone into full melodrama mode. Montaigne was never melodramatic.

At the same time, he would have been surprised that so many people around the world were able to know about each other’s snow simultaneously, and even to see it photographed from space. Sceptic though he was about technology, I think Montaigne would have been excited to see these beautiful extraterrestrial views.

Excited - but not astounded. He and his contemporaries were familiar with the idea of the earth seen from space, not in practice but in principle. They read ancient writers who imagined such things all the time. The protagonist of Cicero's Dream of Scipio was whisked up beyond the stars to enjoy a view of distant earth. One of Montaigne’s favourites, Seneca, urged his followers to visualise great stretches of space, as well as of time. And the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (whom, unfortunately, Montaigne didn’t read) wondered in his notebook what it would be like to be “raised up to the heavens” and to “look down upon human affairs in all their motley diversity”.

For these writers, the idea was not just to provoke a sense of wonder, still less to indulge scientific curiosity or foretell the weather. It was to remind themselves that, however insurmountable their personal problems seemed, they would look very small on a cosmic scale. Each of us is just a speck in the landscape, and it all passes soon enough, so we may as well relax.

I don’t think many of us feel so comforted by this exhilharating perspective, when we see satellite photos today. Perhaps familiarity has just killed the trick: we have seen so many images like this before. But there may be some magic left, after all.  I did feel something almost verging on comfort, when I saw today’s image of Britain neatly covered in snow.

Some of the pleasure comes from the picture’s sheer beauty, but it also moves me to think that this same snow that lies outside my door, slushy and inconvenient and anything but cosmic, can look so shared from the perspective of space.  Our country has been scattered with this snow elegantly and uniformly, as if by a giant fist with a sugar-dusting sieve. Not just this country, but this continent, and this hemisphere. We are small enough to be powdered up and patted down, with casual ease.

So, if I go outside now, slip in the slush and land on my bum with an undignified flop, at least I can take these two comforting thoughts from Montaigne and his predecessors:

1. I am an insignificant speck of human powder in a beautiful landscape.

2. Yet, no matter where I land, it will be very definitely on my own rump.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Go with the flow

Wrote about Montaigne, New Year's Resolutions, and going with the flow in the Independent on New Year's Day.  It's quite a personal piece and, sure enough, I haven't made any resolutions this year.  It's one of those years that seems to call for some very different spirit anyway.

Now, though, the flow is taking me back to a hectic week of work!  But it's all getting exciting - How to Live is being published a week on Thursday, and there is lots to do.

A new decade dawns, sunny and frosty, at least in London, where I look up through my attic window this morning into a taut blue sky.