Born in London in 1962, I have been married, divorced, re-married and am blessed with three extraordinarily lovely children who amaze and delight every single day.
I was brought up by my mother and my grandparents in the Ashdown Forest in Sussex, with Pooh Sticks and Shetland ponies and lots of garden cricket and the Bluebell Railway and the South Downs in the far distance. An idyllic, fun, rather old-fashioned, country childhood.
I became a huge fan of cricket, dogs and horses at an early age. My first puppy was a beagle who we called “Toggles” – I ran away from prep school so as not to miss her first litter. A great shetland pony called “Hector” showed me that you could spend just as much time on the ground as on a pony’s back and still have fun.
Years later a broken-down 10 year old chestnut gelding, Ebro, an ex-hurdler who the vet said was “on his last legs, and that unsteadily” gave me six years of wonderful days riding at full tilt across the Oxfordshire countryside. A mad cocker spaniel, Atticus, has been a great friend for the last ten years – splendidly nuts but completely lovable.
Throughout this cricket has been a constant. From hours of daily batting practice as a six year old, to years of press-ganging every friend I could find to play “just a few overs”, to falling asleep listening to TMS under the sheets…cricket always seemed like just the best.
Educated at Lancing and Cambridge (History at Caius), I subsequently worked most often as a management consultant and an investment manager and I have also occasionally become involved with more interesting start-ups. McKinsey, Piper Trust, Pitcher & Piano, Boden, musica, CubicEgg, Sony, Serenade, Hedgerow, Fern (disastrously – mind those Russians!) and lots of other smaller projects.
Moderately serious about politics (a former Chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association, socially left, economically right.) A lover of interesting wines, fast ski-ing, and sailing small boats in strong winds just for added fun.
I was a devourer of books of all sorts from a very young age and became a dedicated fan of PG Wodehouse, Anthony Trollope, Anthony Powell, Robert Graves, Evelyn Waugh and Lawrence Durrell. An equally enthusiastic reader of CS Forester, Kingsley Amis, Patrick O’Brian and Jilly Cooper, I was obsessed with JRR Tolkein for about five years from 8 to 13 and at one stage, worryingly, had memorised about 10 chapters of The Lord of the Rings from ‘The Council of Elrond’ to “Farewell to Lórien.’
While Paddy Fermor, Bruce Chatwin, Eric Newby and Colin Thubron held me enthralled by their travels, my own favourite destinations over the years have been Guatemala & Central America, Nevis & the Caribbean, Botswana & Southern Africa, Provence & the South of France. I am sorry not to have had time to explore Asia (yet!) I have been a dedicated and enthusiastic if not entirely safe skier of the Matterhorn’s lower slopes since I first visited in the 1970s and have kept on returning, while I have become an ever more occasional fair-weather sailor since first learning to sail in the freezing waters of Poole Harbour.
Greatest achievement? Undoubtedly, three amazingly kind and clever children who fill me with amazement and delight. Like parents everywhere, I suspect, our children make sense out of chaos, light out of shadows and joy from doubt, simply by being lovely.
Having always been an instinctive optimist, I continue to believe that everything will be OK in the end. Human progress seems to move faster and faster and the occasional and inevitable disasters that befall us seem to set us back less far than before. The rate of progress accelerates and the significance of the setbacks declines. Learning from our all-too-frequent mistakes must be the key and ought to make us value our successes, even small ones, more highly.
JK Rowling says, through the splendidly brave Sirius Black, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000.) Although “inferior” isn’t quite right – “less lucky” perhaps…anyway: a good principle. I think there is one rule that trumps all: be kind!
After some to-ing and fro-ing over SmartWatches, Alexander (King of Tech) nominated a pair of AirPods as one of his (many!) Christmas 2018 presents. To be fair I was a little sceptical and feared that, kept in a separate charging capsule, they would be all too likely to be lost within about a week of …
Elizabeth Alker played Hannah Peel’s new work: “Sunrise Through the Dusty Nebula” on BBCR3’s Breakfast programme this morning. The most astonishing piece of contemporary classical music. It quite made my day and takes colliery brass bands to whole new destinations (Cassiopeia, obviously.) On a different note: 649-7 declared! Ha.
News of the “Arctic surge” in the US North East reminded me of when I was living in Marlborough Street in Boston back in 2005. One morning in January I woke up to an eerie silence to find a real winter wonderland. Two feet (yes, really!) of snow had submerged the cars on the street …
Recent worthwhile films – more frequently entertaining than hugely challenging. By no means comprehensive…
November 2017 – Thor: Ragnarok
I was a reluctant viewer of Thor: Ragnarok, but was astonished by this belly-laugh of a movie. Totally setting seriousness aside this is a masterclass in “banter.” It’s worth seeing just for Tom Hiddleston as Loki as Thor’s “Oh shit!” when discovered ruling Asgard in his father’s assumed identity.
This is a comedy masterpiece. Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Ruffalo (who I love) and Tessa Thompson banter effortlessly. Goldblum out-Goldblum’s himself. There’s a gloomy gladiator made of stone (?Korg?) worthy of a comedy award and a permanent place on “Mock the Week.”
Blanchett, Hopkins and Cumberbatch are put in the shade – which is in itself quite an achievement – and may not have read the “play it large” memo. Elba seems to have channelled his inner Shakespearian but found a way of meshing that in to the slapstick context.
November 2017 – Murder on the Orient Express
OK. Admittedly I went to a fairly late showing, but I really don’t think that was why I fell asleep. There was nothing particularly “wrong” but having missed about 45 minutes of this visually luscious remake it is slightly saddening that the most memorable feature of the sections that I actually saw was Kenneth Branagh’s moustache.
All of which demonstrates that, however magnificent, you can not anchor a film, even one with a starry cast, on a moustache alone.
I will not go back to catch the section I snoozed through – which is a bit of an indictment.
It’s also very hard to see how Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version could be bettered…now that was a cast!
August 2017 – Atomic Blonde
Expectations are comfortably beaten by this stylish crash-bang. Very stylish indeed. Deceiving the deceived did a lot better than the 007 equivalent. Wince-making level of violence and gaping holes in storyline, but satisfying nevertheless. McAvoy delivers and incredibly THIN John Goodman does the best clever-playing-dumb-playing-clever-playing dumb Langley types ever. Theron and Boutella. Kinda works.
July 2017 – Dunkirk
Well that’s 2017 wrapped up cinematically. Best film of the year, perhaps the decade.
Of course, it’s impossible to watch this film without thinking about BREXIT at the moment., but it’s a fine film. Far from sentimental and a long way from jingoistic, with the moral ambiguities of both individual and national attempts to flee the beaches all on show, but profoundly moving.
Standout jobs by Rylance and Branagh. Grown men weeping quietly at the showing I attended.
June 2017 – My Cousin Rachel
Great hopes (Rachel Weisz, Daphne du Maurier, Roger Michell, Cornwall…the omens were good) were sadly somewhat disappointed. Not quite sure why. Rachel Weisz is phenomenal. Perhaps it was just me. I’d happily give it another go, so not all bad.
April 2017 – Rogue One
As a Life Member of the Chalet Girl fan club, Rogue One was always going to work pretty well for me. It was nice to see how Kim’s boarding moves had shaped up for hyperspace.
But it was actually a bit of a revelation that Rogue One was quite so thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve never been a dedicated Star Wars fan and I got a bit lost somewhere between Attack of the Clones and The Force Droops. But this “spin-off” is just what the doctor, or alternatively George Lucas, ordered. I understood what was going on, Felicity Jones is great and Diego Luna does a great job too.
Two hours of sheer escapism, amazing special effects, classic space battles, not too much of the incomprehensible Force and they even kill off the main characters. Great job. Perfect Sunday afternoon entertainment fare. (Well, if you’re not in the mood for Chalet Girl I suppose. When will someone see sense and cast Bill Nighy in a Star Wars film?)
January 2017 – La La Land
In the face of the most aggressive film PR campaign waged on British airwaves and screens for some years I was prepared to be cynical. Wrong. La La Land is a complete delight, defying all cynicism and joyfully presenting an eccentrically life-affirming entertainment that it would be hard, nay impossible, to dislike. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are wonderful, but Damien Chazelle – now that is special. Congrats.
“Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem.
Here’s to the hearts that ache.
Here’s to the mess we make.”
Couldn’t agree more. (Although better when sung…isn’t everything?)
December 2016 – Passengers
Well it’s a Christmas crowd-pleaser and Lawrence and Pratt have chemistry (although the combination sounds like a new jet engine.) It’s marginally more enjoyable than the 125-year flight would have been if two of the passengers had not woken up. But “gripping” ??? …..sadly not. Martin Sheen, however, runs a masterclass in scene-stealing and must surely be worth a spin-off TV series.
October 2016 – Girl on a Train
Rather conflicted by “Girl on the Train.” I’m glad to have seen it, but it was deeply upsetting. Emily Blunt is, well, Emily Bluntish (a very good thing!) and Elizabeth Woodville has made a great escape from The White Queen, but it’s quite glacial pace somehow made the violence fairly intolerable. Of course, compared to Jason Bourne or any of the action franchises it hardly had any real violence, but at the same time there was just too much: as well as the death-by-corkscrew, there was the smashing of Megan’s head open with a rock, the slo-mo repetition of Rachel slamming Megan’s head in to the ground and the haunting, even if accidental and off-camera drowning of a baby by her sleepy mother. Too much violence, too lingeringly dwelt upon and just too much violence against women. The net result: pleased to have seen it, but pretty upsetting too.
October 2016 – Love & Friendship
I have always loved Whit Stillman’s films. Up there with Wes Anderson. I watched Metropolitan over and over again in the 1990s. Barcelona, Last Days of Disco…all brilliant. Somehow I missed Love and Friendship earlier this year, but thankfully picked it up by sheer chance.
Kate Beckinsale brings just the right touch of wit and wickedness to make a thoroughly entertaining Lady Susan in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s early work. Not usually counted amongst Austen’s novels, it’s a joyful canter through eighteenth century manners and morals and writing. Stephen Fry, Chloë Sevigny (also in Last Days of Disco) and James Fleet. Nothing to dislike – at all.
August 2016 – The Shallows
The Shallows rests entirely on Blake Lively (which works for me) but actually, beyond that, it’s really rather a good film. Taut, spare, simple and well-constructed.
Even if you are not a fan of Ms Lively (is that possible ? – ed) The Shallows will grab you. Worth a try.
July 2016 – Minuscule Valley of the Lost Ants
Alice asked to go to see “Minuscule Valley of the Lost Ants”, a wonderful and wordless French-Belgian animation by Hélène Giraud and Thomas Szabo. Thank you Alice for asking Dada to this – what a lovely morning!
July 2016 – The Secret Life of Pets
Slightly bizarrely, Xan, Alice and Arthur came with me to see this at a late-night showing at Westfield one evening when we were locked out (long story, all worked out OK in the end.)
Xan was sceptical, but got in to it, Alice was entranced from start to finish and – the biggest challenge of all – Arthur, despite the 9pm start for a three-year-old, remained wide-eyed with amazement and giggled incessantly throughout. Job done.
June 2016 – Our Kind of Traitor
I loved Le Carré’s book when it came out (?2010/11?) This version ran through all the gears, but didn’t completely inspire. McGregor was convincing and Skarsgård was deft, but I prefer Damien Lewis and Claire Danes and, overall, I got more out of the BBC’s Night Manager. Still, workmanlike enough.
May 2016 – Eye in the Sky
I’m not sure that Alan Rickman ever played anything that I didn’t adore. I loved his Obadiah Slope in the BBC Barchester which ran while I was still a mere stripling and I then got wildly over-excited by his Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Pit in about 1986. I cried with laughter at his Sheriff of Nottingham. His Severus Snape introduced me to Harry Potter. I don’t think that Rickman ever did anything that I didn’t think extraordinary. Eye in the Sky was a worthy end to a brilliant career, but I wish he could have stuck around longer.
Just a Little List
Not another definitive “Greatest Films of All Time” list, juggling the actually incomparable joys of Vertigo, 2001, Mulholland Drive, Shawshank, North by Northwest and Dr Strangelove… which are all “must sees” in any case.
Instead, this is a (very) little list of films that all amuse, entertain and divert for a couple of hours. Nothing too challenging. All lovely ends to long and busy days. Not in any order (and links are all to amazon’s uk online digital editions):
Not just the background for life (or the lift) but a force that transcends boundaries and brings people together, that explains and illustrates moods, focuses thoughts, inspires creativity and helps understanding beyond the powers of language. Entertainment of course, but so much more.
Never be without music in your life.
A self-indulgent 10
Just a little fun to bring a smile and lift the mood...
A BBC TV panel game inspired me to listen to all sorts of music as a child. Thank you Joseph Cooper, Richard Baker, Joyce Grenfell and, most of all, Robin Ray with your "spine tinglers" - you started my lifelong search for the music that reaches places that nothing else reaches...
My travels have varied from weekend family breaks in France to long-distance almost expeditionary travel. Most has been enriching, enjoyable and horizon-broadening, with the occasional mini-disaster. I have huge gaps: I really never have covered Asia much to my chagrin… something’s got to go I suppose. Still, that leaves new virgin territory to explore.
So – my favourite locations, for all sorts of different sorts of travels.
If the quixotic Gods of Travel said “you just have one location, just one” I’d take Guatemala (and then try to stretch a point and see if I could talk Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico into a package deal! You never know unless you try.)
I’ve been quite a few times over the years as well as staying in Antigua Guatemala (of course) for a few months while trying to learn Spanish years ago.
Guatemala has everything:
Pacific and Caribbean coasts
Extraordinary Mayan history with the ruins of
Tikal in the lowland jungles of the Petén
Quiriguá near Izabal on the Caribbean side
Iximche between Lake Atitlán and Chimaltenango
The still-remote ruins of El Mirador buried in the mosquito depths of the jungle up on the Mexican border and only reached by proper hard trekking at the price of mosquito-ravaged limbs
Reflections of perfect cone volcanoes in the Western highlands
Mirror-black lakes Atitlán and Amatitlán surrounded by excruciatingly beautiful villages
40% of the youthful ~15m population are indigenous Mayan peoples from a bewildering patchwork of K’iche’ Q’eqchi, Kaqchikel and Mam reinforcing cultural traditions from pre-Colonial times if not directly to the classic Mayan civilisation of 200-900AD
Hitch and microbus trek up from Santa Cruz del Quiché through Sacapulas to Cobán and on up through the vast Peten emptiness through Sayaxche on up to Flores
Check out the international breakfast meeting-place at Doña Luisa’s in Antigua Guatemala.
If you can convince the Travel Gods to sanction the Belize side-dish then head on over to the Caribbean coast (when I first drove across the Guate-Belize border the two countries were still technically at war, although that didn’t seem to impede progress across the border too seriously.) A boat chartered from Belize City will allow a post-jungle wind-down with some of the most extraordinary snorkelling and scuba diving in the world across the Belize Barrier Reef with some of the 500-or-so less well-known cayes on up North to Ambergris Caye almost on the border with Mexico.
If those Travel Gods are really indulgent, while you’re there add a side-dish of the Yucatán peninsula: Cancún and Cozumel by all means, but also the pyramids of Chichén Itzá, the sculptures of Ek Balam and Uxmal, not forgetting the rich colonial history of Mérida.
Very difficult to beat.
With 100 or so of the 1,200 coral islands of the Maldives now developed as tourist resorts there is an ever-changing pecking order amongst the luxury island resorts competing for the latest spa treatment, room design and relaxation regime.
Soneva’s low-impact, high luxury profile ticked all our boxes and with three direct 10-hour flights from London to Malé per week that leave at 6pm and arrive at 10am the next morning (local time is 4 hours ahead of the UK) and a fun 30-minute seaplane flight taking you directly over to the atoll it’s really an easier trip than a flit over to Majorca.
Site of probably the most relaxing 4-5 weeks of our married life, children in tow too.
Botswana? Yes, absolutely: Botswana! BA, Virgin or SAA fly overnight from London to Johannesburg and then a 2-hour connecting flight the next morning up from Jo’burg to Maun gets you in to the heart of the Okavanga. Then, the world’s your oyster with camps like Chitabe, Sandibe, or Abu, take your pick to follow game, riverine or birding life and standards of traditional luxury from “jolly comfy” to full-blown “luxe”.
Head over to Chobe for the mainline game safari experience. Enjoy the luxury of the Savute Elephant Camp, and take a couple of days on the Zambezi Queen and go on up to the Victoria Falls.
But don’t stop there – head down to the eery moonlike aridity of the Makgadikgadi and enjoy the meerkat of Jack’s Camp or be astounded by Baines’ Baobabs from Nxai Pan Camp.
There’s no need to try to do it all at once, leaving a few stones unturned is all the reason you should need to return – a few times. It gets easier every time, but never less exciting. Is that a hippo? Yes, it very probably is. And some of the happiest, most welcoming, generous-hearted people in the world too. Why not tarry awhile in SA en route too?
Easy to combine with a stop in Cape Town to take in a couple of days of Test cricket to make life perfect (the Proteas take on Australia in their fifth ODI at Newlands in October 2016, or Sri Lanka are there for a Test in January 2017…)