France is, officially, a secular republic where the burqa and niqab are banned and girls can’t wear hijabs at school. And yet of the 19 public holidays in France in 2019, 14 are Christian festivals . Of the rest, three have to do with war and revolution, one with work and the last, hangovers.


The Cadbury family were Quakers. They built a model village for their workforce in Bournville with Arts & Crafts houses, modern interiors and gardens which had sheds, lawns and at least one fruit tree. Workers were encouraged to swim, walk, garden and play sport. Heartbreaking to learn that Cadbury is now part of Kraft (Monsanto).


I marched with an estimated 670,000 others who think Brexit will be economically, politically, morally and socially disastrous (it’s already costing £440 MILLION a week)…  Whatever deal is reached, its impact will be negative and far-reaching. Time to stand up against the arrogance of politicians, the lies, the cynical manipulation.


A German-Chilean nanotechnology researcher from University College London joined the march because “the climate towards immigrants such as myself has become terrible.”  Hostile environments & open racism have already caused many to leave the country.  Figures show a 96% fall in the number of nurses registering to work in the U.K.


On just one street in London, at various points in history, lived George Eliot, Turner, Sylvia Pankhurst, Bertrand Russell, Laurence Olivier, Ian Fleming, Bram Stoker and Mick Jagger. And TS Eliot, Rossetti, Lloyd George and George Best.  And Isambard Kingdom Brunel. And Roman Abramovich. And so so many more…


Weaving my way around childhood heartlands,  I’m excited to find a Renée Macintosh studio, Tudor chimney pots, the Moravian burial ground where once a lion cub played, the wall of London’s largest private garden, scores of blue plaques – and a house designed by Walter Gropius (founder of The Bauhaus School). Gosh.


In this part of London you might once have bumped into the creators of Winnie the Pooh and Gormenghast, the director of Oliver! & a great cookery writer or two.  The Franco-Russian-Jewish-Polish-Ethiopian-German, utterly British Peter Ustinov lived in Redcliffe Gardens. His father held a meeting in their flat in 1938 that might have averted WW2, only the British decided it could be a trap.


Though a founding member, poet Hugh MacDiarmid was expelled from the National Party of Scotland (a forerunner of the SNP) for being a communist and from the Communist Party for being a nationalist. He called the Scots vernacular “an inchoate Marcel Proust – a Dostoevskian debris of ideas – an inexhaustible quarry of subtle and significant sound.”


When The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against a novelist for a work of fiction and “those involved in its publication”. Bookshops were bombed and a Japanese translator murdered.  30 years on, children wear Hate Rushdie hats and people still carry Kill Rushdie banners. 


Trampolining under a waning Harvest moon, Orion’s belt and Mars clearly visible. September, but still dark at 7am. Days noticeably shorter, yet hot.  Neighbourhood blissfully quiet. Soon the neighbours will be out, maniacally taming nature with noisy machines and power tools, like a scene from Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle.


Around 200,000 illegitimate children were fathered by German soldiers in France during WW2.  Many of their mothers, heads shaved, were paraded naked through the streets, or jailed as traitors.  “In France,” says one such war child “everyone was a collaborator until April 1944; then they all became resistance fighters….”


A spaniel shot out and sank its teeth into my jeans.  In France, owners pay up to 1500€ for pedigree labradors, retrievers or spaniels only to use them as guard dogs.  This one had been badly mistreated, then chained up for a year. The owners have bought a bulldog to keep him company.


The man appointed to be Brexit secretary admitted recently he ‘hadn’t quite understood the full extent’ to which trade is reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.  Speaking at an event on Brexit and the tech industry, Dominic Raab only now seems to understand Brexit will cause border delays. And has resigned.


In the wake of Trump’s Fake News, sales of Orwell’s 1984 (written in the 1940s) have soared.  Winston Smith’s job at the Ministry of Truth is to falsify back-numbers of The Times, so deliberate untruths eventually become facts. “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”


Yesterday I was reminded of the genius of Hergé in a huge airplane hangar near Toulouse, currently hosting the exhibition “Tintin et ses Avions”.  The energy and humour, adventure and danger with which the Belgian cartoonist filled thousands of frames continues to delight generations of avid readers across the globe.


On a roll with good reads. In Adventures in Human Being GP Gavin Francis weaves ancient and modern, literature & medical science, nature & anatomy, anecdote, cartography and illustration.  Horizon-gazing while peering down a microscope, a kind of da Vinci-an, polymath way of describing our bodies and how they function (or fail).


Stanley Tucci, one of my favourite actors, has turned his hand to directing with Final Portrait, a film about Giacometti and the tortuous, frustrating, beautiful, often chaotic process of creating.  The sculptor’s brother Diego says “my brother can only be happy when he’s uncomfortable. In every part of his life.”


Maira Kalman, ironic, iconic, quirky, witty, melancholy, optimistic, colourful, a gifted artist who finds humour in the mundane and the historical: “If you want to understand [America] and its people and what it means to be optimistic and complex and tragic and wrong and courageous, you need to go to [Thomas Jefferson’s] home in Virginia. Monticello.”


Son resists my choice of film due to possible educational content. He has a point.  Films currently by the DVD player cover: German Collective Guilt; genocide seen through the lens of Sebastiao Salgado; showing how perilous it can be for children in some countries to get to school and a film offering solutions to the world’s ecological, economical and social problems…


The French writer, painter and psychoanalyst Françoise Cloarec introduced me to Séraphine Louis, orphaned at 7, a domestic servant, & eccentric, visionary primitive self-taught artist who used a strange concoction of wax, blood and plants to paint canvases secretly, by candlelight. Admitted for “chronic psychosis” she died in a lunatic asylum and was buried in a common grave.