The chocolate question

The chocolate question

A boy is presented with a new aspect of chocolate when he meets a rare species: a child who may at some point have been permitted to eat as much of it as they wanted.  He is duly impressed. “It’s got every sort of chocolate you can think of,” I went on: “soft...
Secret nests

Secret nests

In a happy childhood, such secret nests can be a place of enchantment and magic, a place to escape the grown up world for a while.  I still like the idea of cosy places in nature or in a rambling old house; where you can take supplies of chocolate and biscuits, with...
A life-loving syllabus

A life-loving syllabus

What a teacher, this god who exhales perfumes and offers to impart his knowledge of nature’s flourishing.  And what a syllabus: “I am the genius of clouds and sunshine,” answered Frey; and as he spoke, the essences of a hundred perfumes were exhaled...
What makes a place secret?

What makes a place secret?

Like many children, the characters in Ransome’s books have a refreshing way of stripping things down to essentials.   ‘This isn’t a secret place,’ said the boy. ‘Any place is secret if nobody else is there.’  See another comment on the nature of secrets. ...
I was loved!

I was loved!

After spending most of her childhood exiled in Siberia, much of it as a half-starved orphan, Maria is finally rescued by a distant aunt who takes her in and gives her a loving home for the first time in her life. “Oh my little birdie …” my aunt would...
A bouquet of kindness

A bouquet of kindness

This Russian writer remembers moments in her harsh Siberian childhood where someone showed passing kindness and in so doing, made her and her sister feel they were recognised as human beings.  Coming as they did from a family of political exiles, in a system where the...
The urge to play

The urge to play

This excerpt from an interview with a Russian writer brought up in Siberia, due to the political exile of her parents, demonstrates the child’s deep need to play and the imagination which led her to create her own dolls, despite poverty, exclusion and general...
Freedom from alarms

Freedom from alarms

One of the joys of leaving a job is the growing awareness that waking becomes a natural process, rather than an aural shock.  This doesn’t necessarily mean waking late, just naturally, and I still get up as early as I ever did, about six in the winter and five...
Ice-cream walk

Ice-cream walk

A lovely moment on a children’s walk – I like how they follow the instructions with such verve; meeting a boy selling ice-cream, they stop him and practically buy up his stock. Also can’t resist the inevitable pun that comes of combining...
Begin with breakfast

Begin with breakfast

Wondering how best to get this bright new year off to a good start?  Follow this sound advice from the Swallows & Amazons family.   I got up early to make what I thought were muffins until, having liberally adapted the recipe, I realized it was meant to be for...
Seven steps to heaven

Seven steps to heaven

Now I know why it’s called ‘seventh’ heaven – it takes only seven steps to get there. I stumbled upon this revelation while doing the Spring Circular, the 10km round robin walk with which I’ve been savouring the season’s renewal. A...
A new sparkling world

A new sparkling world

As winter is ushered out the door ever earlier and the last of the snow visible on the Jura melts, I wave goodbye to it with this magical moment. Snow may become something of a rarity in a warming world.In any case, do not make yourself hurry.’But Dorothea could...
Small boy, large mind

Small boy, large mind

A lyrical description of a boy’s realisation that the world is a tiny pebble compared to the stars he is learning to observe. He swings from an awareness of our insignificence to the fact that he has something vast to commend him: knowledge and understanding....
People just like us

People just like us

At the height of the Cold War when Westerners were facing down Russians and vice versa, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa got it into their heads to hop over to the Soviet Union to see for themselves. Visiting three Soviet republics, they finally concluded that the...
A thought on childhood

A thought on childhood

According to his biographer John Drury, the English poet George Herbert ‘thought that it was better being a child than an adult’, perhaps confirmed by the simple closing line to his poem ‘Holy Baptism (II)’, comprising three diamond-shaped...
My kind of civilization

My kind of civilization

You can spend a lot of time thinking about civilization and whether it has a future, but defining it isn’t so straightforward.  Or is it? This definition works for me, particularly on a hot summer’s day in a piazza in Italy. Or anywhere.Favourite flavours...
The blue bow

The blue bow

One evening I had supper in an Italian restaurant in Beijing. A family came in, Spanish: a pretty wife, a smiley husband and a girl of about eight. She sat with her back to me which allowed me to see the beautiful big blue bow in her hair. Then she looked around at me...

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