23 October 2020 (Friday)
A cold-water swim in Camps Bay – floating in the flat, milky water and staring up at the blue sky and the salt haze, feeling that perfect moment when all thinking stops.
22 October 2020 (Thursday)
The contrast between walking from the sunshine into the cool shade of a tree. The relief, and the realisation that in this world of heat and glare there are pools of shade and cool and refuge, and that even when they disappear, they will come back again.
21 October 2020 (Wednesday)
Looking down from the canopy walkway onto the tops of trees. There is nothing that gives me such delight, such a sense of being let in on a peaceful, sun-washed sight that I wasn’t meant to see, as looking at the tops of trees.
20 October 2020 (Tuesday)
I was talking to someone very close to me, and discovered that she once went to a Big Lebowski-themed fancy dress party dressed as the rug that tied the room together. That delighted me. (Bonus delight: she also once went to an 80s party dressed as a Rubik’s Cube. Apparently a drawback of being a Rubik’s Cube is it’s impossible to sit down.)
19 October 2020 (Monday)
Watching someone sit alone, drinking a cup of tea and reading a book. The absorption, the self-sufficiency and wholeness. It’s perfectly delightful to observe.
18 October 2020 (Sunday)
A warm croissant in my living room with strawberry jam and a good cheese and hot coffee.
17 October 2020 (Saturday)
A day of delights: the smell of honey rising from the fynbos on the Hermanus cliffpath; the mother whale and her calf drifting continentally a few metres from the shore; the frozen Bellini at Lizette’s Kitchen on 8th Street; walking a good ten kilometres or so after a week with too much work and not enough movement; listening to David Rintoul reading the surprisingly funny misadventures of Hans Castorp in The Magic Mountain on the drive back to the city (four hours down; 33 hours still to go).
16 October 2020 (Friday)
Some of my greatest delights are coincidences. Today I watched The Women (George Cukor, 1939), which is a pure delight and in which Rosalind Russel says of Joan Crawford: “She’s a beazel!” What’s a beazel, I wondered? Actually, I didn’t wonder – the meaning was pretty clear from the context – but it struck me that I hadn’t heard the word beazel before. Straight after finishing The Women, I watched another film, one I have been meaning to watch for years, and which I selected randomly. It was Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges, 1941), which was just as much of a pure delight. Around halfway through, Joel McCrae says to Veronica Lake, who is disguised as a boy, that her disguise won’t fool anyone. She replies, using a word – “frail” – that was once 20s slang for a young girl, but Burrows the valet correcst her:
SULLIVAN TO THE GIRL: You look about as much like a boy as Mae West.
THE GIRL: All right, they’ll think I’m your frail.
BURROWS: I believe it’s called a “beazel”, miss, if memory serves.
Two uses of the word “beazel”! In quick succession! Is that the coincidence? No! I decided to look up the etymology of the word beazel – it’s old flapper slang for a girl who is prepared to proceed to a stage beyond mere flirtation – and in the very first article about it, i discover that the first two cinematic uses of the word “beazel” (and the only ones, until The Women was remade in 1956), were in The Women and Sullivan’s Travels. Does this astonish and delight you as much as it does me? Probably not. Coincidences are like dreams – they are only astonishing, interesting and delightful to the person having them. But that is my delight for today.
15 October 2020 (Thursday)
I have been in the same apartment since the beginning of lockdown, almost seven months, which is the longest I have spent in any one place in the last several years. I moved today, packed up my suitcase, packed the books I have accumulated, and moved to another apartment, where I will be for a much shorter time. And the apartment I have been in has been lovely – almost perfect, in fact – and the apartment I am in now doesn’t please me nearly so much, but just the physical act of movement, of packing and movement, provides an energy that is inseparable from joy.
14 October 2020 (Wednesday)
I had too much work to take any time off, so I took the afternoon off and sat under a tree on Bree Street and drank beer and champagne in the warm air and watched the sun go down, and that was a delight.
13 October 2020 (Tuesday)
Spring is measured on the mountainside by the ticking of an inscrutable flower clock, that shows itself in colours rather than sounds. Some while ago the flowers of the hillside were yellow, then they were orange. Today I see the clock has moved to purple.
12 October 2020 (Monday)
My mind felt boiled and over-strained and tired and dull, so I walked along a footpath on the side of Signal Hill and lay down in some long grass under a tree and stared up at the blue sky and watched faint wisps of white cloud passing very high, so diaphanous I could see more blue sky on the other side of them.
11 October 2020 (Sunday)
When you finish the third six-hour story-conference day in a row, and you walk out into the last sunlight of the weekend, and there is still some golden light touching the sandstone crest of the mountain, and the sea is layers of silver-blue atop darker blue, and there are birds singing and the air is cool and fresh – that is an honest delight.
10 October 2020 (Saturday)
When, halfway through the fourth hour of the second six-hour story-conference call in two days, you figure out how to stop everyone endlessly talking around in circles, without even using any swearwords, that is what will have to pass for a delight.
9 October 2020 (Friday)
When you can turn a six-hour story-conference call into a five-hour story-conference call, because you are the one running the story-conference call, that is a delight.
8 October 2020 (Thursday)
The shade under the trees on Government Avenue, as you walk through the Company Gardens, is green and cool. There is something specifically restful about the shade there.
7 October 2020 (Wednesday)
The yellow flowers that covered the hillside two or three weeks ago are all gone. They are like the Japanese sakura, or cherry blossoms. They are beautiful but fleeting, and their beauty is tied to their fleetingness, and their transience is what makes them so precious. It seems odd to say that the flowers disappearing is my delight, but it is so.
6 October 2020 (Tuesday)
After a warm walk on the hillside through the sudden long grass of early summer, and between the fallen trees from the storm – to return home and drink an ice-cold beer.
5 October 2020 (Monday)
A vase of spring flowers in my sitting room. The purple that is something other than purple, the orange that isn’t so much orange as it is the centre of a flame, the yellow like sun-enriched butter.
4 October 2020 (Sunday)
An afternoon spent with friends, in which I laughed a lot. Laughing with friends is a purest delight.
3 October 2020 (Saturday)
Some walks are worthwhile just in themselves. They are restful and give you access to beauty and to the rhythms of your body and of your species, but other walks are good for thinking or talking things through and solving a problem. The solution always comes not on the walk out, but the walk back, and it it doesn’t come as a Eureka, it comes like something you’ve already thought of but have forgotten, or like something so obvious you think you must surely already have considered it. Today on my walk I solved a problem.
2 October 2020 (Friday)
In my Greek lesson tonight I discovered that the Greek word for weather is precisely the same as the word for time. This was baffling and alarming (how will someone know whether I’m asking if they have time for a drink, or the weather for a drink?) and a little delightful, and it made me curious. I have now discovered that in many other languages, including Vietnamese, the words for weather and time are intertwined. This is also true, if you look carefully enough, of English. (The word “season” originally meant the right time to do something, and the meaning devolved to mean the season of the year – ie. the right time to sow, to reap, to lie fallow. Weather is the specific day-to-day condition that it makes it the correct season).
In ancient Greek there were two words for time: Kairos (time as a generality) and Xronos (the correct time to do something). Xronos was the equivalent of the earlier English meaning of “season” (and its more granular relation, “weather”), but in modern Greek it has dropped away and Kairos now takes on both sets of meaning. So the word for weather and the word for time are quite logically the same. Does this delight you? It delights me.
(Also, I would imagine for parents in the Western Cape, stuck indoors in this wind without being able to go outside, “weather” would be especially synonymous with “time” right now.)
1 October 2020 (Thursday)
There was a crushing disappointment yesterday in the realisation that although the international airports have nominally been opened, it will be almost impossible to leave, and the flights I had booked to Lisbon – where I have an apartment paid and waiting for the months of December and January – might not ever take off. But after the first fast wave of frustration and annoyance, there grew a calm and steely will to find a way out, whether through Rwanda or Windhoek or Nairobi, through Addis Ababa or stowing away in the leaky lifeboat of a Taiwanese trawler. There was a quiet satisfaction in the knowledge that life finds a way, and that I still have regained the will to be led by life.
30 September 2020 (Wednesday)
A cold front comes in to the Western Cape, and it fills me with delight to have experienced an old-fashioned Cape winter again, a rainy, chilly, sunny, cloudy. intermittent Cape winter, like i remember them being years ago. After the last dry years of winter being a kind of half-hearted limbo, it feels wonderful to experience real weather again, real seasons.
29 September 2020 (Tuesday)
I have been learning Greek since the beginning of lockdown, at a rate of half an hour a day. Today I watched Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (2009), which is a weird and unsettling and quite remarkable film, but at a moment halfway through I suddenly jumped and yelled, “She just said, ‘Unfortunately I have to leave!’ ” Of course, I could see that in the subtitles, and of course, I had identified words here and there, but it was the first full sentence I had understood without the subtitles. When you are learning a language, there is a rich delight in spotting a full sentence in the wild.
28 September 2020 (Monday)
I wrote the first column that I have written in five months. When you don’t write columns you forget how to write columns, which is to say the column no longer writes itself, you have to write it. The words come out lumpen and without light or lightness and there is no music in the writing. It was a terrible column. Normally a column takes me an hour, perhaps two, but this one took four days, and they were unhappy, defeatist, self-disgusted days. I wanted to stop but I didn’t, or at least when I did I later started again, and the delight isn’t with the column I wrote – it’s a terrible column – but with the fact that I wrote it, that it’s finished.
27 September 2020 (Sunday)
After a long weekend of feeling grizzly and shut-in – a walk around sunset with my favourite companion on the side of the mountain, with the fresh green foliage and the cold water running down in streams and rivulets from higher, and the slanting dusk sun making the city look more beautiful than any city deserves to look. It was a relief and a delight.
26 September 2020 (Saturday)
Listening to Esther Perel talking about relationships, and feeling that warm glow that comes when someone says something you have long privately thought, but now you are hearing it said aloud by someone else for the first time and realising with relief that it sounds even more true than when you were thinking it.
25 September 2020 (Friday)
Being indoors in the rain, and finally giving up the attempt to work, and surrendering to a long, good book.
24 September 2020 (Thursday)
There are some days – and this is not necessarily to say anything too negative – when the most delightful thing is getting into bed at the end of it.
23 September 2020 (Wednesday)
As I was circling the block, just beginning to darkly glower about the fact that there’s no parking to be had downtown any more, unlike the glorious days of lockdown, a car pulled out of the bay right in front of me, and right in front of the lunch restaurant.
22 September 2020 (Tuesday)
On a bright, warm spring day all the greens were very green and the flowers were very bright and all the people I encountered were all friendly and happy and chatty. On the hillside path behind my apartment block there were three old people sitting on the grassy bank among the flowers like a trio from an Impressionist painting. They were eating sandwiches and sipping tea from a flask and enjoying a picnic. We greeted them as we passed and the old lady waved jovially. “Come join the party!” she said.
21 September 2020 (Monday)
Friendly Siebert drove out from Langebaan to start my car and I drove home on the open road in the bright sunshine at a time when I was scheduled to be in a weekly story meeting, and it felt like a gift and delight to be given this time outside of the usual routine, to be free and moving with salt still on my skin and sky high and wide above.
20 September 2020 (Sunday)
Supposed to be driving home at 5 but an unexpected flat car battery meant another night, which was time enough for a sunset swim in the lagoon with two seventeen-year-olds girls who I love very much, and their delightful friend, and a competition to see who could stay in longest which ended in the utter darkness beneath a sickle-moon, after an hour, with an honourable draw.
19 September 2020 (Saturday)
A walk along the lagoon’s edge, poking at hermit crabs with my toes in the clear edge-water, discovering whelks and prawns in the shallows, swimming out towards a a mirage of white flamingos.
18 September 2020 (Friday)
The diaphonous light on the Langebaan lagoon, seen from Churchhaven. The shades of milky blue on the water, as though seen through a sheer screen of silk, followed by the unending chirping of birds and the nighttime calling of an owl.
17 September 2020 (Thursday)
Two muscular fresh oysters that taste of the sea and rock pools and salt and iodine, touched with pickled chopped red onions and a squeeze of lemon, washed down not with champagne but with a cold crisp beer.
16 September 2020 (Wednesday)
This is the first time in a long time that I have been in one place long enough to notice the changes of the seasons. The fiery-necked nightjar who was calling outside my window for two months has vanished, and each night suddenly there is a chirping chorus of tree-frogs.
15 September 2020 (Tuesday)
Since the last time I walked on the slope of Signal Hill behind my apartment block, the spring flowers have come out, and today there were hillsides of yellow flowers turned toward the sun, and purple and orange flowers, and tiny white daisies. It felt like walking through an alpine meadow.
14 September 2020 (Monday)
At 8 this morning I went down to Camps Bay to float in the water for half an hour. I am told there are some physical and psychological benefits to cold swimming, and I am interested in discovering them for myself, but what delighted me afterwards, driving home with salt water in my hair, shirtless and barefoot, with shining eyes and fingers that couldn’t quite turn the key in the ignition without the assistance of the other hand, was the knowledge that I had stood with my feet in the 9-degree water, with grey clouds and rain overhead, and instead of walking back out I had walked forward. There is a powerful delight in doing something you don’t want to do, and perhaps didn’t think you could do. You think: Oh, I can do that. I can do it again. I wonder what else I can do.
13 September 2020 (Sunday)
The music of Ennio Morricone while the rain rattles the window and there is a smell of frying onions and garlic and black pepper and the lights are yellow and warm.
12 September 2020 (Saturday)
Taking one of my oldest and dearest friends on his first walk on the mountainside and being able to show him the mountain water and the green slopes and the city from above and the ocean a flat blue like a Japanese print.
11 September 2020 (Friday)
I have been for a while at a house in the countryside and drive back to the city this morning. I love it here and have no urgent desire or reason to be in the city – besides seeing some friends – but I woke with a lightness and an excitement this morning, because of the prospect of going somewhere. Motion is a principle in itself, one that not everyone thrills to, but which causes me great delight.
(The pleasure of packing, with Johnny Cash playing, and puttering about, thinking happily about the work you cam’t possibly be expected to do now, because you have to get ready to be in motion.)
10 September 2020 (Thursday)
On a cloudy morning, a good cup of coffee and the music of Burt Bacharach.
9 September 2020 (Wednesday)
It is the 140th birthday of the church in the village where I am staying. The bells are also 140 tears old, and chime on the hour and once, briefly, on the half-hour. It is a delight to be working or reading on the sofa, in the drowsy afternoon, and to look up at the sound of the bells that have been chiming just like that while generations have come and gone.
8 September 2020 (Tuesday)
A walk through onion fields in the evening after the heat of the day has faded and the sunlight is golden and there’s a cool breeze coming down from the mountains, when you haven’t worked hard but you’ve worked enough to enjoy the pleasure of stopping.
7 September 2020 (Monday)
When recent rains have moistened the soil sufficiently that when you pull out a weed the roots grip the ground just enough to give that satisfying feeling of resistance then submission to your god-like will.
6 September 2020 (Sunday)
A good deep bath on a Sunday night after a good weekend, turning my mind to the week ahead with high hopes and good intentions and the quiet optimism of starting again.
5 September 2020 (Saturday)
A wood fire and sleepily watching a horror movie with friends on a cold night.
4 September 2020 (Friday)
In Barrydale for a couple of weeks. Two friends drove up from Cape Town today to spend the weekend, and ordinarily hosting is a cause of vague anxiety, but the feeling of pleasure and happiness to see them arrive was a source of much genuine delight.
3 September 2020 (Thursday)
Listening to an audio book in a dark house lit with yellow candles through two hours of loadshedding, feeling disappointed when the lights came back on.
2 September 2020 (Wednesday)
The sensation of calm and clarity when your mind, which has been in some turmoil, finally settles again,
1 September 2020 (Tuesday)
A red bishop, feathers full and bright and ready for spring and for mating, perched on a single dangling twig outside the front door, seemingly floating in the air like a red, bird-shaped balloon.
31 August 2020 (Monday)
The green and old-gold robe that Alain Delon wears in Mr Klein (Joseph Losey, 1976). I want it but don’t know where to find it, but just knowing it once existed is delight enough for me. We don’t need to possess the things that give us delight.
30 August 2020 (Sunday)
The thrilling crispness of air that has touched snow before touching your face.
29 August 2020 (Saturday)
Packing to go away for a week. I have always known I feel joy when going away, at the prospect of sleeping somewhere else tonight, waking up somewhere else tomorrow, breathing other air, but this lockdown has honed and sharpened that appreciation into a keen edge, and has caused it to gleam as though oiled.
28 August 2020 (Friday)
The good strong winter rain and a cold evening, and an Agatha Christie mini-series to watch on the TV.
27 August 2020 (Thursday)
Swimming with seals in the cold green surging sea near Duiker Island, watching them swim around me trailing strings of silver bubbles, whiskers bristling, eyes wide as dogs.
26 August 2020 (Wednesday)
Signing a contract that caused me to open a bottle of champagne at 11.30am.
25 August 2020 (Tuesday)
As much as I dislike gym, and as many excellent reasons as I had for not going to gym today, still, I didn’t not go to gym today.
24 August 2020 (Monday)
There is a mongoose living on the hillside below my apartment block. I was watching it and it scampered into some long grass and poked its head up to look at me, like a meerkat.
23 August 2020 (Sunday)
Driving down the West Coast highway, I looked to the left and saw first one then two and three giraffes.
22 August 2020 (Saturday)
I went to an outdoor screening of some short films at a friend’s house, and the films were lovely and the company was good and at one point I tilted back my head and looked up at the bright crisp clean stars directly above. We do not, it feels, look enough at stars.
21 August 2020 (Friday)
Last year, living in an apartment in Istanbul, over the space of two hot, airless summer’s days just before the election, with the help of a good woman and doses of illicit Ritalin scored from a shifty-eyed Turk off the Istiklal Caddesi, I plotted out an eight-part crime series, which subsequently sold to a German distributor. Today I wrote “Cut To Black” on the final page of the final episode. It’s only the first draft of the series that’s finished – there are still two drafts to come – so it’s not the end, but it’s the end of the hard part. Normally when finishing a big project it’s a relief, not a delight, but this is a delight, because I think I have done a good job.
20 August 2020 (Thursday)
The mist was thick this evening, just at sunset, walking on the road that runs around the mountain. It felt like walking through time and heather and into Brigadoon. In the west the mist and cloud thinned enough to show the sun as first a white disk, then glowing orange and red as the mist thinned, then back to white as it thickened again, and the disk sank into the fog and the sea. The birds were singing louder than usual and the lights of the city below gleamed in the gloaming. I have never seen the city like that before. It was beautiful.
19 August 2020 (Wednesday)
Playing a general knowledge quiz against 40 strangers, and winning. It’s definitely true that winning isn’t everything, and that merely competing is its own reward. Very true. But if it’s delight you’re after, you really do need to win.
18 August 2020 (Tuesday)
After the rain, the mountainside runs with silver rushing waterfalls, the water falling from tiny ledge to ledge down the sheer face, throwing of sprays or drops and haze.
17 August 2020 (Monday)
A proper cold daytime winter’s storm, with rain on the daylight panes and a snow-touched wind and lying on the afternoon bed reading something interesting and feeling lucky and happy.
16 August 2020 (Sunday)
An eagle – or perhaps a hawk, I am no good at birds – came gliding over the ridge of the mountain, too near a place where two crows have a roost. First one crow then both the crows went out to meet it, and I watched as they harried and harrassed it high into the sky, their black bellies darting and buzzing at its white belly,. They chased it far away and then came gliding back – one to the nest, the other turning and turning high in the sky, keeping watch.
15 August 2020 (Saturday)
I am struggling with a plot, how to structure the final episode of an intricate crime series. I was defeated by it, it felt as though i was sitting with my face pressed up against a blank stone wall, and remembered the advice I always tell others: take a walk. I walked in the cold wind beside the green sea and looked at the birds skimming off the breaking waves, and felt that mysterious miracle, to the rhythm of my steps, of the shape of the idea taking form in my head, who knows from where, or how?
14 August 2020 (Friday)
I am always delighted by coincidences, especially when they come in cascades, like dominoes. Last night I watched The Aviator, Scorcese’s biopic of Howard Hughes. In bed afterwards I finished reading Frank Wynne’s I Was Vermeer, an account of Hans van Meegeren, who he declared to be “the greatest art forgery of the 20th century”. It was late by now and time to sleep, but newly re-interested in the subject of art forgery, I started watching Orson Welles’ F for Fake, knowing nothing about it, to discover that it was a documentary he made about Elmyr de Hory, whom he called “the greatest art forger of the 20th century”. Not much coincidence there – a book led me to a documentary in the same overall genre – but a key character in the documentary is one Clifford Irving, who was a neighbour of de Hory’s on Ibiza and wrote a book about him called Fake!, but who then, a few short years later, became famous the world over for faking the autobiography of … Howard Hughes. A neat little circle, but the coincidence falls more fully into place this morning when I take my morning walk and listen to the latest episode of one of my favourite podcasts, Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History. I knew nothing of the content before it began, but it was about … Clifford Irving and his fake autobiography of Howard Hughes.
13 August 2020 (Thursday)
The Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos has passed away. This, from an obituary, rather delights me: “He was against everybody, mainly the establishment, and also all ideologies of the left and right. He was grumpy and kind.”
12 August 2020 (Wednesday)
I went into a bookstore and found a book I have been looking for.
11 August 2020 (Tuesday)
A friend arrived at my door at 7pm, delighted because she had been to a restaurant in town and had summoned up her courage to ask the question, and had been rewarded by being served wine in a tea-pot. I was delighted by her delight.
10 August 2020 (Monday)
I am learning Greek, and at times it feels like getting into a boxing ring for the first time. A few days ago I was a little disconsolate about ever being any good at it. Today’s lesson was hard and came at me fast, and it was landing body blows and swinging for my head, but suddenly, unexpectedly, it felt as though I could take the blows, and I could roll with some of them and even start to throw some punches back. It feels the way it does when you train enough at something to take a step forward, when you break past the first barrier and suddenly on the other side of it some things that were very hard have become easy, and that frees you up to run forward into the next barrier, when things become very hard again. It’s exhilarating to be learning something new, to feel the expanding and contracting rhythms of struggle and mastery.
9 August 2020 (Sunday)
It’s wet and grey and the sky moves between grey-bright and silver-dark and it’s the perfect day to be indoors and watching Visconti’s Death in Venice, surely the most beautiful film ever shot, and the best portrait of Venice with its water and soft stone and watery light, and its Mahler music and its exquisite textures and its sadness and beauty and plague.
8 August 2020 (Saturday)
Today I was invited to join a group of people I don’t know very well for a weekend at Burgh Island Hotel, on the small island just off the south coast of Devon, in January next year. It’s the island where Agatha Christie stayed and where she set Evil Under the Sun. I have always wanted to visit it but this invitation is purely coincidental. It fills me with the thrill of invitation, and the thrill of discovery, and the deep joy of suddenly, unexpectedly being able to look forward to something specific that I have never done before. I don’t know if the borders will open by then; I’ll swim there if necessary.
7 August 2020 (Friday)
A swim in the clear, cold, Camps Bay ocean. I had forgotten how it wakes you up and restores you, and makes you ready to live again.
I have been going to a coffee shop for the past week or so. Today the owner came up and introduced herself and thanked me for the help and support, and shook my hand. It was the first time in four months someone has offered to shake my hand. Two adults, meeting each other, shaking hands. It was a delight.
Sundowners on the rocks with friends, and the sun setting over the purple sea, and people all around, laughing and talking, and some people on a different rock celebrating someone’s birthday, and the gorgeous, heady feeling of people living their lives again.
6 August 2020 (Thursday)
I had a Zoom call with two other people, in which we were intensely discussing a story idea. Shortly after the call began, my WiFi connection started playing up and their images froze and I could only make out an average of one word in three. I considered stopping the call, but then we would just have to have the call some other time, and the only thing worse than a call right now is a call that’s hovering in the future, so I just carried on, guessing what they had just said then saying something of my own. Forty-five minutes later, the call ended. Apparently it was a good call, and we sorted out many important issues.
5 August 2020 (Wednesday)
Just before dawn there was a bright morning star glimmering above the orange horizon in the east, and for an unthinking, happy moment I thought it was an aeroplane, and that everything was free again, that people could come and go.
4 August 2020 (Tuesday)
After the rain the sea and the sky were a flat two-dimensional plane of shades of silver and grey, and the island looked like a patch of scuffed water. In the cold, crisp air, the world was etched on a plate of tin and pewter.
3 August 2020 (Monday)
I am listening to a podcast called Tunnel 29, about an extraordinary attempt to dig a tunnel under the Berlin Wall, from West to East. For months on end, a group of fellows – who were themselves free, who had no need to escape or to risk themselves – dug in eight-hour shifts, lying flat on their backs in the very close, suffocating darkness, digging with their feet. It’s a thrilling podcast, an extraordinary story told grippingly and well, and that is cause enough for delight, but what really gave me the thrill of joy today was the thought that always there are people who are brave and ingenious and who risk themselves for no more selfish reason than the deep satisfaction of defying unjust authority. It thrills me to know that whatever else we humans may be, we are also at times splendid.
2 August 2020 (Sunday)
Sharing a bottle of wine with my mother who, like some 1920s bootlegging Ma Baker, has gone off on her own and sourced it from a wine estate.
1 August 2020 (Saturday)
A bright springtime field of orange daisies growing between the empty winter vines of our vineyard in Barrydale, a delight to the eyes, and a delight to be reminded that seasons overlap, that there is new life blooming while the old is still dying.
31 July 2020 (Friday)
Lazing like a lizard in the long warm golden sunset, lounging on a rock on the side of a mountain with a friend and several beers produced from a backpack.
30 July 2020 (Thursday)
I went through a closet of my clothes, and threw out most of them, including some items I have been wearing for 30 years. It is a feeling of movement and lightness and, increasingly, a feeling of delight.
29 July 2020 (Wednesday)
Someone close to me received good news today. It was news about a job, money, but it doesn’t really matter what the news was about. It feels as though it has been so long since anyone had good news, just the act of receiving good news was delight enough.
28 July 2020 (Tuesday)
I finally found a place where I can work, where I could sit happily all this morning and drink coffee and occasionally order food, and look up at the lovely jade waves breaking onto the smooth sand.
27 July 2020 (Monday)
I decided over the weekend that I would learn to identify more birds by their calls. By “more”, I mean birds other than owls and sea gulls and hadedas. I don’t know exactly how to develop this skill, but small victories should be celebrated and I can tell you that I have just, after some detective work and some searching, identified my first bird by its call. Somewhere on the hillside outside my apartment is a Fiery-Necked Nightjar, just sitting and calling in the darkness.
26 July 2020 (Sunday)
A very long walk along a very long West Coast beach, with mussel shells crunching under my bare feet and the green cold sea which wasn’t as cold as at first I thought, and gulls finding whole mussels and carrying them into the air and dropping them on the hard sand to open them. A tennis ball on the water’s edge, which I kicked along for half an hour or so, then let it return to its natural habitat in the wild.
25 July 2020 (Saturday)
When you’re terribly hungover, and a delivery guy arrives with an order of lots and lots of ice cream.
24 July 2020 (Friday)
Finishing the work you have to do before lunch on a Friday, then deciding that you won’t do the work the work you should do.
23 July 2020 (Thursday)
There were good moments today, involving walking, reading, talking, planning, watching, listening, but probably the best moment of the day was when I didn’t listen to the address by the president, and did something else instead.
22 July 2020 (Wednesday)
I watched They Live by Night (1948), an old Nicholas Ray movie, which reminded me of a university friend with whom I haven’t spoken since university, and I messaged him out of the blue in Edinburgh, where he’s a professor in film studies, and we discussed Nicholas Ray movies for a while, just two old buddies shooting the breeze about Nicholas Ray, and that was a real delight.
21 July 2020 (Tuesday)
The same person has cut my hair for the past twenty-two years – even when I lived in a different city – except for a brief period when he had a midlife crisis and gave up haircutting in order to go live sustainably off the land. The good thing about people going off to live sustainably off the land is that it seldom lasts long. In those 22 years we have never had a conversation, I don’t think. He is the perfect haircutter, and with each snip today, I felt younger and happier.
20 July 2020 (Monday)
This photograph by William Egglestone, taken somewhere between 1971 and 1974, and titled “En route to New Orleans”. Look at the clean, thin, clarity of the air and the light, the bright starburst on the fold-down tray, the 70’s fabric on the seat back and how you can run your thumbnail along those ridges, the white clouds bobbing below on a blue sea of sky. You are aloft, you are going somewhere. You can feel the joyful, heart-dissolving, care-free weightlessness of the moment.
19 July 2020 (Sunday)
A 16-year-old girl whom I have known since she was four recently decided she wanted to listen to whole albums and asked me to suggest five of my favourites. Today she sent me a message saying how much she is loving one of them, and sent a picture of her and her sister listening to it. To have successfully recommended music to a sixteen-year-old isn’t just a miracle, it is a delight.
a drive out to the countryside with wine, listening to an audiobook of Woody Allen reading his autobiography.
18 July 2020 (Saturday)
I am about to leave on a five-hour walk in nature with my very best friend. There is a delight in the anticipation of leaving, the thought of what might be there and what might be seen and felt and talked about and resolved. There is a delight in knowing that for the next half a day at least, I will be in motion, going somewhere, that I will be in process toward a receding horizon. Moving – going – is a human need, and the delight I feel now is worth more than anything.
17 July 2020 (Friday)
In the past two weeks, four different mongooses have run across four different paths in front of me. Just one mongoose would have been delight enough, but four feels like a downright plethora. What do mongooses signify? Is there a culture in which a mongoose crossing your path is recognised as being good luck and fair fortune? I feel I should study that culture and learn its ways.
16 July 2020 (Thursday)
My first day in several weeks in which I didn’t have to make a business call or have a Zoom meeting. There is a freedom, a joy, a delight in waking to a day without a business call or a Zoom meeting. How sweet the air, how full and rich and ripe the hours.
15 July 2020 (Wednesday)
While walking on Tafelberg Road this evening, a man came jogging past me, accompanied by a dog with a speaker tied on its back, playing music like a four-legged boom-box. Normally, someone playing music on the mountain would annoy me, but a dog playing music on the mountain? That’s a delight.
14 July 2020 (Tuesday)
After the rains, the mountain is filled with the wooden-wind-chime chirrups of tree frogs.
13 July 2020 (Monday)
While the wind blew and the rain fell today I lay on the sofa, taking a break from work, and watched Robert Mitchum in Blood on the Moon, a very fine old noir Western, and it felt as good as life could be. Until I had to go back to work.
12 July 2020 (Sunday)
A long walk – very long, all the way to the top of the mountain – where we sheltered from the icy wind behind a rocky outcrop and tried to eat a meagre lunch – with very good friends, with opportunities for sharing personal news and shooting the breeze about impersonal things. It made me very happy, and made my legs hurt, which is also a good feeling.
Also: an hour after the President’s address I decided that I would try a month without social media, and just the decision filled me with hope and with contentment.
11 July 2020 ( Saturday)
A long Saturday lie-in in bed, reading a good book while the bright cold sunshine came in through the window. Knowing I have work to do and choosing not to do it is a good and liberating and delightful feeling.
10 July 2020 (Friday)
A long solitary walk on Tafelberg Road in the arctic wind and no one else around. The waterfalls cascading down the stone faces of the mountain. A mongoose ran across the road in front of me. The sea was the colour of a knife, except in the harbour, where it was a frozen green. Earlier this week I watched Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, which is eerie and unsettling, and the mountain loomed over me, humming and vibrating slightly, like some more impressive Hanging Rock.
9 July 2020 (Thursday)
I went to a coffee shop for the first time in months. I have never been one of those fellows who like working in coffee shops – I work better at home – but to sit there and tap away and be served a cup of coffee and to be able to look up and see people working or talking or just walking by – it was a deep and simple and profound delight.
8 July 2020 (Wednesday)
My cup of coffee this morning – the Royale, the first coffee of the day – was inexplicably good. What could be different? It’s the same ingredients, in the same proportions, as every day, yet today it tasted not just a little better, but unrecognisably better. It’s nice to think that for no good reason, on some days, something can just be unimaginably more delightful.
7 July 2020 (Tuesday)
I went to a high school to speak to the matrics. It has been a long time since I have had the delightful experience of making a joke and hearing a roomful of strangers laugh. It’s even better – because more difficult – to make a roomful of teenagers laugh. It was an hour of my life very well spent.
6 July 2020 (Monday)
By mid-morning most of the low-lying blanker of cloud had burnt off, and the mist was covering only the bay and the docks, where the tips of two cranes poked up from the white blanket like a pair of giraffes.
5 July 2020 (Sunday)
I watched Anatomy of a Murder (1948, Otto Preminger) tonight, which is one of the most thorough and authentic courtroom dramas ever made, but the real delight is the jazzy, sexy, finger-snapping score by Duke Ellington, who himself appears in a scene and swaps some lines with Jimmy Stewart.
4 July 2020 (Saturday)
It has been a very long time since I have managed to have an entire day without speaking. I used to schedule them, once a week, and keep to them, but in the past while it has become for one reason and another increasingly difficult. Today I woke in perfect silence and spent the day and went to sleep in perfect silence, and it was restorative and re-energising, and gave me time to spend with myself with my mind a pool instead of a stream.
3 July 2020 (Friday)
I have taken to having regular walks with a new friend, and we laugh a lot. It feels good to make a new friend when you’re older, someone who hasn’t heard all your jokes yet. And I like the increasing popularity of walking as a social activity.
2 July 2020 (Thursday)
The smell of onions and garlic in olive oil, softening in a pan, and an opened can of tomatoes standing nearby.
1 July 2020 (Wednesday)
I opened a book and found a bookmark made of cork, in the shape of a sardine, that I was given in Lisbon last December at the bookstore in Chiado. Anything shaped like a sardine is a delight, but it was a special delight to be unexpectedly reminded of that sunny cold day walking the hills, and the scowl of the grumpy cashier as she slipped it into my bag.
30 June 2020 (Tuesday)
Walking on the promenade and a large wave, a leftover from the storm surge, slapped itself against the sea wall and threw up a fine mist of sea. What can be more thrilling, more romantic than to have your drab everydayness brushed with ocean water that might once have touched the flukes of a whale or the belly of a shark, a mermaid’s tail or a pearl-clutching oyster, a giant clam or the hull of some deep-running submarine? Who knows where that water has been and what wonders might have passed through it, and here it is on my lips and eyelashes and cheek.
29 June 2020 (Monday)
Every Monday I have a story meeting with several colleagues, some of whom are friends. It is a good, useful, productive meeting. necessary for the writing and integration of storylines and for keeping the production of our television show running smoothly. It is good to check in with the people you work with and to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices and share ideas. We all grow and learn and become better because of these meetings. My delight today was that this meeting was cancelled.
28 June 2020 (Sunday)
The sight of a squirrel running through rain from one tree, along a low stone wall, and up into another tree, somehow carrying something that looked like but couldn’t have been an acorn. Do squirrels hibernate in the southern hemisphere? is it cold enough for that? Or do they just settle down into a long, lazy drowse until September?
27 June 2020 (Saturday)
Rain against the window and on the roof and running down stone.
26 June 2020 (Friday)
A walk around Rondebosch Common with a new friend;
the smell of lamb roasting, while sipping a fine, dry, fragrant gin and tonic.
25 June 2020 (Thursday)
I don’t know if you have had a prego roll from Fabrica do Prego in Sea Point, on Main Road in the Adelphi building, but it is without question the finest prego roll in the world.
24 June 2020 (Wednesday)
I went to drinks in a very elegant apartment with an older couple in my block. We sat on fine furniture and drank champagne and talked about this and that and ate finger snacks, and after 90 minutes it was over, and it all felt delightful and as though I had been for an hour and a half in a more lovely time.
23 June 2020 (Tuesday)
The delight, reminding me of being a child in school again, of going to bed tired after a full day and reading a few pages of a book and being unable to stop. Such a good, good guilt.
22 June 2020 (Monday)
A conversation on the phone with my favourite director in Los Angeles, in which I learnt more about stories and making stories than in the previous twenty years.
21 June 2020 (Sunday)
The effects of sun and cloud are dazzling at this time of the year. The sun lights up the steel-grey clouds from behind and breaks through in Renaissance shafts to fall on the steel water of the bay in a silver blaze like magnesium catching fire.
20 June 2020 (Saturday)
I decided on the spur of the moment this morning to fast for the day, to eat nothing until sundown. I have never done it before, but so many other people in the world do it as part of their religious traditions, and the motto of my school was Nihil Humani Alienum, so I gave it a go. It isn’t quite sundown yet, as I write this, and I have kept the fast, but I thought it might not be cheating on the fast if I had a 4.30 pm gin and tonic. I can report that the post-fast gin and tonic is one of the great delights I have discovered.
19 June 2020 (Friday)
I went to pick up a pizza at the end of the day, after a long week’s hard work and good work, and while I waited for the pizza to be prepared, I sat at the bar and ordered a beer and drank it. It was a such a small thing that we used to do all the time, but it was the first time I have done it in many weeks, and it was one of the best beers I have ever had.
18 June 2020 (Thursday)
A good walk and a laugh with a friend.
17 June 2020 (Wednesday)
A friend publishing a book, and seeing him being pleased with it and proud of it, is a feeling of great delight to me.
16 June 2020 (Tuesday)
The very rare and almost unfamiliar delight of having worked very hard and without any personal psychological drama.
15 June 2020 (Monday)
The extreme greenness of the plants in the garden this morning, and the glowing yellowness of the lemons on the lemon tree. The feeling of freshness and crispness in the air.
14 June 2020 (Sunday)
Listening to Schubert’s Quintet in C major for the first time in my life, in a particularly receptive frame of mind, and understanding some things about music for the first time.
13 June 2020 (Saturday)
A hearty meal on a cold night and a walk in the country air under a sky powdered with mica stars.
12 June 2020 (Friday)
A road trip.
11 June 2020 (Thursday)
The post-storm morning light is slatey blue, like being inside a mussel-shell.
10 June 2020 (Wednesday)
Waking to the great storm – the wind bending the trees and the rain against the windows. Each new gust pulled leaves from an oak tree and threw them through the air like swifts or swallows. It was exhilarating.
9 June 2020 (Tuesday)
Last night I looked up from watching an old movie and the moon was drifting like gold from the side of the mountain, a deep glowing yellow, ribboned with clear strips of cloud. This morning the sun through the clouds is striking the water of the bay in bright metallic disks and the air has a feel of soft old metal – bronze and pewter and battered iron. It feels like a real gift to be around to see it.
8 June 2020 (Monday)
I listened to a recording of the English poet Alice Oswald giving a lecture about the Poetry of Decay, and it was quite lovely, particularly when she demonstrated what Samuel Beckett meant when he asked the actors rehearsing one of his plays to speak “with moonlight in your voices”.
7 June 2020 (Sunday)
I saw a mongoose on the wall in front of my apartment block. It was brown and had a long tail that looked as soft as smoke. I have never seen a mongoose in the city before.
6 June 2020 (Saturday)
An ice-cold old-fashioned full-sugar Coke, when you have a terrible hangover.
5 June 2020 (Friday)
Making an important and scary decision that will affect the rest of my life, and doing it with hope and good faith. Then celebrating it with new friends.
4 June 2020 (Thursday)
Seeing the proposed cover of my new book, and deciding I am going to finish writing it after all.
3 June 2020 (Wednesday)
The smell of good perfume rising in passing from the alchemical warmth of a woman’s skin. Among the many small and almost unnoticeable absences during this lockdown has been the scent of a good scent. In this case, it was Chanel Allure, I do believe.
2 June 2020 (Tuesday)
Doing some work with a friend on a creative project – good work, with a good friend – and afterwards feeling that those were two hours well spent.
1 June 2020 (Monday)
It made me feel very happy to see other feeling happy today – walking around, enjoying the light and the air, opening bottles of wine with their families. It felt good to see people feeling happier than they have been.
31 May 2020 (Sunday)
Feeling free to drink as much of this gin as I damn well please, knowing more will be arriving this week.
30 May 2020 (Saturday)
Sea birds and a great arrow of dolphins ruffling the ocean, sunlight falling in bright burning silver disks through the clouds onto the sea.
29 May 2020 (Friday)
Reading a book in bed (“The Trip to Echo Spring” by Olivia Laing, about writers and alcohol) and moving from an appreciation of the clean elegance of the writing to a sudden realisation of what it is doing differently, and the space it opens up for possibilities in writing both fiction and non-fiction.
28 May 2020 (Thursday)
I took delivery of a new set of journals, their spines a wonderful ruffed leather, their pages clean and white and containing all the world that’s still to come to fill them.
27 May 2020 (Wednesday)
I found my old Scrabble set, which I haven’t used since 2004. Opening it up, I came upon a small wire-bound notebook in which I kept the scores of games, and kept a running count of the matches I played against someone who was either my girlfriend or my fiance at the time. 83 games in 2004 alone, the last one just before New Year’s Eve, in which I clinched the year 42-41. Oh, it was a delight to relive that moment of sweet victory.
26 May 2020 (Tuesday)
A walk in nature and a shared bottle of red wine, sitting on stumps under a pine tree.
25 May 2020 (Monday)
Waking up to the drumming rain and then standing and watching it sweeping up the hillside and down the hillside. A great nautical buffeting rainstorm, the wind bending the trees and throwing birds around in the sky. It was thrilling. It was the best way to start a day.
24 May 2020 (Sunday)
Lying in bed after you have woken up, and reading a book you are enjoying. That is a rare delight, one of those delights you can’t enjoy too often, for fear of blunting it.
23 May 2020 (Saturday)
I watered a friend’s garden this evening, and the smell of the plants and flowers, and the wet soil releasing the day’s heat, and the smell of the hosepipe and the cool arc of the water all made me feel very happy.
22 May 2020 (Friday)
Tonight, to celebrate finishing this week – not finishing it well, just finishing it – I had a braai. The braai wasn’t the delight although it was delightful:
What was delightful was after I had finished, and was sitting in the fallen darkness, listening to plaintive Cuban music, an owl flew down from a tree and stood on the grass, three metres away, looking at me. It was a big owl. If I hadn’t seen it fly, I would have thought it was a cat. It was so silent and still, if I hadn’t seen it fly, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all. This is the owl:
21 May 2020 (Thursday)
Completing a tricky 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle during a break in an all-day story meeting.
Discovering a tree this morning that I have never seen before, with great sprays of extraordinary yellow flowers that seemed too bright and too yellow to be real.
20 May 2020 (Wednesday)
I thought I had lost something, but then I found it. The delight of finding something is far greater than the sorrow of having lost it.
19 May 2020 (Tuesday)
A little under two years ago I experienced a dreadful upheaval in my life, which caused a lot of pain to me and more importantly to other people that I loved. It all ended for the best but the experience was pretty miserable. Today I sat with a friend who is going through precisely the same experience, and I was able to know with great precision which particular rung of hell he is currently passing through. I don’t think it helped me say anything useful – there is nothing useful to be said – but it helped me know that what he needed wasn’t advice, it was companionship that didn’t judge. It felt good – it felt very good – to be able to help him.
18 May 2020 (Monday)
I have been learning Greek during lockdown. Greek is a terrible, chaotic, cataclysmic syllable-soup of a language. It makes no sense and doesn’t sound good and requires you to break every bone in your mouth and reset them in different configurations, but this morning after I woke up, I realised that I was thinking a thought in Greek. It wasn’t a complicated thought – it was about lunch, and when I might eat it – but it was a thought in another language, a language that is spoken every day by people I adore and admire and miss, and it felt like stepping through an invisible door into a much wider universe. It gave me much delight.
17 May 2020 (Sunday)
The sky at dawn was tangerine today, then lightening to peach and apricot and other dry deciduous colours. It took me a while of standing lost in thought and frantic memory to remember where I had seen a sky like that before. “Frantic”, because as time goes by I have increasing waves of anxiety at the prospect of losing what I have – the small wooden steamship trunk of experiences and memories that I have accumulated instead of other things. I did remember. The last time I saw a sky like today’s morning sky was 22 years ago, at sunset, over the Nile between Aswan and Luxor. I don’t know which gave me more delight – seeing it or being able to remember it.
16 May 2020 (Saturday)
Walking on the promenade this morning. Two policemen were on horses, and a family stopped so that the kids could pat the horsies, and have a long conversation with the policemen about what they (the horses) liked to eat (apples) and how fast they could run (very fast, but they can be quite lazy early in the morning) and whether they have lots of straw in their stables (yes, and a lovely warm blanket) and whether they have baby horsies (not yet, but maybe one day, when they don’t have to work so hard). It was a model for how so much of this could have been.
15 May 2020 (Friday)
This is an actual, literal, word-for-word conversation I had today:
Receptionist: It’s funny, this no kissing rule.
Me: (a bit puzzled) Um, yeah, I suppose so …
Her: My mother never kissed me on the lips.
Me: (interested, despite myself) Never?
Her: No, she hated it. Don’t know why. So after she died, when she was in the coffin, we all just came and went mad on her. We kissed her and kissed. We really got our fill.
14 May 2020 (Thursday)
After several days of feeling myself sliding back down the hill again, of feeling bad habits creeping over me, today I remembered what Mathieu Ricard once said: “Simply, gently, begin again” he says. He was talking about meditation, when you find your mind has wandered, but it is even better advice for life. You don’t have to keep sliding until you reach rock-bottom, in order to stage a dramatic rally or comeback or revival. At any point, without any fuss, without any dramatics or big speeches, you can simply, gently, begin again.
13 May 2020 (Wednesday)
A homecoming and a reunion.
12 May 2020 (Tuesday)
Watching Richard Widmark in Night and the City (Jules Dasson, 1950), and recognising where the Safdie Brothers first found the tension and doomed, rising dread in Uncut Gems.
11 May 2020 (Monday)
The pleasure of buying a new book that I have been looking for for a long time. Flipping through the pages and smelling the air rising up from the pages.
10 May 2020 (Sunday)
A doorway wreathed in jasmine, and noticing again how jasmine smells most strongly from a few steps away, how it perfumes the air without itself being perfume.
9 May 2020 (Saturday)
That sweet moment when the haze of the pineapple beer hangover finally starts to lift.
8 May 2020 (Friday)
Pineapple beer with a friend.
7 May 2020 (Thursday)
The moon full and fuzzy (after the astonishing clarity and size of it last night), looking like an aspirin seen from above, dissolving in a glass of water.
6 May 2020 (Wednesday)
Standing in the street and hearing very joyful, very personal news from friends, who called it down from the balcony of their flat. It is a delightful thing to see delight in others, to be reminded that life keeps going.
5 May 2020 (Tuesday)
A wonderful long walk and a good talk with a pal who needed to get outside and see someone. The light was lovely. Walking and talking with a pal is very good for the heart, in many different ways.
4 May 2020 (Monday)
After the days of rain and mist this weekend, the hillside of Signal Hill is suddenly green and grassy. It smells fresh and is springy underfoot. A week ago it was the dry dog days of summer, but now there is hope, and some delight.
3 May 2020 (Sunday)
On the Greek island where in normal years I spend part of my year, they are going back outside again. They are walking on the hills and picking sprigs of lavender and wild rosemary and tucking them behind their ears. They are taking out their boats again. It makes me very happy, even though I can’t be there myself, because of all places that should be free, and all places should be free, Greece should most be free.
2 May 2020 (Saturday)
Walking through bookshops again, picking up books, flicking through them, buying books again.
also: Moonstruck (1987) with Cher and the most perfectly Nicholas Cagey Nicholas Cage.
1 May 2020 (Friday)
Seeing dogs again.
30 April 2020 (Thursday)
The mist hanging over the city last night, lit from behind by unearthly orange light. It was industrial and spectral and futuristic and anachronistic and supernatural and lovely, all at once.
29 April 2020 (Wednesday)
It’s not precisely delight when finally it starts to lift and it feels again as though you are at least alive in the world, that you are not looking at the world though a muffling of water and gauze curtain and distance, that there is future as well as an interminable present, but it is a relief, and relief is nothing to disregard. You feel capable of loving again, and that is a delight.
Also: someone is mowing grass in the sunshine, and the smell of it is the smell of a sunny Durban afternoon in the early 1980s.
28 April 2020 (Tuesday)
27 April 2020 (Monday)
Today I’m afraid I found nothing that delighted me. The delightful things were all there, no doubt, but I couldn’t see them, or if I could see them, I couldn’t feel them. Delight happens in the mind, and today, however I tried, my mind wasn’t open for the business of delight. It happens sometimes. I wish it wasn’t, but here it is again.
26 April 2020 (Sunday)
Finding a way to make vanilla vodka taste good.
25 April 2020 (Saturday)
The feeling after you have cleaned your house, when everything is, just for that brief moment, clean. When all around you sparkles and shines, and you can imagine a world and a life in which you make no mess and just live forever in this gleaming bubble.
24 April 2020 (Friday)
Gogglebox, on Channel Four (UK) is a television show in which we watch people – a regular cast of ordinary people and families – the Sidiquis, the Malones, Giles and Mary, Lee and his best friend Jenny, Peter and his little sister Sophie, Stephen and his husband Daniel – watching television. Does this sound dismal? It does, but actually it is the most delightful, heartwarming, funny, comforting and connecting thing to watch at the end of a day. It brings me great delight.
23 April 2020 (Thursday) at the end of a day.
I bought a flight to Lisbon for later this year. There is a dizzy relief, an ineffable lightness, in giving yourself a date in which to have faith, giving yourself something in the future in which to believe and towards which to move.
22 April 2020 (Wednesday)
The sequence in The Night of the Hunter (directed by Charles Laughton, 1955), when the kids have escaped Robert Mitchum and are drifting down the dreamlike river and the stars are turning in the phosphorescent sky above them and the little girl is singing her lullabye while the little boy sleeps in the bow of the boat. It is unearthly and unnerving and quite unbearably beautiful.
21 April 2020 (Tuesday)
Bumping into a friend on the street.
20 April 2020 (Monday)
Walking in the fine veil of Cape rain, more like a lowering cloud than actual precipitation, and combing it through my hair with my fingers and turning my face very happily to the sky.
19 April 2020 (Sunday)
Reading the letters that you have written to me, following my last mailing.
18 April 2020 (Saturday)
Two years ago I was in a small village in Ikaria in Greece for Easter, and it was a time of joy and hope and togetherness, when the people of the village came together for the midnight mass and lit their candles from the holy fire and rang the bells and walked three times around the church afterwards to honour the dead. It is lockdown in Greece now, and they are not allowed to do it, and of course no one is doing it, of course not, but someone from the island has just sent me the sound of the bells tolling and I know if there were a video attached I would see the people of the village walking three times around the church, the way they have done for hundreds of years, and all the children with their candles will be walking the way they will walk in all the years of the future, and it fills me joy and delight, because that is not merely what will survive, but that is the point of surviving at all.
17 April 2020 (Friday)
This afternoon I found a bottle of gin that I had forgotten existed.
16 April 2020 (Thursday)
Suddenly swifts in the air all around my window this morning. Swifts everywhere, darting and larking and whizzing and shooting. You don’t really get a sense of the airiness of air until you see swifts being swifts in it.
15 April 2020 (Wednesday)
Walking with bare feet at night on grass under the night sky, with the sound of a night bird in the tree, is a feeling very much like the best parts of being very young.
14 April 2020 (Tuesday)
A long sprig of rosemary plucked from the bush and tucked behind my ear in the sunshine, the way the old men on Ikaria wear them.
also: Bix Beiderbecke’s “I’m coming Virginia”
13 April 2020 (Monday)
There is a person in the block where I am staying, an elderly woman who is very independent and resourceful and lives alone. I see her every day, walking around the grounds and getting exercise. There is another woman in the block, a young woman, who sometimes greets her from her balcony, and they pass the time of day. The other day the older woman confessed that she is doing fine in the lockdown except for the fact that she is very tactile, and she misses being able to touch people – her friends, her children, anyone. Every day since then the young woman has been going to her flat and giving her a long hug. I know some people think that’s wrong, or illegal, but just knowing about it causes me slight tears of delight.
12 April 2020 (Easter Sunday)
An Easter Egg hunt. I am EXCELLENT at Easter Egg hunts. No eggs hidden from me shall prosper.
11 April 2020 (Saturday)
Just at sunrise there is a deep scrim of mist or cloud. I can see the trees in front of my apartment but nothing beyond that; it’s like waking on a Scottish highland hillside. And although there is dawn light somewhere, it’s not down here on the ground, which means it’s dark enough that the owl who lives around here is still softly hooting, although the sun is technically risen. This is a deep, deep delight.
(And then later the foghorn drifting up from the lighthouse at Mouille Point, a long, mournful rhyming hoot, like the monstrous, solitary, sea-going cousin of my owl.)
10 April 2020 (goodish Friday)
Again, I don’t mean to be soppy, but your messages of support and fellow-feeling and plain old under-rated sympathy have been a genuine delight. Thank you.
9 April 2020 (Thursday)
I received a letter from the parent company of Times Select and the Sunday Times terminating my column, and it wasn’t the termination that annoyed me, it was the tone of the letter. I write to the person who wrote it, explaining my objections, and was astonished to receive a letter from her in reply, a human letter, words from a human person, and we exchanged a number of messages through the day, and it feels quite delightful to have achieved what we have achieved – a mutually respectful and enmeshing of our experiences, a genuinely human recognition of the other. It makes me feel quite happy.
8 April 2020 (Wednesday)
A full orange moon rising just after dark, heavy and glorious, and forget what you know about it reflecting the light of the sun – this moon was lit from within, as by a flame through a sphere of alabaster.
7 April 2020 (Tuesday)
Leftover birthday cake for breakfast. Moist almond and rose sponge fairy cakes with a rose and lemon glazed icing, to be specific. None of your butter cream nonsense here.
6 April 2020 (Monday)
Mondays are always my favourite days. They are like mini New Years, opportunities to start again and be refreshed. Mondays are always my most productive days – I do at least 50% of the work I get done in any given week on the Monday of that week. Mondays are when I feel most optimistic and happiest with myself. Today is my birthday, and for my birthday to fall on a Monday is an auspicious thing indeed, a source of much quiet delight. I shall do some work this morning, and then I have several bottles of cold champagne and several bottles of cold pouilly fume, and by God I shall wring the life from them.
5 April 2020 (Sunday)
Two delights: Table Bay under the clouds this morning, in the low morning light, was like a great sheet of beaten silver, striped and rippled with more silver. It reminded me of the line from Gerard Manley Hopkins about how the world is charged with grandeur: “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”
The second: tomorrow is my birthday, and the day before my birthday is always delightful. Birthdays themselves less so, but to day is delightful.
4 April 2020 (Saturday)
There are three (or possibly by now more) rabbits living wild in my neighbourhood, very sleek, very glossy and healthy, and tonight in the gloaming I came upon one of them sitting on a patch of grass, chewing over something thoughtfully.
3 April 2020 (Friday)
Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944, written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler). Oh, I am going to concoct a fool-proof plan for murdering husbands, just in case I am ever selling insurance and knock on her door.
2 April 2020 (Thursday)
On Main Road in Sea Point a young woman on a balcony, drinking a glass of what looked like iced lemonade and wearing a swimsuit because she had just risen from a session of sunbathing on her balcony, started shouting down at the people on the sidewalk, “Go home! What’s so hard to understand?” The people on the sidewalk, mostly the people working in the supermarkets who had sold her the lemonade, turned as one and with varying degrees of politeness told her to go inside. It delighted me to see them do so.
1 April 2020 (Wednesday)
The feel of short grass and earth underneath my bare feet.
31 March 2020 (Tuesday)
Fresh-roasted asparagus with olive oil and parmesan and lemon juice, slightly charred and caramelised.
30 March 2020 (Monday)
Just before the sun came up over the band of horizon-cloud this morning, the hills in the direction of Blaauwberg were limpid and milky blue, a cut-out of denser blue in front of a lighter blue, as simple and flat as one of Matisse’s paper collages.
29 March 2020 (Sunday)
Someone nearby is making lamb curry, and it smells so good that I don’t even need to be able to eat it. The smell – so spicy, so savoury, so rich and warm, mmm, is that dried lime leaves? I bet it is – is delight enough.
28 March 2020 (Saturday)
This is a woodblock print on paper called “Spring Dream”, by Suzuki Harunobu, “The print depicts a couple having the same dream while sleeping. They appear in the dream to be traveling together perhaps later in the Summer.”
27 March 2020 (Friday)
Someone in Cape Town is playing “Don’t Worry be Happy” very loudly, perhaps to enliven and arouse their fellow citizens. The sound travels so far today that it’s unclear where they are. They might be in Stellenbosch. They are far enough away for me that I only hear little bursts, distantly and intermittently, and if I close the door I don;t have to hear them at all, so I am able to be delighted by this.
26 March 2020 (Thursday)
My neighbour is stockpiling plants. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to tend my garden,” she told me. Stockpiling is not the right word – it implies hoarding something, keeping it locked down, inert, for your own use only. She is going to spend the next three weeks working in her front garden, putting in plants and vegetables, footling with her herbaceous borders. She is going to grow things, add life to the world, and since there is only a low wall in front of the garden, it will be shared with everyone who passes. Because, of course, people will be passing again.
25 March 2020 (Wednesday)
Receiving a message of encouragement from a person I greatly admire, who has concerns and worries and troubles of her own. It is not a delight that she has those worries – it makes me unhappy, to be honest – but it is a delight that a person can find it in themselves, in those moments, to act with such generosity.
24 March 2020 (Tuesday)
Waking up after nine hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep is a glorious feeling, suffused with latent strength and unexpressed joy. It’s a delightful feeling, and you are tempted to fear that it will be the best part of your day, but it casts a halo of delight through everything.
23 March 2020 (Monday)
An elderly neighbour, who doesn’t know me very well, sent me a message asking me if she could buy me any groceries. If she could buy me groceries.
22 March 2020 (Sunday)
The sounds of the birds outside my window as I woke this morning. The swallows darting about. The stillness of a Sunday at rest.
21 March 2020 (Saturday)
Landing in Istanbul to discover that my flight to Cape Town has been cancelled is a bad feeling, but securing a flight to Johannesburg is such an intense delight by contrast that the bad feeling is worth it.
20 March 2020 (Friday)
A walk in Rustic Canyon in the Pacific Palisades with one of my favourite movie directors, who tells me the inside story about one of my favourite scenes in one of movies of all time. Later, when we part, he tells me, “Stay in touch. Let’s get into some trouble together.”
19 March 2020 (Thursday)
At a filling station on the way back to LA, Herbie, the Love Bug is on display. Is it the very same Herbie that was in the movies? They say it is, and I believe them. Even if it isn’t, it delights me.
18 March 2020 (Wednesday)
At midnight in an empty Caesar’s Palace, a woman who comes every year with her adult son on her birthday gives me a penny and we all throw our pennies over our shoulders into the fountain to make our wishes.
17 March 2020 (Tuesday)
A drive through the Mojave towards Las Vegas, with the broken light on the mountains and the rain falling on the desert in great curved blue veils. Filling up at what is proudly announced as “the biggest Chevron station in North America”.
16 March 2020 (Monday)
Taking a long walk through half-empty boulevards of downtown LA, feeling like Charlton Heston in the opening scenes of Omega Man. (I love that soundtrack.)
15 March 2020 (Sunday)
This message on my phone: “Hey, if you need anything, from toilet paper to company to hang out with, we’re here. Literally and figuratively. It must be disorienting to be in unfamiliar surroundings under the best of circumstances, let alone these. So please don’t hesitate to reach out.”
14 March 2020 (Saturday)
Pizza and whiskey while outside Los Angeles goes quietly crazy.
13 March 2020 (Friday)
Lunch with my agent in a deli on Wilshire. Nothing especially good happened in that lunch – the studios have all shut down – but just to be able to say I once had lunch with my agent in a deli on Wilshire.
**PS Two days later the deli on Wilshire, along with every other restaurant, was closed by the city. A double delight to have managed to do it, then.
12 March 2020 (Thursday)
In the lobby of a fancy Santa Monica hotel, while I was defiantly drying a pair of socks over the grate in front of the fire at three in the afternoon because of the apocalyptic rainstorm outside, there was a Canadian woman with three small children. She had brought them on holiday to go to Universal Studios and Disneyland, and both had just been closed because of the coronavirus. The kids were shattered, but staying brave. Their mom was mock-stern with them. “Only one of you can be my favourite child,” she told them. “The first one to complain about Disneyland falls out of the running.” They amused themselves by asking each other what their biggest regret in life was. “Is yours crashing the car, mommy?” asked the eight-year-old. “Sure,” said mommy. “Let’s go with that one.” That family delighted me.
11 March 2020 (Wednesday)
Jeff Goldblum playing jazz piano in a bar in Los Feliz, that you can only enter through an alley out back, just past the Starbucks.
10 March 2020 (Tuesday)
Someone I have never met, a friend of a friend, called me up and took me out to breakfast and drove me around and offered his help and advice, which is an extraordinary thing for strangers in a busy city to do. I made a new friend.
9 March 2020 (Monday)
“I love your accent,” said someone to me today. For a South African to be told that anyone likes their accent is a rare delight to be cherished.
8 March 2020 (Sunday)
A visit to The Last Bookstore on Spring Street in downtown LA, where I found three books I have been looking for forever, and where I was surrounded by books and book-lovers in this seemingly most unbooky of cities.
7 March 2020 (Saturday)
Taking a walk through the neighbourhood at night and the smell of rosemary and lavender and jasmine, which no one told me were the smells of Los Angeles. There is more rosemary growing in West Hollywood than there is grass.
6 March 2020 (Friday)
Setting up my pomodoro fifteen-minute hour glass this morning, a stranger exclaimed “That’s so cool!” I looked at him in surprise. “Is that for writing? That’s so cool!” he said. It’s quite delightful to be told by a cool stranger that you’re so cool.
5 March 2020 (Thursday)
Three hummingbirds that come at dusk to drink sugar water and dart about. One has a pink face, another crimson, another a sunset orange. I always knew they hovered but I had no idea how still and stable they stand in the air, as though hopping from one invisible branch to another.
4 March 2020 (Wednesday)
I watched a woman eating a croissant and reading a book. As she read, her brow furrowed in disapproval then cleared with relief. Her eyes widened in surprise and narrowed in suspicion. She shook her head slowly in disagreement and her shoulders grew tense. I couldn’t see what she was reading, but whatever it was, it was a pure delight to see someone living her inside on her outside, right there in public, oblivious to any part of the world not happening inside her book. It was quite wonderful.
3 March 2020 (Tuesday)
The perfect delight when you have noticed that the passport number on your American visa doesn’t match the actual number of your passport, but despite some long, tense moments of scrutiny, the people checking your passport at Heathrow do not.
Also: The smell of perfume in duty-free is the last most glamorous thing about international travel. It smells expensive and sensual and heady, the minglings of Guerlain and Chanel and Jean Patout. It smells like furs and brooches and driving to the theatre in an expensive car with your grandma and grampa when you are ten years old. I sometimes just stand there with my eyes closed, breathing deeply.
2 March 2020 (Monday)
The simple, secret delight of being tired in a hotel room and turning on the television and finding through sweet serendipity the perfect comforting movie, that started only ten minutes ago, that you have seen before but not too recently, that brings back memories and offers present pleasure in equal quantities, that makes you feel that there is nowhere in the world you would rather be right now than here in this cosy, impersonal room with a city outside and – in this case – Goldfinger on TV.
1 March 2020 (Sunday)
Breaking the journey in London: a jacketless walk in the icy cold air beside the Thames at Hammersmith in the bright heatless sun, feeling sufficiently alive and joyfully hungry again for a dish of the best macaroni-and-cheese in the world, other than my mother’s (including my mother’s) at Bill’s.
29 February 2020 (Saturday)
Arriving at the airport for the first of a long series of flights to Los Angeles, expecting it to be a hotbed of dread and anxiety about germs and face-masks, but finding instead a perfectly ordinary day. I made a joke about the coronavirus with one of check-in women, and she laughed then rolled her eyes and said, “People are too dramatic.”
28 February 2020 (Friday)
My first afternoon highveld thunderstorm in many years, and what a thunderstorm. The sky all water and lightning, the thunder shaking branches from trees. I had forgotten the visceral effect of being so close to the elements when they are being so elemental.
27 February 2020 (Thursday)
Arriving at a friend’s house to smell the first braai fire I have been near in probably three years.
Also: holding a rabbit.
26 February 2020 (Wednesday)
Every morning I try to meditate for fifteen minutes. This doesn’t look like much – just me sitting silently with my eyes closed, catching myself thinking and gently trying to stop. I don’t know how, but this does make me a better version of myself. In the ground-floor apartment where I’m staying in Rosebank there is a small private courtyard and I took the opportunity to sit on a bench in the shade. When I sat down there was a ladder leaning against the wall of the apartment block next door. When I opened my eyes fifteen minutes later there was a man on the ladder, in overalls, painting the third floor. He looked at me guiltily.
“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “I wasn’t sleeping.”
“You were just sitting?” he said.
“You could say that, yes,” I said.
He nodded. “It’s good to just sit,” he said. “I like to just sit sometimes.”
“Everyone should just sit sometimes,” I agreed.
“You should tell my boss that,” he said.
25 February 2020 (Tuesday)
A white gown with blue birds printed on it.
24 February 2020 (Monday)
At a roadside burger place on the highway running past Barrydale there is, for no good reason, one of those metal stands that you would park next to when you went to the drive-in, and clip the metal speaker onto the driver’s side window to hear the movie. I was eating a toasted chicken sandwich today and looked up and saw it, and for the next half hour I was lost in Proustian reverie of the drive-in and all that went with it: food brought from home in tin foil and empty ice-cream plastic ice-cream tubs; never having a slush puppy, no matter how much we begged for it; that one time when the family was flush and we had a KFC bucket; hiding under a blanket on the floor to be snuck into an age-restricted movie; wearing a red tracksuit with white stripes down the arms; Roger Moore in Octopussy; Bud Spencer and Terence Hill; the stars in the hazy humid sky above the screen; the trailers for movies I have still never seen; my mom; my sister; my dad.
23 February 2020 (Sunday)
A dog walked up through the vines to introduce herself. She is perhaps eight months months old and has no home but she has the best manners and decorum of any dog I have have ever met. She is dignified and attentive and sensitive, and she chose me. We went for walks and she trotted along at my ankles, and stayed brave and guarded me even when cows lowed at her and guinea fowl ran across our path. I wondered if she would leave overnight, but I put down a towel outside the front door and she was still sleeping there faithfully in the morning. She is my delight of the year so far. Tomorrow I leave for Johannesburg and then Los Angeles, and can’t take her with me. Every delight has a side where the sun doesn’t reach.
22 February 2020 (Saturday)
A view over some hills to a very wide, high sky, that was very blue but with great white mountains of cloud moving fast enough that you could see them move. Vast expanses of endless very blueness and masses of gorgeous very whiteness. Each time you looked up, a different world in the skies above you. The astonished thought came to me – this is happening every day, for free.
21 February 2020 (Friday)
The deep joy of not doing something you are supposed to be doing.
20 February 2020 (Thursday)
A business call over a potentially tricky matter, both creatively and financially, and I am halfway through before I suddenly realise, with a feeling of such deep relief and joy that I almost begin to cry, that I did not feel anxious about this call, that I do not feel inadequate, that I do not feel I do not belong.
19 February 2020 (Wednesday)
At 3pm a rumble like a drum being rolled down the road. The rumble moved across the rim of the hills and the sky turned very grey and dark and some fat heavy drops of rain fell on the dust between the vines and then as I watched great curtains of rain blew first one way then the other and silver water ran in streams down the furrows and the birds all took shelter under the eaves and in the trees. Rain in the karoo.
18 February 2020 (Tuesday)
Bats at dusk, three or four of them, silent and darting as though on wires against a sky the colour of rock.
17 February 2020 (Monday)
In a dark room on a hot afternoon, with the white sunlight showing around the edges of the floor-length wooden shutters, drinking an ice-cold glass of water and eating a cold, diced peach.
16 February 2020 (Sunday)
After a long hot drive, a swim in a cold, clean, green sea, to emerge new-born and alive.
15 February 2020 (Saturday)
Sitting on the sofa in silence, in an empty apartment, with the rugby coming on soon but with nothing on my mind and nothing needing my attention.
14 February 2020 (Friday)
In the road leading up the apartment block where I’m staying there is a long row of hibiscus trees. I didn’t know that’s what they were until they all suddenly came into bloom today.
13 February 2020 (Thursday)
At a long story meeting, stretching over three days, where everyone sensibly wears their dreariest, most comfortable clothing, one of my colleagues today was wearing a pair of crisp, high-cinched, parachute-styled bright red trousers that were like a burst of red poppies on a grey day. They filled me with delight whenever I saw them, and made me resolve to do better.
12 February 2020 (Wednesday)
After a day’s work, sitting on a terrace having a slightly awkward three-way work conversation in which tricky things and relationships had to be resolved. As we sat there a pea-hen walked by with her two small pea-chicks, just pecking and noodling around our feet, and as I watched them I had the deep and complete knowledge that everything was fine and everything is exactly as it should be and everything will work out its own perfection.
11 February 2020 (Tuesday)
An afternoon nap.
10 February 2010 (Monday)
I walked on the promenade and looked at the dogs, all the dogs that passed, every single one, and there were big ones and small ones and hairy ones with fringes in their eyes and little skinny ones whose legs were like sandpipers and every single one of them made me smile.
9 February 2020 (Sunday)
On the promenade the waves were breaking a light glassy green and the sunlight behind them made seem as though they had been painted by Aivazovsky.
8 February 2020 (Saturday)
The sweet, sweet delight of deciding to cancel a meeting tomorrow.
7 February 2020 (Friday)
Elsa’s meatballs and Sicilian red sauce and a huge bottle of red wine while her daughter explains to me that Patti Smith is the greatest artist of all time, and I remember being sixteen, especially the fun and passionate parts, and I dearly love everyone around the table and this is perfect.
6 February 2020 (Thursday)
A palm tree in a Cape Town wind, seen through a clear glass window, each frond trembling and drawn in different directions by the application of the same invisible force, looks like seaweed on a shallow reef in the tidal surge.
5 February 2020 (Wednesday)
A mist came over the city from the ocean, like a sea-level cloud, and it made the air suddenly cool and the light suddenly silvery and it speckled the windows as though with a fine rain.
4 February 2020 (Tuesday)
In a restaurant in the evening, the cricket was on the television. Temba Bavuma was approaching a century but the electricity was scheduled to go out at 8pm. It was 7.50 and Temba had 90 runs. It was 7.55 and Temba had 95. Everyone in the restaurant, even people who don’t care about cricket, was willing Temba to his 100 while we could still watch it. It felt like the most South African moment.
3 February 2020 (Monday)
On a hot, still day, after a long walk up the hill to the apartment where I’m staying, a glass of very cold water. What does cold water taste like when thirsty on a hot day? Like delight.
2 February 2020 (Sunday)
It was very hot and still in town and when all the lights went out at 8pm we went down to the Sea Point promenade where there was a fine haze of sea-mist and the air was suddenly cold and salty and smelt of iodine and wet stone. There were people walking on the promenade, and groups and couples sitting on benches or on blankets on the grass. It was so dark you couldn’t see their faces, or even if they were black or white. There were children playing on the swings. You could see the stars in the sky and the half-moon glinted on the very black sea.
1 February 2020 (Saturday)
A walk with a very good dog named Maria, who owes me no love or loyalty or obedience, but who walked close to my heels and who always came when called, even though she wanted to go running and snuffling and making a nuisance of herself. A lovely walk in the lovely sunshine and the cool shade with a very good dog indeed.
31 January 2020 (Friday)
I was meeting someone this afternoon and she was there already and talking to two good mutual friends who also happened to be there, and all three of them were laughing and when they turned and saw me they were all happy to see me. It felt indescribably wonderful to see three people I care about, all laughing and happy and to know that by arriving I wasn’t ruining anything.
30 January 2020 (Thursday)
I went into the bank to retrieve the final document needed for my tax return. There were no queues, and the document, which I’ve been struggling to retrieve online, was emailed to my accountants in thirty seconds, and the woman behind the counter smiled at me when I smiled, and we had a conversation, the two of us, and we agreed how morally indefensible it is to tax the interest on a person’s savings, and we agreed that the world would be altogether better if people like us were running it, and then I went on with my day and she went on with hers.
29 January 2020 (Wednesday)
After a very long series of flights: a warm strong soapy shower that washes away all the invisible dirt of the world. A clean towel afterwards. Brushing my teeth.
28 January 2020 (Tuesday)
An evening stroll and this statue on a street corner in the Spanish border town of Moguer, sculpted by someone called Chiqui Diaz. The old man has a splendid round belly, the belly of a life lived full and well and with good appetite, and in his left hand at his side he carries a shining horseshoe. He is a lucky man. But what mosts delights me is his face as he looks at the butterfly that has landed on his fingertip. It is deep, simple pleasure, an appreciation of a moment that matters, calm in the knowledge that life has many such pleasures, and isn’t about to run out of them. There are many kinds of delight, and this is one of them.
27 January 2020 (Monday)
The final scene in Roman Holiday. The restraint of the writing , the worlds that pass silently between Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in that vast hall with all those people around. And afterwards Gregory Peck’s slight smile and slow walk out into the daylight, with his footsteps echoing through the grand emptiness. I have watched it three times now, and each time it is a perfect fresh delight.
26 January 2020 (Sunday)
Walking through a forest. It has rained recently and the soil is dark and wet and loamy. The air smells clean and green and cool. I have read an article recently about how contact with soil might boost your immune system, so we start rubbing our hands experimentally in the soil. “This,” she says, “is where full eccentricity begins.”
25 January 2020 (Saturday)
On the roof of the Convent of San Francisco is an immense nest, and on it, right now, its head and shoulders poking over the side of the nest, like an old man in a bath, is a stork. It looks down at me and I look up at it. It is the middle of the night, and it is magnificent.
24 January 2020 (Friday)
I have stopped for the night in a Spanish town on the banks of the Rio Tinto. Walking at 10pm, after dinner, a gang of six or seven children come running past me. They are boys and girls, short and tall, in warm coats and good shoes, the eldest probably 11, the youngest probably 9. Why are they running? Are they afraid? Are they being chased? They reach the square outside the church and scatter in different directions. Moments later another girl comes running down the road after them, stops in the middle of the square and starts peering around parked cars and up alleys. They weren’t afraid. They weren’t at home or on their phones or playing video games. Late at night on a Friday in their home town, they are playing hide and seek.
23 January 2020 (Thursday)
The smell of Creme de Cassis de Bourgogne, bought in Dijon a year ago while driving to Spain, and opened now for the first time in months to make a kir royale. Dark and intense and fruity and somehow also umami and rich and loamy like moist forest earth. It is thrilling. It smells the way I imagine blood does to a wolf.
22 January 2020 (Wednesday)
The sidewalks of Lisbon are made up of small square stone cobbles, the colour of old ivory. No sidewalk here is perfectly smooth or flat – the cobbles are set in earth, so parts of them subside slightly, forming gentle troughs and rises. When it has been raining, like today, they are at their most beautiful because the light catches them unevenly and they gleam and undulate like the surface of the sea.
21 January 2020 (Tuesday)
A warm cafe that smells of coffee and cinnamon on the green square of Fielho de Almeida. There is an afternoon rainshower, and the raindrops are fat and heavy but the shower is light enough that you can hear each raindrop distinctly striking the canvas with a lovely deep sound, like a knuckle rapping against a wooden box.
20 January 2020 (Monday)
In the Pingo Doces supermarket I was standing in the queue for the till with a litre of milk for the morning cup of coffee when the elderly man in front of me turned, saw my litre of milk, looked at his own large basket of groceries, and ushered me in front of him in the line. I thanked him, and he waved it away. By going in front of him, I was doing him a favour, he said, because “I must do one good deed every day.”
19 January 2020 (Sunday)
Reading the messages and emails from people who have received my most recent newsletter is a delight that feels very warm and almost troublingly deep, and it’s a delight that last far longer than the reading itself.
18 January 2020 (Saturday) (Lisbon)
From the window of my apartment I can see across the road to a bus stop, where this morning a man stood with his daughter. The daughter was about four, and it was a bright but cold morning so she was bundled up in a puffy pink jacket, and while her dad stood waiting for the bus, she was swinging slowly round the streetlight, with one hand on the pole, round and round and round, slowly, purposefully, completely absorbed in her thoughts and in the motion of going round and round and round, absorbed in the way only a small girl can be. I stood and watched her and watched her and I was sorry when the bus came.