19 October 2021 (Tuesday) – Riga
The seductive warm glow of a heavy tumbler of horseradish vodka in the Leningrad Bar underground on Christian Valdemar Street, with the Latvian barman scolding me to try the garlic vodka instead, before hurrying off the Splendid Palace for a terrible arty German movie.
18 October 2021 (Monday) – Riga
A slice of black Baltic rye bread, with cream cheese and fresh salmon and dill and pale Latvian chilies, and a glass of Latvian sparkling wine. Food so fresh and delicious and delicate it makes you hungry for more, even as you eat it. The taste of the north, of birch trees and vodka and upturned collars and salt wind.
17 October 2021 (Sunday) – Riga
After the bright clear day on Saturday, a splendid rainy evening tonight for a walk uptown over gleaming cobblestones to the extraordinary, fresh-from-a-fantasy Splendid Palace Cinema, for a first viewing in the Riga International Film Festival. Women in silk gowns, men in thick, deep-blue coats, good shoes, cineastes – it is a dreamlike delight.
16 October 2021 (Saturday) – Riga
Drinking my morning coffee in my easy chair in the window at Vilhelm Kuze and outside under inexplicably clear blue skies, I have just seen a young chap with a ginger cat on a leash, taking a walk.
15 October 2021 (Friday) – Riga, Latvia
After two weeks of golden sun and alabaster skies, it’s almost bewildering to feel the Baltic wind coming up from the water, cold under the grey Russian skies and remember that winter arrives at different rates in Europe, but what a delight it is to bundle through the door of a serendipitious coffee shop and find yourself in a warm, odd, half-dreamlike place with hot coffee and sweet pastries.
14 October 2021 (Thursday) – Rocamadour to Riga
In the middle of one of those grinding days of travel – train to Paris, RER to Charles de Gaulle, wait and wait and late flight to Riga – it was a delight to spontaneously snatch an hour to hurriedly disembark in Gare d’Austerlitz, rush up the stairs (laden with bags) and scramble across the street into the Jardin des Plantes to sit on a bench and eat a cheese-and-ham baguette surreptitiously scavenged from the breakfast table and watch the Parisians walking by in the sunshine. People sometimes tut impatiently and decry the urban legends that Parisians and Pariennes are chic, or chic-er than the rest of us, but they are wrong. It may be true that for every chic Parisienne there is a shlubby one, but that doesn’t matter: it’s the chic ones you notice.
13 October 2021 (Wednesday) – Rocamadour
Finishing the walk, and in the evening having that sudden descent of clarity and goodwill that comes down like grace once in a while, when you have been good and deserved it or lucky and deserved it – because luck is like virtue – in which suddenly all of life and how to live it seems very clear and very simple, and can be done.
12 October 2021 (Tuesday) – Meyronne to Rocamadour
On the way up from the river we encountered a group of seven English walkers, men and women. They are 75 now and had met in university. They have been taking walking holidays together, once a year, for the past 25 years. They were smiling and chatting and cheerful. They have been walking a few days and will be walking four or five more, on the same sort of route as me, but staying at a different village tonight. They were fit and they were enjoying the golden sunshine and the rat-a-tat sounds of the black woodpeckers echoing from the riverside woodland and they were looking forward to their gins and their wine. We discussed TV shows (especially “Call My Agent”) and the Hermitage in St Petersburg and one woman told me about a strongly worded letter she wrote to the curators of the British Museum wondering why we can’t touch the stones of the Egyptian exhibits. It’s not like we’re going to break them, we agreed. We shared wine and some delicious dried apricots, and we parted ways at a fork outside a village and as they went I looked at them with envy for their long active friendships and wished I could be their friend too.
11 October 2021 (Monday) – Meyronne
Idling in Meyronne on a rest day. A big breakfast in the vaulted dining room of a chateau beside the Dordogne, the mist still rising in tendrils from the river, your legs feeling strong, a good coffee.
Also: the unalloyed delight of a serendipitous novel. Leaving Port de Gagnac, there was a small stone-and-wood structure to the left off the main road which, upon peering inside, revealed itself to contain wooden shelves of second-hand books, half English, half French, freely available to anyone who needs a book. I found two: Roger Deakins’ Waterlog, which I intend to read as a spur to my wild winter swimming in Devon in December, but also Michael Innes’ Hamlet, Revenge!
A whodunnit written in 1937, from just about the golden age of whodunnits, by an Oxford English don writing in pseudonym, about a high-profile murder that happens on-stage in an amateur stately home production of Hamlet, it has everything you want in an unexpected holiday read: gentle humour, quirky characters, playful self-awareness, sly references to Hercule Poirot, loads of interesting trivia about Elizabethan drama, shameless intellectual elitism, a fiendish plot (although I think I have cracked it) and a sharp and fascinating sense of what it felt like to be English in the war-gathering years of the late 1930s. Consider, as Detective Appleby gazes out at the sight of townsfolk from the nearby village, come to throng the hilltop and gaze sheep-like at the site of the murder:
“A portent, thought Appleby, of a society running down in another sense: clogged by its own mass-production of individuals who, let loose from a day’s or a lifetime’s specialised routine, will neither think nor practise any craft, but only gape at spectacle. Hence an unstable world, in which small men and their small-minded policies can have a real and horrid power.”
** UPDATE, 14 OCT: I have just finished Hamlet, Revenge! and I regret to announce the resolution is not as skilled as the build-up. Whodunnits, even in the Golden Age, are only really effortless and satisfying when it is Agatha Christie writing them. But still: a holiday read must be judged by other standards.
10 October 2021 (Sunday) – Carennac to Meyronne
Another good long day’s walk, five and a half hours with long happy stretches through woodland and meadows. The delight of passing Le Pourquois Pas, a bar in Floirac which the route directions assured me would be closed on a Sunday, and finding it open. Sitting in the sunshine beneath a flawless sky, sipping an unexpected blond pression with a stone cross across the way on the village green and the slow silence of a dozing village: this is joy.
9 October 2021 (Saturday) – Carennac
A rest day, and a day of lying on a grassy bank where softly flows the Dordogne, reading a whodunnit, in the bright, soft autumn apricity, and hearing myself say the words: “I feel very well-adjusted. Very mentally sound.”
8 October 2021 (Friday) – Loubressac to Carennac
Day three of walking. Peering into the the church of St Jean Baptiste, just inside the city gates of Loubressac as you set out on a new day of the pilgrim’s trail, and seeing the light of the risen sun glowing through a narrow vertical stained-glass window in the right chancel, throwing a multi-coloured beam through the gloom, painting the floor of the nave and the wooden chairs of the left aisle in red and blue and gold. You can extend your hand into the light and be washed in the colours: you can be yourself briefly glorious.
Later that night: lying in bed in the Petite Auberge listening to an owl hooting and hooting in the woods of the island in the river. Why do French owls hoot so much? Sheer arrogance.
7 October 2021 (Thursday) – Port de Gagnac to Loubressac
The second day’s walking, a long one, the longest of the trip, through the vineyards of Glanes and the walnut avenues and orchards where the fallen nuts crunch under your feet and the cows stare as you pass. More delights than you can shake a stick at – the ruins of the cliff-clinging Chateau des Anglais! The waterfall tumbling down the gorge of Autoire in a great silver silken sheet! – but perhaps the one I’ll most fondly remember: taking a lunch break on the lawn in front of the glorious rose-red castle of Castlenau, sharing the grass with a small flock of sheep, finishing a bottle of pinot noir and pondering the subtle pleasures of Rocamadour goat’s cheese: a middle-aged French couple wandered down the ramp from the castle walls and looked across and declared, beaming: “La vie est belle!”
6 October 2021 (Wednesday) – Beaulieu to Port de Gagnac
The first day’s walking, 15 kilometres from Beaulieu, where the ducks land on the river with a sound like silk softly tearing, through forests and woodlands to Gagnac-sur-Cere. A delight to walk, climbing from the river valley and down into it again, through forests and woodlands where the air itself smells green and cool, but the delight of the day were the apple trees in the village of Fontmerle, laden red and green and yellow as though with Christmas baubles, and the apples that have fallen under the trees and perfume the air with fresh apple and with the cider-smell of fermentation.
5 October 2021 (Tuesday) – Paris to Brive (and then Beaulieu)
On a train sliding out of Gare d’Austerlitz under grey clouds, the raindrops crackling against the window pane. What is more delightful in the world than your own compartment on a four-hour train journey, with a croissant and a half bottle of red on the table in front of you for brunch, and a good book to read?
4 October 2021 (Monday) – Paris
In Parc Monceau, three French girls, aged about 7, were playing on the base of the stone pyramid. One was trying to climb a little higher and her sandalled foot slipped on the stone. “Ooh-la-la!” she cried, eyes wide, laughing. For years I have been hoping to hear a real French person saying “ooh-la-la” in the wild. I have come close over the years: many “ooh”s, a fair few “la-la”s. I am delighted that it was finally delivered by a seven-year-old playing her friends. Sank ‘eaven for leetle girls.
3 October 2021 (Sunday) – Paris
A day of many delights – including the Musee Nissim de Camondo, on the edge of Parc Monceau, where Count Moise de Camondo, in the early 20th century, built an 18th century mansion and filled it with 18th century furniture and paintings, and which Edmund de Waal writes about in Letters to Camondo – but my favourite delight was in the evening, at a restaurant on Avenue des Gobelins, watching an elderly, white-haired man with a Colonel Sanders beard walk outside to talk on the phone. Only when he had finished, and made his way back to his table and his carafe of wine and his meal, did I realise that he was dining alone. What has become of the world that it strikes me as so astonishingly elegant that someone should step outside to take a phone call, even when he is dining alone?
2 October 2021 (Saturday) – Paris
A perfect Paris moment: at 8.30 pm I walked from Place D’Italie down Boulevard Vincent Auriole towards the river. It’s a half-hour walk and I was on my way to the Cinematheque in Bercy, my second-favourite place in the world to watch a movie. (Or perhaps third, now that Alan has built his cinema.) All day every day the Cinematheque plays old movies and retrospectives, and I didn’t so much care which movie I was going to see (in fact it was Diane Keaton and Richard Gere in Looking for Mr Goodbar, 1977, nonsense) – what I wanted was to sit in the vast, raked Salle Henri Langlois again on a Saturday night, in the company of enthusiasts and cinephiles, watching a film the way films should be watched. There was a light rain and the road and sidewalks gleamed. To my left were well-lit brasseries and delicately lit bars, a tiny candlelit restaurant with one large table of ten or twelve people celebrating a beaming white-haired old lady at its head. To my right were the elevated tracks of the Metro 6 line, floating in the wet air on their pale colonnade of pillars. Trains rushed past and towards me in streaks of white fluorescent tube-lights. The rain picked up as I descended the hill and as I crossed the river great black wet gusts came sweeping down the water. It was thrilling to be alone on foot in Paris in the autumn rain, a flaneur, anonymous, unseen, unknown, an atom, an electron, the poignancy of it, the exhilarating, happy terror and loneliness of it.
1 October 2021 (Friday) – leaving Cape Town
Driving to the airport, with bags packed and the light falling beautifully on the mountain, will always be my deepest delight. It has been a brief and unplanned-for visit, run through with death and grieving and administrative impedimenta, and I haven’t seen all the people I want to see, nor for the length or quality of time that I want to see them, but still, there is that moment when you turn your eyes to the horizon and know that soon the wheels will leave the ground, and for me that is a thoroughgoing delight.
30 September 2021 (Thursday) – Cape Town
Something that I thought had gone away – a play that I wrote, which was scheduled to be produced last year, when there were still theatres in which to produce plays – looks like it might come back again. Who knows what might happen between now and February 2022, but at the moment that’s when my first play will be staged, and I am very delighted about it.
29 September 2021 (Wednesday) – Cape Town
I was able to be of help to some people today – nothing special or impressive, just driving them around, waiting for them, picking them up, doing small chores to make life easier. It is a positive delight to be of help to people again. It makes one feel less like a teenager, more like an adult.
28 September 2021 (Tuesday) – Cape Town
After a period of fairly bad luck and general stagnancy, I feel the first stirrings of things happening again, of movement and possibility. I am silly and superstitious when it comes to such things, and it’s surely all imaginary, but still: it is a delight to be imagining positive energy, rather than imagining negative energy, or no energy at all.
27 September 2021 (Monday) – Cape Town
A friend has built a wonderful home cinema and I went to watch Ian McKellen’s 80th birthday one-man show, broadcast via the National Theatre Live. That was delight: the variety and vastness, the depth and breadth of writing and performance and charm and energy and connection available to a human, let alone one who is 80 years old. His performance of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo” to close the first act was a glory in itself.
But a second delight: the show was two and a half hours long, which took us long into the evening. Driving on the empty streets half an hour home, an hour after curfew, was a laughing joy, like those dreams in which you can fly, and in which nothing of the every-day – like gravity or traffic – can hold you down.
26 September 2021 (Sunday) – Cape Town
Lying in bed in the morning, and finishing Middlemarch. What a book. Why didn’t I read it years ago? I should have read it at least twice by now.
25 September 2021 (Saturday) – Cape Town
A delicious, comforting, spiritually enriching macaroni and cheese, made by the only person in the world who can make macaroni and cheese the way I like it: me.
24 September 2021 (Friday) – Cape Town
Unearthing old notebooks filled with ideas and half-started stories and projects, and reading through them with the gratifying feeling of, “Why didn’t I finish this? This is good!”
23 September 2021 (Thursday) – Cape Town
Completing the first new creative proposal I have made in a while feels good. It is always good to put things into the world, rather than waiting for things to happen. It’s an act of faith, a sign to yourself you’re still around.
22 September 2021 (Wednesday) – Cape Town
After a hot day everyone was at the Sea Point promenade this evening, enjoying the warm air and a sea turning gold and crimson in a spectacular sunset. Turner should have been around to paint such a sunset. Dogs chased each other around the benches good-naturedly. Courting couples sat on the grass with their legs stretched out in front of them. Joggers stopped in mid-stride to stare at the water and the sky. There was no wind. Everyone seemed to be smiling.
21 September 2021 (Tuesday) – Cape Town
After a time during which such folks were thin on the ground, I have finally found friends again who will drink with me at lunch. Everyone knows that daytime wine is of an altogether different order to its ponderous night-time self. Daytime wine has jewels in it, and iridescence and refraction and laughter, and people who drink wine with you at lunch on a weekday are to be cherished indeed.
20 September 2021 (Monday) – Cape Town
Next month I am taking a long ten-day walk beside a French river, so I have started taking early-morning walks to get back into walking shape, after a month of illness and general malaise. It is difficult, when you are a lazy slug like I am, to force yourself from your warm bed and out into the dawn, but once you’re out there it is a delight to walk with the sunlight falling on the hillside in diagonal sheets and the damp earth under your feet, and it is a delight to feel yourself getting stronger and enjoying the movement of your limbs and your lungs again.
19 September 2021 (Sunday) – Cape Town
Spending an entire morning reading, and emerging from it consolidated and refreshed and feeling more like myself again.
18 September 2021 (Saturday) – Cape Town
I saw an unusual number of people this week and today, for one reason and another, and it was a delight to see them, to smile and chat and connect however briefly. My instinct in difficult times is to pull away from people, to gather myself away from other people’s eyes, but it is good to reminded that people are good and sustaining and that even short meetings with people you care about are nourishing.
17 September 2021 (Friday) – Cape Town
Meeting a friend for quick, hurried late-lunch meeting in a square under a tree that is budding with spring. At the end she said, “I feel so good for having met you. You are a real mood-enhancer.” I say this not to boast – I can’t for the life of me imagine what experience of me would cause anyone to think that I am a mood-enhancer – but that was the most delightful thing anyone has said to me in years.
16 September 2021 (Thursday) – Cape Town
I am not Jewish but today was a day of fasting on Yom Kippur. I take any opportunity to mark a day and make it meaningful, to break the unending and blurring flow of time. I was grateful for the opportunity to be mindful, to remember and to atone, and then to walk up the road to a relative to break the fast with tea and chiffon cake.
15 September 2021 (Wednesday) – Cape Town
Seared swordfish with tamarind dressing and green asparagus, eaten with good company in a good restaurant that doesn’t play music.
14 September 2021 (Tuesday) – Cape Town
Being invited to something social, and deciding you don’t want to go, and saying, “No, I’m sorry, and thank you for inviting me, but I don’t want to.” What perfect, joyful freedom.
13 September 2021 (Monday) – Cape Town
The arum lilies are out – great glades and vales of them, and at dusk on the path I have taken to walking recently, they seem to glow, white and ghostly.
12 September 20201 (Sunday) – Cape Town
It is a long-standing principle of mine, when seeking ease and comfort, to work opposite to the prevailing climate. One of my most enjoyable and memorable reading experiences came during a week-long beach holiday in Mauritius, when I read Roland Huntford’s thrilling biography of the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, lost in the icy dark frozen seas. Today, on a cold and rainy and cloud-shrouded Sunday morning, it was a pure delight to watch Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in white linen and mopping his brow in the yellow sunshine in Death on the Nile (1978).
11 September 2021 (Saturday) – Cape Town
There is no wine that tastes as good as wine swigged from the bottle while you’re walking a long way in nature.
10 September 2021 (Friday) – Cape Town
A luxury of a delight: sitting alone in a coffee shop with a book and coffee and too much, too expensive cake.
9 September 2021 (Thursday) – Cape Town
Something I haven’t done in ages: a walk with a friend, and many laughs.
8 September 2021 (Wednesday) – Cape Town
An evening sky, evenly and cleanly divided between pink and blue.
7 September 2021 (Tuesday) – Barrydale to Cape Town
A good drive with good listening. How often on a Monday morning do you get to cry twice, cleansingly, and for different reasons: first while listening to Edmund de Waal talking about his book Letters to Camondo, and later while listening to Purcell’s “Dido’s lament”? And all the while the clean air and glimpses of the shining sea and the rolling fresh fields.
6 September 2021 (Monday) – Barrydale
A mongoose, long and red and wary but very intelligent of eye, walked up onto the porch and watched me through the glass as I threw more wood onto the fire. I say “walk”, but mongooses don’t walk, they flow like furry water.
5 September 2021 (Sunday) – Barrydale
The next wave of movement decided and booked: two weeks of thoughtful and restorative walking through the Dordogne in the first half of October, followed by two weeks in Riga on the wintering coast of the Baltic. There is great delight in the delicate play between two equally thrilling and intimately interconnected states: the wide-open potential of not knowing where you will be next month, then the moment of decision to bring it swimming suddenly into focus. It has taken me many years to find the way of being that best suits me. It’s not for everyone, but it’s wholeheartedly for me.
4 September 2021 (Saturday) – Barrydale
A wreath made by neighbours and left waiting on the outside table to be found when we came in from a walk. Beautifully braided with local herbs and spring flowers, thyme and sage, pumpkin leaves, lavender – the local plants from a place that meant so much to Pete. Thoughtful and lovely and fragrant and perfect.
3 September 2021 (Friday) – Barrydale
Waking up in a peaceful place that I love, and listening to the brand-new Abba songs, which for some embarrassing reason made me feel a little teary and optimistic.
2 September 2021 (Thursday) – Cape Town to Barrydale
Driving through the bountiful small karoo, a hillside of yellow flowers to the left, a field of ploughed red soil to the right and the road a black diagonal between the two blocs of colour. it is like driving across the flag of some small newly-declared Caribbean nation.
1 September 2021 (Wednesday) – Cape Town
It either is or isn’t the first day of spring, depending on whether you’re a symbolist or a strict calendarist. Me, I have no great desire for spring – I am so thoroughly enjoying the crisp cold of winter, after the hellfire of the Greek summer – but I am always eager for a reason to believe in a new beginning, a starting again. I love Mondays because they’re a chance to superstitiously try again, and New Years Days and 1 Septembers are just Mondays on steroids.
31 August 2021 (Tuesday) – Cape Town
Tafelberg Road after the rains should be designated an official Waterfall Route, especially after a summer in which there was a big fire. The old foliage and dead wood has been cleared away, and all is green and pared back so that you can see the folds of the land, the sharpness of the ravines, the full exuberant lengths of the waterfalls. Around every bend is another fall – this one a silver cascade, that one a long white ribbon coming down from the clouds, that one a kind of impossible flowing vertical river.
30 August 2021 (Monday) – Cape Town
I listened to an interview with Quentin Tarantino talking about movies. He was talking about kung-fu movies, 70s action movies, prison-escape movies, William Smith, Sonny Chiba, Charles Bronson movies, trucker movies, movies, movies, movies. Quentin Tarantino isn’t to everyone’s taste and that’s fine, but it is a sheer delight to listen to anyone so thoroughly engaged with, so knowledgeable about, so passionately in love with anything as Quentin Tarantino is in love with movies.
29 August 2021 (Sunday) – Cape Town
Have you ever played Jaws – The Board Game? It’s fantastic. One player is the shark, one is Quint, one Hooper, one Brodie, and the three humans have to work together to defeat the terror in the deep. It’s exciting, it’s true to the movie, it’s the next best thing to a long summer’s day on Amity Island, suspiciously surveying the sea.
28 August 2021 (Saturday) – Cape Town
It’s a terrible confession, but my delight today was finding and buying a nice pair of shoes. Not just any shoes – the perfect shoes for a long walk I am planning in October. They are just right – light, water-resistant, sturdy and extremely attractive. When you are walking a long way, it’s pleasing to be able to look down and see something elegant bearing you along.
27 August 2021 (Friday) – Cape Town
Today’s delight is all about Mihaelis.
In a small, shabby municipal building on a hillside in the eastern Aegean island of Kalymnos is a government worker named Mihaelis. He works for KEP, the Citizen’s Service Centre, which is in some ways the Greek version of Home Affairs – you have to visit KEP in order to get paperwork, certificates, registrations, permissions, all the dismal impedimenta of workaday life. In order to receive a vaccination in Greece I had to receive a temporary National Health number from KEP, which duly happened, but there was some sort of administrative mishandling somewhere in Athens, with the result that I was registered on the wrong data base, which meant … the usual long boring story.
Mihaelis sits in his depressing KEP office above the port, with a 1990s-era computer connected to a network that only works for ten minutes at a time, randomly, before dropping and having to be rebooted. Any meaningful interaction he can make with KEP centre takes at least fifteen minutes, resulting in clear logistical and motivational problems. When the problem was presented to Mihaelis, he drew himself to his full height and full dignity and swore that he, Mihaelis, would solve the problem, that he would launch an appeal against the wrong data-base allocation, that he would not rest until he put the matters right and restored the honour of KEP. He begged merely that we grant him some time, since the network – he patted the computer soothingly – needed patience and a gentle hand. The next day, he telephoned in triumph. He, Mihaelis, was as good as his word! The matter was solved! Vaccination was mine to be had!
“You,” we told Mihaelis, “are not merely a noble Greek, but a Hercules, an Achilles, a Greek hero.”
I duly had the vaccination, but that very afternoon the bad news arrived from South Africa that Jo’s father had died, so we had to go scrambling back to Cape Town. This week I realised that I didn’t have my EU vaccination certificate, which I would need in order to re-enter Europe without fuss and quarantine. How does one get one’s vaccination certificate? One must go into KEP. Imagine being, say, a Greek citizen, back in Greece after a stay in SA, and having to contact our Home Affairs to ask someone there to do you a favour and email you a piece of paper that their protocols say needs to be picked up in person. How confident would you be of success? This week we contacted Mihaelis and explained the situation. Mihaelis replied with vigour and promptitude. He, Mihaelis, would not rest until he had found the certificate on-line, downloaded it, carried it off to his cousin’s personal computer in the village (since he is not allowed to use the network for personal activities) and emailed it to me. He added: “Hopefully, this time, the internet connection will show mercy to me and let me work on normal mode, not heroic“.
But that is not why Mihaelis is my delight today. The delight is the paragraph with which he opened the email. It is one thing to take the time and make the effort to go above and beyond one’s underpaid and under-appreciated job to help a stranger who isn’t even one of the citizens it’s your job to serve, but imagine first taking the time to write this:
“Of course I must help, but first and most importantly, I must please offer you my condolences for your loss. I hope you and your family recover quickly from the trauma. Since the happiness of the child is the goal of the parent, by living happily we honor their memory and the efforts to raise us. May you please live happily.”
26 August 2021 (Thursday) – Cape Town
The storm coming off the Atlantic and the cloud swallowing the apartment block and the heavy rain and the sound of wind through the trees and the chirping of the tree frogs while I watch The Ox-Bow Incident (William Wellman, 1942).
25 August 2021 (Wednesday) – Cape Town
I haven’t watched a DVD in a long time, but the place where I am staying has a DVD player and I have access to the DVDs I bought in the days before streaming. What a delight it is to handle something tangible again, to see the box sitting on the table, to be excited by the cover, to pick it up, open it up, slip something physical into something else physical. I re-watched The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946), the old noir they made from the Hemingway short story, with Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner smouldering like a cigar left on the edge of a table. I only meant to watch the first sequence, up until the Swede gets what’s coming to him, but the afternoon slipped away in a happy daze of shadows and hats and Edmond O’Brien trying to figure out the truth.
24 August 2021 (Tuesday) – Cape Town
An unplanned evening of drinking red wine and talking and remembering and forgetting. Sometimes getting drunk is as good as a holiday.
23 August 2021 (Monday) – Cape Town
I haven’t been to the Green Point Park in a long while. I remember when it was first built, low and scrubby and requiring an act of imagination. I wandered through today and what a delight it has become – shady and dense, with hidden corners and thickets where birds and small creatures scurry, and fragrant stretches and a family of otters lurking as-yet unspotted (by me). And scattered around are people of different races and cultures and walks of life, playing and picnicking and watching their children and enjoying the public space together. It is quite, quite lovely.
22 August 2021 (Sunday) – Cape Town
A walk along a path that I have only walked once before, 30 years ago when I accompanied my grandmother and my grandfather on their daily walk after lunch, when I first internalised the importance of a walk every day.
21 August 2021 (Saturday) – Cape Town
There is no light as nostalgic and profoundly appealing to me as the bright crisp light of a sunny winter’s day in Cape Town, the light that smells of pine needles and damp stone.
20 August 2021 (Friday) – Cape Town
Someone in my block was taking a telephone call and stood outside my window as she chatted. I had forgotten what a delight it is to eavesdrop on other people’s calls.
19 August 2021 (Thursday) – Cape Town
A biscuit with your afternoon tea.
18 August 2021 (Wednesday) – Cape Town
Waking to the rain in the morning, and then once it has cleared, the bright winter sun lying across the grey sea like a shining ingot of silver.
17 August 2021 (Tuesday) – Cape Town
The satisfaction of sitting quietly in a room, in absolute silence and absolutely alone, reading a book.
16 August 2021 (Monday) – Cape Town
In the late afternoon, a walk on the fire break on the city-side of Signal Hill, the contour path that runs behind the apartment block where I stay and which I used for daily guerilla escapes during the first days of lockdown. The clouds are coming over Signal Hill and swirling around my legs, and there are small bright flowers in yellow and purple, like gorse or heather. It feels like being on foot in the Scottish Highlands as night comes in, like Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps. Through the haze down below the orange street lights glow like scattered camp fires.
15 August 2021 (Sunday) – Cape Town
After several months in the Mediterranean heat and summer, to take a long walk through the quiet streets in the freshness and coolness of the sunny Cape winter’s day is a profound delight. The greenness of the green, the young buds on bare branches, the crisp blue air, a squirrel.
14 August 2021 (Saturday) – Cape Town
Flowers. Messages. Food dropped off. Phone calls. The tangible, difficult, thoughtful reachings out between human beings. Laughter. Kindness. The acknowledgement that times of grief are like other times, with the same mix of different emotions – only the proportions are altered.
13 August 2021 (Friday) – Athens
I am by nature a cheapskate, a skinflint, a penny-pincher and a tightwad. I begrudge every unnecessary expenditure and celebrate every penny withheld from the rapacious claws of the world, but of all the expenses in the world, there is no expense quite so worth every penny like the expense of arriving in a city early in the morning, for a flight out later that evening, and immediately booking yourself into a good hotel room in which to pass the day.
12 August 2021 (Thursday) – Kalymnos (leaving on a ferry)
When you are scrambling to get home at very short notice during Covid times, and you need to wrangle favours, forge documents, expedite medical procedures and generally confound the law-making, rule-setting enemies of life, you will find that it is very difficult to beat the Greeks you meet on a remote island – from strangers in cafes to government officials and medical practitioners and local crime figures and high-school English teachers – all of whom are ready to break or bend the law without a second thought in order to help a stranger in need.
11 August 2021 (Wednesday) – Kalymnos
Someone I love very much died this evening. It wasn’t Covid, it was his heart, which was so full and so good and so utterly without rancour or malice, and which lasted the first four hours of the operation to save it, but couldn’t make it through the fifth. He had a good life, lived well. He raised children he loved, and raised them well. He loved his wife and he loved her well. The news came across half the world tonight and it was a shock, it felt like the world cleaving in half. He was happy with his life, and he deserved to be happy. I loved him, he was my second father, and this isn’t a delight, but I am deeply grateful that I told him so a week ago. I wrote him a letter and told him many things, and at the end of it asked him not to reply. He wrote back, “As requested, this is not a reply. XXXXX”
10 August 2021 (Tuesday) – Kalymnos
I finished a long project of work today, storylining a television series for Netflix. The project started with eight people in the (virtual) room, and through attrition and natural selection ended today, nine months later, with three people, one of us in Greece, one in Berlin, one in Johannesburg. Both those other people – two women, one from South Africa, one from Nigeria, neither of whom I’d worked with before – are so splendid and so good at their jobs that I feel honestly lighter and less lonely for having them in my professional life. The ending of the project was a delight, obviously – it’s always good when work ends – but the real delight was recognising how lucky I have been to have worked with them.
9 August 2021 (Monday) – Kalymnos
The pealing of the church bells at odd hours of the day. Someone has been born, or died, or married. Each time I hear them, I say, like an old man making his favourite joke, “I wonder who?” And Jo answers, without looking up: “Thee.”
8 August 2021 (Sunday) – Kalymnos
In the cab to Massouri, the driver explained that at Easter time, people on Kalymnos light sticks of dynamite and throw them off the sides of the cliffs. If we are here at Easter time and hear loud explosions, that’s what it is. Not fireworks – dynamite. I heard some loud explosions the other day that sounded like dynamite, I told him. It probably was dynamite, he said solemnly. But it’s not Easter, I said. “People in Kalymnos,” he mused philosophically, “don’t need an excuse to set off dynamite.”
7 August 2021 (Saturday) – Kalymnos
On my way to swim I noticed three teenaged girls – a mix of sisters and friends, I would guess – poking around the rockpools, inspecting the little fish and weeds and shells, discussing what they find. I am used to small girls being interested in the world, but when last have I seen teenagers so rapt in playing and exploring, so focused on something not inside a screen? I walked past, feeling good about it, and swam at my swimming spot and walked back that way an hour or so later, with the dusk purpling the water. They were at another rockpool, still rapt, still fascinated. I wanted to put them in my will and leave them all my worldly goods.
6 August 2021 (Friday) – Kalymnos
When the wind is right we can see on the horizon the smoke from the wildfires in Turkey, and sometimes from Rhodes. It’s a topic of conversation as you do your business in town – the heat and the fires, and always in that lazy, island-way of discussing problems – with care and sympathy and gentle humour, but without the fear and urgency and emotional investment of the mainland. “We are very lucky here,” said the man in the pharmacy cheerfully. “We have no trees on Kalymnos – there is nothing to burn!”
5 August 2021 (Thursday) – Kalymnos
Diving from a stone jetty out of the heat into the ice-blue, surprisingly cold Aegean. All along the edge of the island there are families treading water in the sea, feeling the sweat and the heat and the day rinsing off them. It is a delight to be a part of it.
4 August 2021 (Wednesday) – Kalymnos
It was 42 degrees here today – perhaps higher, the man in the pastry shop darkly grumbled – and normally I am afraid of the heat. The heat to me is like a rabid dog in the streets. But this I think is a different kind of heat to the heat I fear – this is a dry oven-heat that can cause telephone poles to burst into flames if they aren’t moistened, but in which you can survive, even if you venture out, if you stick to the shaded backstreets and sit somewhere the hot Sahara wind can’t touch you, and if you don’t move too much and eat Mihali’s delicious galaktabourikos and mastic ice-cream. I confronted my fear of the animal heat and instead of unraveling me, it almost, somewhat, invigorated me.
3 August 2021 (Tuesday) – Kalymnos
Every day, several times a day, the flat starts shaking. Books fall over in the shelves, crockery rattles, the sofa or the bed jolts and jerks beneath me as though I am back on the boat. It is funny how the mind takes facts and makes up explanations for them, either mundane or fanciful, depending on your propensity for drama. At first I thought it must be the pipes and plumbing in the building, then on one occasion at the same time as the shaking I heard a heavy vehicle pass in the street below and thought it must be something to do with that. Dull. But no – it turns out these are earthquakes, the most recent a solid 5.6 on the Richter scale. Earthquakes from the same fault line that blew up Santorini, that once caused arrogant Atlantis to sink beneath the waves! Imagine the good luck, the charm, the thrill of being on island that shakes with ancient daily quakes! Now we wait eagerly for them, and sing out to the other in another room: “Here’s another one!” and we put down our books or our work and look around with shining eyes at this new excitement that has not yet grown old.
2 August 2021 (Monday) – Kalymnos
I started writing a book.
1 August 2021 (Sunday) – Kalymnos
There is a heatwave in the eastern Aegean but it broke a little this evening, in time for me to take a wavering venture out into the world, to see the people in the streets and drinking at sidewalk tables, hearing live musicians, strolling the harbour, feeling part of the world and my surroundings again. What is more delightful than your first strong ouzo after a confinement, and sitting talking with a half-litre of cheap cold white island wine and the dropping light and the village of people resting after the heat of the day? Nothing is more delightful.
31 July 2021 (Saturday) – Kalymnos
A cup of coffee in a small white elegant cup in the morning, seated at a clean white writing desk.
30 July 2021 (Friday) – Kalymnos
Writing emails to withdraw from projects I dont want to do; to say no to invitations to which I want to say no. How freeing it is to choose more fearlessly where your energies will be directed.
29 July 2021 (Thursday) Athens – Kalymnos
I am withdrawing to the island of Kalymnos to rest and recover for a month. I am reading Middlemarch, which I have never read before, and the stately elegant, civilised human rhythms of it are wonderfully soothing and restorative. I return to it as to a cool spring.
28 July 2021 (Wednesday) – Athens
Released from the medical world, and a slow unsteady walk to the nearby apartment through tree-shaded Athenian streets. No island cicadas here, but the chirping of birds and bugs, the hot sun throwing your shadow ahead of you. Walking unaided.
27 July 2021 (Tuesday) – Athens
The surgery was longer and more difficult than expected because the infection was worse than anticipated, so I am being kept an extra day in the hospital. My room-mate is named Alexandros. He is here for ten days because he ate some village cheese made from raw milk, and it gave him an infection that spread through his whole body. He is a fisherman from Euboia, “a diver”, he clarifies proudly, which means he poaches sea cucumbers, but he tells me that being ill has given him perspective. Life is simple, he says melancholically – it is only people’s mind and thoughts that make it complicated. I have just had a large dose of pethadine, so this strikes me as cosmically true and important. Alexandros says that after this he is going to think less about chasing money, chasing what’s not important. When a Greek fisherman is telling you that he’s quitting the rat-race, that is something to consider indeed.
26 July 2021 (Monday) – Athens
I have flown to Athens to consult with a surgeon and he has booked me in for emergency surgery. He is comforting and assuring. When I am placed on a gurney, an orderly called Costas, with smiling eyes, rubs my shoulder and then my thigh and then my foot, and tells me that Doctor Pappis is very good. “You are safe,” he says. I will never forget those words, and the feel of this kind stranger’s hand on my shoulder, my thigh, my foot.
25 July 2021 (Sunday) Cephalonia – Athens
The first time stepping outside to see the blue moving bay of Agostoli, and a vast cruise ship moored. It was delightful to think of the people on board, eating their breakfasts and drinking their coffee and orange juice, excitedly anticipating their day on shore, sighing out over the beautiful green mountains of Cephalonia, living their lives. I hoped they were all very happy.
24 July 2021 (Saturday) Agostoli, Cephalonia
Unexpectedly, after five days, my temperature drops enough and I am released to return to my hotel. This isn’t a delight though. A delight is a joyful participation in life. This is a trembling, subdued, almost overwhelmed re-entry to life. This is silent, awed relief. The delight is in the coolness of the room after I enter, the warmth of the water in the shower, the cleanness of my hair, the taste of cold water that does not taste of an institution.
23 July 2021 (Friday) Cephalonia General Hospital
Two sabbaticals, one after the other, the second unscheduled. Just after writing that previous entry, I was struck down in the night – woken, actually – by terrible chest pain that finally turned out to be not the feared cardiac event but a rotten cascade of inflamations and infections, all of which will culminate, at some point to be determined once the infection is under control – with a surgical subtraction. For four days I have been languishing in this hospital bed, rigged up to morphine drips and suchlike medical esoterica, feeling generally glum. But feeling glum is no excuse for not recognising delight. The breeze, for instance, that comes from the fresh outdoors and gusts the yellow curtains before cooling me down. My partner, who sits all day at my bedside, uncomplaining and cheery and making logistical arrangements to cancel flights, take new accommodation, wrangle with the doctors to try extract an answer or an explanation. Lying before sleep listening to the old man in the far bed with his adult daughter and the long, gentle, low, interrupted rumbling rhythms of their conversation as she talks him to sleep.
19 July 2021 (Monday) Cephalonia
I was fortunate when I decided to take a sabbatical while on the boat. Firstly, because shortly after getting onto the boat, it seems that South Africa, where I am from and partially live, was seized with the fear and fury and protracted uncertainty of violent protests, and it would have wrongheaded to send a constant stream of delight back into what, from a distance, feels like a well or a wall of discontent and gloom. Being there, I have no problem with focusing on what makes me happy, and don’t much mind who doesn’t like that. But not being there changes things.
Secondly, the point of a practice of daily delight is to train the eye and the mind to focus on what brings joy, on the principle that what you focus on is who you are. The last week has been such a wash of delight, such a blue-refracted, rock-warmed, gently swaying salty extravagance of sensual ease and dissolution that picking out individual delights would have become an exercise in listing pleasures, which isn’t the point at all.
But now I am back on land again, on Corelli’s island of Cephalonia, where there are sea turtles in the harbour at Agostoli and roads through the mountains like tangles of yarn.
10 July 2021 (Saturday) Corfu
For a year and a half I have faithfully kept to my Daily Delights, a practise that has caused me at least as much pleasure as the delights themselves have, so it’s with some sorrow that I have to announce a sabbatical. It’s not a long sabbatical – only a week – but still. This evening I board a fine local boat to spend the next seven days drifting like Odysseus through the Greek seas and isles, including at last Ithaka. Perhaps I will take handwritten notes of the delights and wonders, but I won’t be turning on the screen. Thank you for voyaging with me, these past eighteen months, and I hope you will join me again in a week, when I untie myself from the mast. In the meanwhile, this is the poem I read aloud last night
(by C.P. Cavafy, translated by E. Keeley)
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
9 July 2021 (Friday) Corfu
Friends from South Africa fly in tonight. Tomorrow we will board a boat together and sail the Ionian Seas for a week to Cephalonia, but tonight we must feast, and have been combing the streets of Corfu Town for just the right place, with good lamb chops and good wine sold cheap by the jug, not too quiet and not too loud, family-run and friendly and which passes the stringent Tzatziki test. It is a delight to make yourself responsible for friends’ first night in a new place, to take on yourself the enjoyable task of introducing them to a place you have come to know, however slightly you know it. It is a creative offering, and those are always delightful to make.
8 July 2021 (Thursday) Corfu
I am delighted by the casualness with which older Greek women carry their bodies. We are used to this with men, although I suspect increasing numbers of younger men are becoming more self-conscious, but in Greece middle-aged and older women think nothing sitting at a seaside taverna in their swimsuits, with their bellies generously at ease and their thighs and arms unconcealed. These are women enjoying their lives and the bodies through which their lives are lived. There is a mental imperviousness and sensual enjoyment that pleases me deeply.
7 July 2021 (Wednesday) Athens – Corfu
Landing for the first time in a new place is the greatest delight of all, but Corfu Town is already a joy. I have always have thought of it as a mythical place, Gerald Durrell’s Eden, a place of lost childhood that couldn’t possibly exist, and then later also as an Eden ruined by the modern world, shattered by tourism. But the Old Town is a warm and happy joy – wide alleys and polished marble flagstones and laundry strung between buildings across the road; climbing walls of bougainvillea and mounds of flowering hibiscus; ice-cold beer, empty squares with fountains and benches and green shade.
6 July 2021 (Tuesday) Poros – Athens
In the day the bigger fish withdraw to the ocean depths, away from the sun and the boats and the nets. If you want to hear the big fellows breaking the water like swimmers, you have to go down to the shore in the dark hours before dawn, or, if you’re lucky and have walked in the early hours of daylight through the pine forests above Neiorio to the lighthouse and down around the headland to the Dana lighthouse on its lonely promontory, and you are sitting on the stone ledge staring at the sea, you might catch the sudden boiling on the surface of small fish panicking and scattering and then the rise and snap and splash of a big head and tail and then watch with the quiet delight of having been vouchsafed a glimpse behind the scenes as the water flattens and smooths and becomes a silvery mirror again.
5 July 2021 (Monday) Poros
Packing to leave, and the excitement of movement combined with the sweet melancholy of leaving once again a place I really love. Dinner on the quay, looking at the yachts, their lights on the water. The illuminated clock tower on the hill above. The hills of the Peloponnese across the strait. The music of Noel Coward. A glass of ouzo drunk the Greek way, refilling with ice until finally it’s totally clear.
4 July 2021 (Sunday) Poros
Walking on my land at 8pm, with the sun still dropping toward the sea, and finding where the sage and the thyme are growing wild, and the rosemary, and smelling the heat rising from the soil and the stones. Everyone loves the word “petrichor” – the smell of rain on rock – even though it is a made-up word that was coined sometime in the 1960s, but I would like to learn or coin the word for the smell of rock and stone cooling in the bluing air of the evening. It has something in it of herbs and honey and dust and wood and – uniquely – that aromatherapic sense of the body exhaling and relaxing after the heat of the day, and I think it is my favourite smell.
3 July 2021 (Saturday) Poros
A friend named Christos has come from Athens to visit for the weekend. I want to impress him with my Greek, so I try to order from the waiter – also named Christos – from whom I have been happily and easily ordering all week. Suddenly, it is as though I am invisible, a ghost. The waiter Christos can’t hear me; when I speak he can’t understand me. I am but a breath of breeze passing through the pine needles. My friend Christos watches this drawn-out saga of bafflement and despair on my part, and blank-faced incomprehension on the waiter Christos’s. Finally, conversationally, my friend Christos says in Greek to the waiter Christos: “Are you doing this on purpose?” “Of course,” says the waiter Christos, and the two of them laugh, then everyone laughs and the waiter Christos sends us a jug of wine on the house.
2 July 2021 (Friday) Poros
Outside my bedroom window in this rented apartment, a bright bank, an effulgence, an ecstatic cerise multiple inflorescence of bougainvillea.
1 July 2021 (Thursday) Poros
In a taverna on Vathi, on the Methana peninsula nearby, where I worked and had a iced cappuccino this morning, one of the waiters is deaf. The regulars all have learnt some sign-language to communicate with him, and greet him and chat as they walk by.
30 June 2021 (Wednesday) Poros
The woman who cleans my apartment left a bowl of deep red cherries in the fridge. They were cold and tart and sweet and tasted like heat and health, and I like the sound of the pits clinking in the bowl when I spit them out, and they reminded me of Tom and Tanya, who took me cherry picking in Cape Town. They made me very happy.
29 June 2021 (Tuesday) Poros
A late-night swim in the velvet-black sea with the lights from the jetty making broken beams across the surface and the pale pebbles of the sea bed gleaming. Floating in water as warm as arms.
28 June 2021 (Monday) Poros
Dinner on the quayside with Nikos and Katerina the architects in the hot evening, eating fresh anchovies and prawn saganaki and smoked aubergine and tuna pate and dolmadakia and crispy calamari and cheese in kataiafi with peach marmalade and honey, talking about Greek history and politics and telling terrible jokes that had to be translated and about finding meaning in life. This isn’t a small delight, it’s a huge one. It’s one of the reasons I’m here.
27 June 2021 (Sunday) Poros
Across to the mainland for the first visit to our land. What a delight it is to feel the yellow-bound soil under my feet, and hear the sound of a cicada in an olive tree, and look out across the scuffed-velvet blue of the bay to the distant whale-back rises of hill and island. The house will go there – there’ll be a walking path here and a narrow road over there – we can move that tree … This here is a toe-hold; this is where the roots go in.
26 June 2021 (Saturday) Athens – Poros
So many delights when returning to a place where I have been very happy before: the fridge in the apartment thoughtfully stocked before we arrived with wine and water and beer and honey and milk and cherries and peaches; Sofia at O Petros taverna recognising us as we sat; half a litre of white wine that costs 2 euros fifty and tastes like cold sunlight; a wooden table and chair on a shingle beach under the shade of a Mediterranean pine; the smell of jasmine in the evening as the heat of day subsides; floating out in the still sea with small Mediterranean fish swimming between my dangling feet and the sandy sea-floor. Tomorrow, I go to see my land.
25 June 2021 (Friday) Oxford – Athens
For fifteen months I have been planning one thing: how to get back to Greece. Everything I have done in between has been a lateral or diagonal or in some cases backwards chess move to try to get myself to Greece, where I have yet to see the land I have bought, and yet to start building. Depending on how you interpret the Greek regulations at the moment, I either am or am not strictly allowed into Greece, but I finally, armed with mountains of paperwork, some of it relevant, presented myself at Heathrow this morning and was met with frowning faces. Conversations were had, decisions were deferred. I was allowed through the security check and to the boarding gates, but I would only know when it came time to board what the final decision would be. The flight left at 12.15. At noon I presented myself at the gate and the woman in the Air Aegean uniform winked at me and said, “Ok to board.”
Athens is my favourite city in the world. I stay each time in Soula’s apartments over her pizza shop in Ermou Street, and she was there on the sidewalk beaming and bountiful, dispensing hugs and slices of free pizza. Monastiraki was abuzz with voices and music and rembetiko singers and people in the hot air eating and drinking water and small coffees and beer, laughing and arguing. The Greeks have no truck with trauma – they don’t expect everything to go well all the time, so when things are good they don’t waste it thinking about the recent past when they weren’t. Things are good right now. The night was blue and then black velvet, and the Parthenon floated over it all, illuminated, a promise cast in stone.
24 June 2021 (Thursday) Oxford
Hot sake and padron peppers in miso and chicken gyoza and braised aubergine in soy-sake and salt-and-pepper chilli squid for lunch. Japanese food is the only food that afterwards makes me feel that I have done something expansive for my soul, as though I have read a good book or seen some sort of new theatre.
23 June 2021 (Wednesday) Oxford
Whenever I am in Oxford I go to the Ashmolean to say hello to the octopus amphora, found in the ruins of Knossos in Crete, and made roughly 1500 BC. It makes me happy to know that it is there when I am gone, waiting for me to come back and pay my respects.
Plus: the clear skies and bright, cool sun and the fresh breeze, and all the surfaces shining and sparkling and the fields and Port Meadow a bright, country green. The air itself like champagne in crystal. On a bright, summery day in Oxford it is as though your blood itself has fine, newly uncorked bubbles.
22 June 2021 (Tuesday) Oxford
A Nepalese curry house on Cowley Road where the precise, light, fragrant chicken curry made with tomatoes, coriander and fresh pears – Yes! Pears! – makes me just about as happy as a man can be .
21 June 2021 (Monday) London – Oxford
A day of moving. Moving days are always happy and exciting, no matter how happy you have been where you are. Everything packed and a last-minute deadline being met on the dining room table and a hired car arriving, and the grey misty hinterland awaiting. Movement, and the moments just before moving – these are pleasures beyond measure.
20 June 2021 (Sunday) London
The smell of roast beef through the apartment, and the smell of gravy and horseradish, and the the reflection of light passing through a glass of wine and touching the wall on the other side, while the window panes speck and silver with rain.
19 June 2021 (Saturday) London
I heard about a vaccination centre in the east, in Mile End, that was offering jabs to anyone who arrived, no ID required, no questions asked. It is aimed at migrants and refugees and those, as they delicately put it, “of insecure immigration status”. The queue was a great gathering of the nations – Afghans and Argentinians and Pakistanis and Dutch and Swedish and Moroccans and at least two South Africans. Everyone was good-natured, exchanging chit-chat and pleasantries and comparing notes. It was four hours in the queue and what a delightful four hours they were. Jo stood with me even though she is vaccinated. We made friends with a Dutch guy and especially with a Mexican woman, a director of photography named Lucia, and have plans to meet up when we return from Greece. It was a glorious day, and as a bonus I have my first vaccination.
18 June 2021 (Friday) London
A rain-speckled day, relieving the heat with cool gusts of air that seemed to come straight from the English Channel. I met Ros who I haven’t seen since 2006 outside the BBC where he works, and we walked to a pub and drank pints and watched the England-Scotland match through the window while he – dressed in his broadcast suit and immaculate hair and BBC decorum – foully abused any Scot who wandered near him. Later we watched with satisfaction as Metro police rounded up drunken Scotsmen in kilts and dragged them off in the back of their vans.
17 June 2021 (Thursday) London
I spotted a wild parakeet landing on a treetop in Regent’s Park, all green bodied and crimson-beaked and long-tailed. I have seen the tree-tops full of wild parakeets in Malaga but I never thought to spot one here. Some research reveals a number of popular origin stories:
- An undisclosed number of parakeets escaped from a particular pet-shop in Sunbury-on-Thames in 1970.
- The Great Storm of 1987 apparently flung upon the gates of the aviaries in the London Zoo, setting free the ‘keets.
- Jimi Hendrix, of all people, set free a pair of parakeets on Carnaby Street in the 1960s.
- My personal favourite: during the filming of the studio-sections of the great Humphrey Bogart/ Katherine Hepburn movie, The African Queen, at Ealing Studios in 1951, some of the parakeets – imported to simulate the wildlife of Africa – managed to make a clean break.
It is a joy, a treat: a colourful flash of wildness and mystery in the city.
16 June 2021 (Wednesday) London
An unexpected sudden summer downpour to break the gathering stone heat of the day, with the smell of hot tarmac and slate and brick, and the scent of wettened soil from the nearest park.
15 June 2021 (Tuesday) London
Back in a live theatre again. The performance was compelling but the real joy was being in a room with living, breathing people again, watching a living, breathing performer giving life to words from a page. Then afterwards a parting from friends and a walk along the river with the late light falling on the water like a Merchant-Ivory film.
14 June 2021 (Monday) London
Someone around the corner, on Baker Street, was playing the saxophone, and it was the song “Baker Street”. The song, now that my attention is drawn to it, is really very sad and resigned, which is a splendid quality in a song with a soaring saxophone riff.
13 June 2021 (Sunday) London
A train into the countryside to see someone I haven’t seen in twenty years, an old love – a first love! – and her family, and the feeling of us all sitting in the beautiful sun-fondled late afternoon after a splendid lunch, drinking excellent wine and laughing and talking about the years past and about the present and the future too, and enjoying the day and our new loves and each other’s company, and the delightful feeling that time itself can be kind and give us gifts.
12 June 2021 (Saturday) London
That feeling at the end of the night, when you have entertained for the first time in a new place, when the guests have gone and you have cleaned up everything, and you haven’t drunk too much and it has been a lovely evening, and the window is open to the night and the sounds of the late-night city drifting up, and a jar of fresh flowers on the table, purple and violet and white, and all is spic and span for the morning.
11 June 2021 (Friday) London
I am writing a script for a feature – actually, the outline for a script for a feature – and have been labouring for weeks over it, trying to solve something to make the whole thing cohere. I have been frustrated and dispirited at my failure to find the big idea, the grand solution, but I realised or remembered today, as I noodled further, that very usually big creative solutions don’t often come in great Eureka-flashes that make you leap from your bathtub and run down the street naked and jubilant: they more usually come incrementally, a slight tectonic shifting of elements and pieces and perspectives so slight and small that you don’t notice until one day you look at it and think, “Oh. It’s already solved.”
10 June 2021 (Thursday) London
There are some bookstores in the world that have a peculiar and individual power of enchantment. Some of them have books you haven’t run into elsewhere, of which you haven’t even heard, but which dazzle like jewels in a grotto in a children’s story, a dazing wealth of riches. Others have the same books you might find elsewhere but through some process of arrangement or juxtaposition or bewitchment they suddenly seem more desirable and compelling, the demand to be opened and touched and taken home. Not all bookstores have these qualities, and perhaps they are as individual as fingerprints. There is a bookstore back in Cape Town that everyone else seem to like, but where I have never managed to buy a book – I find it a smug place with a dour and joyless presiding spirit, stocked with worthiness and wagging fingers, where the very thought of reading feels like a shadow thrown over the soul. But the magical bookstores are a delight in my life: Adams Bookstore in West Street, Durban in the middle-80s; the Sandton Square (later Mandela Square) Exclusive Books in the early 2000s; the Cafda bookstore on Regent’s Road, Sea Point in the early 2010s; Daunt bookstore on Marylebone High Street right now.
9 June 2021 (Wednesday) London
The bright masses of pansies in the window boxes of Marylebone when the sun is out and they seem to be singing to the sky in sheer joy.
8 June 2021 (Tuesday) London
It has been a long time since I read, in broad daylight, to the end of a novel because I could not stop reading, with such hope and foreboding, and I don’t know if I have ever before gasped on the final line of the final page with shock at the exquisite, inevitable unexpectedness of it, the brutal perfection of it. That happened today, with Shirley Hazzard’s Transit of Venus. It is hard reading, and slow. It expects much of its reader as a reader and even more as a person. I hesitate to recommend it because the world as it is is does not want us to be the kind of people who can read it with the care and patience and love it quietly requires of us. I cannot wait to read it again.
7 June 2021 (Monday) London
The roses in Queen Mary’s Garden in Regent’s Park are all in bloom. There are too many different kinds to try smell them all, so you have to try to assess by their colours whether they’ll have a scent. I don’t always guess correctly. There is something outrageous and insulting about a rose without a scent. I straighten from the rose in indignation, as though I have been the victim of a cruel hoax designed specially to make a fool of me. But the others are very gratifying. One kind smells of lemon curd. Another causes me to squeal like a child: “Ooh! Turkish delight!” It takes me a while to remember that the rose doesn’t smell like Turkish Delight; Turkish Delight smells like the rose. (A special shout-out to the Anne Boleyn cultivar, who has scent “like the icing on a Zoo Biscuit”.)
6 June 2021 (Sunday) London
My first digital sabbath. I am writing this on Monday morning because from sunset on Saturday night to the end Sunday I didn’t turn on a screen or a device or a gadget. Each week I am going to take a digital Shabbat, and this one was a purest joy, a feeling of release from the clamour and obligation of the world; a day of reading and talking and a luxury of time that isn’t broken up and sliced into smaller chunks. There was an almost constant glow of delight.
5 June 2021 (Saturday) London
I’m allowed to leave the house.
A friend said to me recently, “I hope London does what it does well while you’re there”, which I think is a very good way of putting it. Today it did what it does well. A long afternoon in the Horniman Gardens with a friend, drinking prosecco from paper cups while a a large red fox circled around like a seagull, hoping for a snack, watching the golden sun lower and glow through the flat blades of the the soft green grass, then a walk into the badlands of Sydenham to find The Golden Lion pub ,site of the axe-murder of Daniel Morgan in 1987, to find where his body was discovered in the parking lot and then to investigate the case over a couple of pints, then a long walk home from Tower Bridge along the South Bank and across Waterloo Bridge where poor Vivien Leigh became a prostitute, all for the love of Robert Taylor, and then up through the West End and Mayfair past Ian Fleming’s flat and Fitzrovia to home, with the happy buzz of people in the street and a long summer day turning into a silky night. It is a delight when a place does what it does well.
4 June 2021 (Friday) London
I have always been delighted by the absurd, and English regulations are the spiritual home for connoisseurs of absurdity. Since arriving in England from an amber-list country, I have been on home-isolation. For ten days I am not allowed to leave the house, under any circumstances. Unless of course I pay extra on day 5 to go for a test, which, if negative, will enable to me to leave the house five days early. To have my test, this morning I took a half-hour stroll through Marylebone and Kensington, caught a crowded tube all the way back to Heathrow to the testing station, caught another crowded tube back, took another long walk back to the flat. I’ll find out at midnight tonight if I’m allowed to leave the house.
3 June 2021 (Thursday) London
A delivery of books to my door: Shirley Hazzard’s Transit of Venus; Charmian’s Clift’s memoir of her first years on Hydra with George Johnston; Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book on The Sabbath. I have no time to read this morning – I am writing, which is infinitely less rewarding and less healthy – but to look up and see them on the little table in the entry hall, beneath the mirror, waiting for whenever I take my ease, is a comfort and a delight. They should have a vase of flowers beside them.
2 June 2021 (Wednesday) London
The morning light passing through white linen curtains that ripple in a light breeze, and the light striking the rim of a clear drinking glass and making a gleam that is at once both gentle and bright. Through the curtains, the outlines of the green iron railings around the balcony. It feels peaceful and proper and lovely and still.
1 June 2021 (Tuesday) (London)
Working at a table covered with a cloth given to me on my birthday, with the windows open to the cool morning air; the very pale, very sun-faded blue of a cloudless sunny English sky; the surf-roar of the traffic on Baker Street; the Mary Poppins chimney-pots of the old red-brick block across the way. One of the chimneys is shaped like an owl and every time I look up it catches me out again.
31 May 2021 (Monday) (London)
I have borrowed a flat belonging to my good friend David for the next three weeks, in Chiltern Street, around the corner from Baker Street in Marylebone. Sherlock Holmes is one of my neighbours, but looking out my living window I see another neighbour in a facing mansion, sitting outside on a facing balcony, one floor below me. She is in a red dressing gown, sitting on on a chair in the morning air, drinking a cup of coffee, deeply engrossed in a book. This is delightful.
30 May 2021 (Sunday) (Cairo – London)
You hear a lot of talk about how ultra-cautious England is with the new variants, and how the officials have thrown up a cordon of steel around the country, and how entering the UK is now a blizzard of paperwork and searching, efficient Soviet-style interrogations. This didn’t sound like my experience of the UK, so I was quite delighted to encounter the England I know and like best: a dithering and moustachioed customs guy who forgot to ask for my Covid paperwork, who asked me, “Where have you been for the last two weeks?” and when I answered “Egypt”, winked and tapped his nose humorously and said, “Good answer, mate, you’ve obviously been practising”, and who scanned the wrong visa then waved me through. The whole process took five minutes.
29 May 2021 (Saturday) (Sinai peninsula)
As a condition of traveling I have decided long ago to stop thinking about whether I have Covid or not. I assume now as a helpful mindset that I don’t have it, that I can’t get it, that I won’t get it, that I don’t care if I do get it. Still there is a kind of delight after your PCR test (in the lobby of the hotel, in swimming trunks and carrying a mask and snorkel in one hand, on your way down to the beach) to receive your negative result.
28 May 2021 (Friday) (Sinai peninsula)
A dawn swim over the reefs, with the water warm and soft and the sun patiently rising over the hills. The purple is draining out of the water as though it were squid ink, leaving it clear as the lens of an eye. Stingrays criss-cross over the sands and beside a rocky ledge there are signs of a crab dinner that something enjoyed in the night. The fish seem sleepy and dazed, like the inhabitants of a big city taking a breath after a night of drama, taking stock of each other to see who’s made it through. There is so much we don’t see.
27 May 2021 (Thursday) (Sinai peninsula)
It is truly a delight to hear the news from back home of all the people walking in to get vaccinated, and it’s a relief to see that this time, for now, common sense and compassion is being allowed.
26 May 2021 (Wednesday) (Sinai peninsula)
As one gets older, one starts becoming fretful that one’s youthful capacity for high jinks and ill-thought-out impulse-decisions is tempering and mellowing and tamping down. We are only as young as the decisions we make, I suppose, so it was a relief to notice that when the opportunity arose to drink several bottles of Egyptian white wine with a new acquaintance, one made the same terrible decision as one would always have made, and with all the foolish alacrity of stupid youth. One will have a horrible hangover in the morning.
25 May 2021 (Tuesday) (Sinai peninsula)
In the evenings as the sun dips and the shadows of the cliffs start to fall across the bay, there’s a changing of the shift underwater. The shy big-eyed red-and-white squirrel fish that hide under ledges and in overhangs during the day start to emerge and look around the purpling reef. The clouds of baby fish start to coalesce near the coral heads. Claws and tentacles start to emerge from under shells and rocks. The last sun rays make diagonal columns through the growing dusk of the water, like the beams in a cathedral. Night-time is when it all happens on the reef, when the gangs and the criminals and the wild kids come out or come in from the suburbs of the deep. As night drops it’s both a pity and a relief that it’s time for me to go in.
24 May 2021 (Monday) (Sinai peninsula)
A plate of ice-cold melon at breakfast on a hot yellow morning.
In Na’ama town there is a supermarket owned by a man who calls himself the Egyptian Lionel Richie. The supermarket itself is called “The Egyptian Lionel Richie Supermarket”. This is a strange boast, you may think, but from certain angles you can sort of see the resemblance between the Egyptian Lionel Richie and the real Lionel Richie, pictures of whom are liberally posted around the joint. He is a smooth-talker, is the Egyptian Lionel Richie, and alongside your more usual groceries he sells many products: jewellery, perfumes, herbal toothpastes, condiments, parchments. I went in to buy a Coke and left an hour later, dazed, smelling like a masculine lotus flower, clutching a tub of Egyptian Magic All-Purpose Skin Cream and two vials of what appear to be aphrodisiacal embalming oils and with a complimentary packet of washing powder. I don’t quite know what happened in there, but it was impressive. The Egyptian Lionel Richie is an artist and sometimes you need to pay to watch an artist at work.
23 May 2021 (Sunday) (Sinai peninsula)
I have decided to start practising what Tiffany Shlain calls a digital shabbat – one day a week, from at least sundown to sundown, in which I don’t turn on a screen or so much as check a message. I think in the future I will take it on the traditional shabbat – sundown on Friday till sundown on Saturday (or perhaps extending all the way to the end of Saturday), but today I did it on a Sunday, lazing on a lounger under a palm-leaf umbrella and reading a John le Carre book and watching people on the beach being people. This is of course easy to say about a day on the beach but I mean it in a different way when I say that it felt a little like being released from prison.
22 May 2021 (Saturday) (Sinai peninsula)
A long walk, in hot sun, at high altitude, to climb from St Catherine’s monastery to the top of Mount Sinai, and to sit in the cave where Moses stayed for 40 days and 40 nights while he received the ten commandments, and to walk with a bedouin named Mohammad back down through the granite fields that change colour from one mountain ridge to another. The delight was in the dry desert air and the feeling of centuries under my feet, and in the clean sky and the vista of desert mountains, and in the lightness from fasting and especially in the feeling of strength in the legs as they were asked to do something they haven’t done in a long time, and pluckily agreed to do it.
21 May 2021 (Friday) (Sinai peninsula)
The blueness of the light in the hour just after the sun has set – the hour that the Yemenis call the Hour of Solomon, and the French l’heure bleue, when the whiteness and yellowness of the day’s heat is done and all is gentle and possible and enveloping and trembling with imminence.
20 May 2021 (Thursday) (Sinai peninsula)
1. I have a double who follows me around, and has done so for many years. At university, friends kept saying they had seen me here or there, at places I hadn’t been. Two teenaged girls who have known me all their lives and see my regularly were so convinced they were seeing me in Greece, on an island I have never visited, that they approached and greeted me. Several friends in Johannesburg have seen me strolling around Zoo Lake, ignoring their hellos. A man on Twitter bewailed the fact that he had seen me working as a waiter in a Shoreditch coffee shop in London. This evening I walked from my hotel into Na’ama town to buy some bottles of beer and sunblock, and a gentleman running an ice-cream stall greeted me: “Hello, Switzerland!” It is not unusual to be hailed by Egyptian vendors, but the script runs: “Hello! Where are you from?” thus giving them an opportunity to dazzle you with some item of trivia about your home country, creating a relationship they hope will lead, today or tomorrow or the next, to a commercial transaction. Once you tell them where you’re from, every time they see you after that they will say, “Hello South Africa! Bafana Bafana! Pitso Mosimane!”
“I’m not from Switzerland,” I told the ice-cream man genially. If it were a ruse, he would have replied, “Oh? Where are you from?” But instead he laughed at my little joke, and said “Haha! You are Switzerland! You are Mr Lucky!”
As I proceeded down the corniche, another man greeted me, “Hey, Switzerland! Mr Lucky!” By the third and fourth greeting, it became clear that all these fellows were greeting a person who looked just like me, who had chatted with each of them, perhaps sharing his nickname with them, or some recent piece of good fortune. It pleases me to think of another me, living a parallel life to me that sometimes intersects in place, sometimes in time. And it delights me think of him as a friendly chap, a man with many friends along the corniche and around the world, and it delights me to think of him as someone who considers himself a lucky man, the way I do.
2. Two eagle rays, a large one and a smaller one following it, that came gliding past like two birds coasting on thermals, their wings arched in elegance, and who suffered us to follow them as they arced easily out to sea and finally disappeared into the mid-water blue, a dissolving concentration of darkness.
19 May 2021 (Wednesday) (Sinai peninsula)
There are too many fish on the reef. There is so much happening and so much to catch the eye that all is in danger of becoming an indistinguishable overwhelm of movement and colour. But today a large Napoleon wrasse came drifting by, just about half as long as me and almost the same around, with electric marking on his head and a pale striped body, gliding along the reef wall, nosing into crevices, lordly and unflustered. I followed him for twenty minutes or half an hour and he took me where he was going. He showed me his route around the inner bay, and took me to a baby sting ray, and a white moray eel and a black lionfish. He wasn’t my Napoleon wrasse teacher, or anything stupid like that – animals aren’t there to teach us, they just are and that’s enough – but by narrowing my focus and becoming less distracted and following one thing, slowly and carefully and patiently, I saw far more than I would have seen without him.
18 May 2021 (Tuesday) (Sinai peninsula)
A Russian family, after dark, gathered in the empty open-air restaurant beside the pool: a fat dad, a slightly less-fat mom, their two grown children and their spouses. A babble of Russian voices, and the fat dad, wearing a white vest and cotton shorts, is standing in front of them, gesticulating wildly. At first I think it’s some sort of dark Russian family argument, the patriarch laying down the law, or perhaps an impromptu political rally decrying the perfidy of the weak-willed West, but as I walk past, in the hot night under the thin desert moon with the faint stars reflecting in the swimming pool, I see the fat dad emphatically holding up three fingers then start running on the spot, waving his arms around and miming indisputably the behaviour of someone who has just seen a ghost, or perhaps is fleeing from an Apache attack on a wagon train, or maybe someone who has stumbled upon a hive of bees, while the rest of the family yell louder and louder, and I recognise the look of exasperation on his face as he shakes his head more vigorously and runs ever faster on the spot, and I realise they are a family on holiday, playing an after-dinner family game of charades.
17 May 2021 (Monday) (Sinai peninsula)
A breakfast of fresh-baked aish baladi (Egyptian flatbread) with fresh humus and labneh with thyme and a cup of coffee and a glass of hibiscus juice and a juicy tangerine.
16 May 2021 (Sunday) (Sinai peninsula)
There is a simple delight to discovering or rediscovering the thing you’re supposed to be doing. I discovered some years ago that I am supposed to move around in the world, to have no home or perhaps to make an infinite series of temporary homes. This morning as I walked out of my room and down some whitewashed steps towards the sandy cove for a morning swim, I noticed that the sky was a faded-denim desert blue that I don’t remember seeing before, and I saw a bird on a lawn that I have certainly never seen before, and there was a breeze from the east that I have never felt before and I had applied a brand of sunscreen I had never used before and whose smell I have never smelt before, and it felt – very purely and very simply – that I was at last again living in the way that I need to live, if I want to be happy.
15 May 2021 (Saturday) (Sinai peninsula)
The sea starts out very warm and shallow here, a sandstone shelf that stretches out for twenty or twenty-five metres from the sand. There is a floating jetty that leads out over the shelf and at the end the sea turns suddenly deep blue as the shelf ends and the ocean drops away, and you can look down through the very clear water to corals and colourful reef fish – wrasse and butterfly fish and clown fish and coral groupers and metre-long electric blue parrot fish and a blue-spotted sting ray. The sun was setting and I took a swim but I had left my diving mask in my suitcase so I just swam down to them and looked at them blurrily through the salt and my stinging eyes. As I climbed up the ladder an Egyptian man who lives in Cairo, who was sitting on the jetty with his feet in the water, handed me his swimming goggles and pointed back at the water so that I could dive back in and look at them properly.
14 May 2021 (Friday)
The man across the aisle on the flight had a very small baby sleeping on his chest. Whenever the baby stirred the man would stroke its head and murmur “Sssshhhh, sssshhhhh”. The baby would wriggle a little and burrow into his chest and go back to sleep again. It was lovely to have an up-close view of their closeness, an intimate glimpse of their intimacy. That was one joy. The other joy was that the baby never woke up.
13 May 2021 (Thursday)
The last day in Cape Town, and a day for seeing family and drinking unexpected and extravagant champagne and the dim sum at Thom Son in Bree Street and a feeling of perfect conclusion and the ending of a gorgeous cycle of time, which has offered the gift of reconnection and regathering and regrounding. I have lived in Cape Town for a total of 17 years in my life, with interruptions, but it has never felt quite as much like home as it does now, on the eve of leaving. Perhaps that is why one leaves: to finally feel at home.
12 May 2021 (Wednesday)
I have said farewell to most of the people who have sustained me over the past fourteen months, since I arrived castaway on these shores, and today is a day of quiet farewell to some of the places that have sustained me: The Ladder coffee shop in Bree Street, which reminds me without trying to of a sunny Greek church, and where Nicholas the gentle-eyed owner, who is also an Orthodox deacon, taught Jo how to make stained glass windows; Tafelberg Road in the cool air, with its views of the city bowl and the harbour, curving around the shoulder of the mountain to open up the southern suburbs and the flats and the distant airport; the promenade with its kelp and rocks and changing sea and sky and the dogs and their walkers and the heartening new-laid lawns of grass. It’s a profound relief that I’ve stayed long enough to forget the people who leaned out of the windows of their Beach Road apartments during lockdown and swore at me and told me to go home and tried to call the police. Now it is a happy place again, a place to walk and think and wonder at the dark water that stretches from here to everywhere.
11 May 2021 (Tuesday)
One day in the late 1930s Virginia Woolf opened the window of the sitting room of Monk’s Cottage, her cottage in Rodmell, and called in her husband Leonard from the garden to listen to the radio, because Hitler was speaking. She wasn’t summoning him because they were Hitler fans, but in the way, I suppose, that nowadays people share with fury or indignation something with which they do not believe: “Can you believe what this person is saying NOW?!”
We know what he replied because Virginia recorded it in her diary. Leonard called back from the garden: “I shan’t come. I am planting iris. They will be flowering long after he is dead.”
10 May 2021 (Mondays)
Walking into a room in which a woman has recently been applying a good, expensive perfume, the kind of perfume that smells of cedarwood boxes and fur-lined coats and real leather car seats and blood-warmed skin.
Also: the thrilling sensuality of a fully packed suitcase.
9 May 2021 (Sunday)
A morning walk above the the green-and-black patchwork that is the mountainside right now. the new grass already springing up from the burnt. It is sad about the library but the mountain loves to burn, and the new growth season is going to be rich and glorious.
8 May 2021 (Saturday)
Walking on Hout Bay beach when the sun has dipped just far enough to throw half the day in shadow, while the other half stays in good autumn sunshine. Half the water is in a palate of yellow and green, the other half in silver and blue. And then the sunlit half turns strangely copper, the colour of a five-cent piece.
7 May 2021 (Friday)
When a parallel-timeline version of you is on a flight north but you are at home, your life becomes a secret treat, a hollow carved from from the world. I ate roast beef and drank some red wine that I hadn’t finished in time for departure, and watched Citizen Kane, and read for several hours. There is something to be said for the gift of an empty and unexpected week.
6 May 2021 (Thursday)
I was supposed to leave tomorrow on a flight to Egypt and then onwards, but the Egyptian embassy didn’t come through at the last moment, and the flight is postponed by a week. Nursing my broken Egyptian heart with a large pizza and three movies and a cold Cape day closing in felt something like delightful.
5 May 2021 (Wednesday)
I once gave a small 10-year-old girl a necklace with a small bee pendant. You never know when kids like your gifts, but tonight I saw her wearing it. Her mother says she used to be afraid of bees, but now she wears her bee pendant as a charm to avoid being stung, and now she likes them.
4 May 2021 (Tuesday)
Lying on the sofa in the mid-morning, and watching the sky through the big windows, noticing what I used to know but had forgotten – that the clouds are always moving, but they stop moving when you look at them. To see how fast they are moving you have to look at the patches of blue in between, focus your eyes on the patches of blue.
3 May 2021 (Monday)
Another farewell dinner, in the beautiful peaceful home of two wonderful friends, with white candles reflected in the black open window panes, and a very good dog sleeping on a chair, and the most extraordinary story being told, and a palpable feeling of loss when we parted. Delight and loss are always allies.
2 May 2021 (Sunday)
My mother has been in the hospital for several days, having tests and scans and MRIs and the news so far is cautiously good, so that’s a delight, as is a limpid, silent Sunday, with a high clear sky, pale as the air over a desert, with lots of reading and eating leftover lamb and enjoying the sense of time unhurriedly passing, time like the cold clear waters of a very small and slow-moving stream.
1 May 2021 (Saturday)
Another farewell dinner, celebrating the Greek orthodox Easter, with lamb and couscous and deep-fried olives and cries of “Christos anesti!” and an unholy amount of wine and Winston Churchill’s favourite champagne, that concluded with someone – me – sleeping on a kitchen counter using a bowl of lemons as a pillow.
30 April 2021 (Friday)
Discovering the work of Martin Lewis, an Australian artist and illustrator who made black and white etchings of New York City in the 1940s and 1950s. How beautiful and moody they are, and don’t you wish you could walk down those lonely stairs to that subway station and catch the jolting, rattling train uptown, your face reflecting thoughtfully back at you from the window glass?
29 April 2021 (Thursday)
A farewell dinner of dim sum and too much whiskey with dear friends, with laughter and closeness and some sweet sorrow, just as a farewell dinner should be.
28 April 2021 (Wednesday)
Nine weeks and two days ago I applied for what in Casablanca was called a letter of transit – some essential item of paperwork that would enable me to travel freely through the world. I was told that it might take ten days, but I didn’t believe that. I thought it might be three weeks, or four weeks or even – and this was really just being overly demure in the face of fate – six weeks. It arrived today. Oh happy day. Oh happy and joyful. But sad too – all joys have a silvering of sadness. Over the past thirteen months, since fleeing home from Los Angeles with the doors of the world slamming closed one by one behind me, I have spent longer in one place than I have in years, and I have fallen back a little in love with my home again, and with the people here. And what an unexpected delight that is.
27 April 2021 (Tuesday)
Sitting on the grass in a Botanic Garden, drinking a sneaky cup of wine and watching a family singing happy 15th birthday to their daughter at their picnic a little way over. She blushed and her friends and family sang even louder. Soon she came over and shyly asked us if we would like a slice of her birthday cake. Her name was Tessa and her birthday cake was chocolatey and moist and had a delicious fudge icing and I hope she will have a long and happy life, full of love and singing and cake, and never lose her instinct to share her happiness with the strangers at the next picnic blanket.
26 April 2021 (Monday)
I love this season, when the sunlight and the clouds combine in the mornings, and the light on the water of Table Bay takes on the texture and sheen of a bright metal.
25 April 2021 (Sunday)
A pizza and a litre of ice-cream and a Sunday afternoon movie.
24 April 2021 (Saturday)
My first ever visit to the Harold Porter Botanic Gardens in Betty’s Bay, for a long walk up the zig-zag path to the top of the hill, through the limestone fynbos and the leopard-haunted kloofs below. The smell of honey and stone, and a raptor turning in the air below, and flights of dolphins ruffling the water of the bay and the long dark back and single low fin of a whale sunning itself.
23 April 2021 (Friday)
At the beginning of last year, I wrote this column: The Dog Who Chose Me, and today I received this letter, which made me so happy I cried a little:
Do you remember that article you wrote in THE TIMES about Rosie, the dog that arrived on your doorstep one day? I think you were in Barrydale at the time.
The title of the article was ‘The dog who chose me’. I think the same article appeared in another publication with the title something like ‘Looking at life through Rosie’s nose’.
Anyway, I thought you would like to know that I adopted Rosie who now lives with me and my young family and other dog ‘Jackie’ in Hout Bay, Cape Town.
We had to change Rosie’s name to ‘Millie’ because the dog next door is Rosie which would have caused much confusion.
Anyway, ‘Rosie’ is exactly as you describe her in your article and we love her to death. Thought you would be happy to learn that she has settled beautifully into her new home.
What a character she is – many stories to tell – but stories for another day …
22 April 2021 (Thursday)
Tea and cake in a dappled shady courtyard, with water running and bubbling from a water feature, and afterwards browsing through some antiques and admiring a beautiful 150-year-old mahogany writing desk that I covet.
21 April 2021 (Wednesday)
The fire on the mountain is out and there are many green unburnt patches on the slopes. Against the darker and blackened patches, the green stretches glow a much brighter green than before. Perhaps it’s the contrast, perhaps it’s the water from the helicopters, but they are bright and refreshing to the eyes.
and: Drinking beer at a pub quiz again, after all this time. It was fun.
20 April 20201 (Tuesday)
Working in a coffee shop, bumping into a slight acquaintance and chatting and sitting with him and shooting the breeze and doing some work together, the way people do in cities, the way cities are supposed to work. After a long time when all you can do is get to know a little better the people you already know, it’s a pure delight to better get to know someone you don’t already know.
19 April 2021 (Monday)
The city from my veranda at night is like a jewel box. There is a new spire on top of one of the buildings that lights up and changes colour and flashes and dances, the way the Eiffel Tower does. It only did it for about ten minutes, but it was a delightful discovery, a charming surprise.
18 April 2021 (Sunday)
My mother has registered for her vaccination. She doesn’t know when she’s going to receive it, but she is happy that she has managed to register. It’s the small things that lift people’s spirits: the tiny, almost incremental movements that cause people’s hearts to lift. There should be more of them.
17 April 2021 (Saturday)
Walking beside the flat sea and noticing a great arrow of ruffled water, which became a convoy of dolphins, jumping and soaring like a skein of water-bound geese.
16 April 2021 (Friday)
Reading through Vefa Alexiadou’s Greece – The Cookbook, and imagining the fava and the flatbread and the olives with thyme and the Santorini tomato fritters with onions and chopped mint and oregano, and the stuffed leeks with lemon sauce, and imagining the smell of the chicken skewers on the charcoal grill and the carafes of sunshine-yellow wine and the pine needles moving in the slight breeze and the small plashings of tiny clear waves on the pebbles of the beach. There is delight even in the mind, even in the memory.
15 April 2021 (Thursday)
A gift received: a cotton gown – not a dressing gown, exactly, but the sort of gown a man can wear on his terrace of a morning when he has houseguests, drinking a small cup of strong coffee or a glass of cold orange juice, reading last week’s English papers – in indigo, with a pattern of golden leopards. I did not know that I needed a gown until I received it, which is the best kind of gift.
14 April 2021 (Wednesday)
A lovely walk in the evening, down through town and to the Waterfront under a sunset sky of high backlit blue, studded with white round clouds.
13 April 2021 (Tuesday)
One of the delightful things about not having much sleep on Saturday night – three hours, more or less, and waking up hungry and hungover – is that for the next several nights your sleep is so deep and long that you wake each morning feeling young again.
12 April 2021 (Monday)
Gossip. Meeting a friend for coffee and getting gossip about what happened at the party on Saturday. I have missed gossip so much.
11 April 2021 (Sunday)
I haven’t eaten a pizza in two months. Today, on a day of glorious weather, I sat on a sofa in an indigo cotton dressing gown and ate a pizza and watched 13 episodes of satisfyingly terrible realty television and felt profoundly satisfied.
10 April 2021 (Saturday)
Watching a favourite movie with good old friends.
9 April 2021 (Friday)
A silver Vesta box, made in 1899. Look how the light touches it. Feel how warm it is in your hand. It is beautiful, and now it is mine, and I can keep things in it and hold it whenever I want. Delights aren’t supposed to be objects or possessions, but my delight in this object, and in owning it, is palpable and undeniable.
8 April 20201 (Thursday)
Today is the birthday of someone I love, who is just genuinely sunny and happy about life at the best of times, but is delighted about having a birthday in particular. It’s lovely and shaming – in the best way – to watch her being so uncomplicatedly happy.
7 April 2021 (Wednesday)
I woke and thought about the night before – about eating French brie and drinking cold pinot noir (not because I am a hopeless pseud, but because it was the the very same French brie and cold pinot noir that Billy Wilder eats in the novel Mr Wilder and Me, when he talks about the importance of recognising and seizing the moments of pleasure that life delivers us), and then watching a Billy Wilder film – and I thought about how all of this was made possible by someone who loves me, and I thought about being loved and what a thing it is, and I felt really tremendously lucky.
6 April 2021 (Tuesday)
A birthday. I loathe and fear my birthdays, but I had help and it was good.
5 April 2021 (Monday)
A dip in the Brandewyn river, with water from the falls tumbling on my head, and then a walk beside the river looking at paintings on rock walls made hundreds of years ago – perhaps even a thousand – by people who lived like I do, who grew old just like me, who had joys and sorrows and hopes and were impatient in traffic, just like me. From the immensity of the stars to the unfathomableness of human time and change, a good preparation for a birthday.
4 April 2021 (Sunday)
Sitting outside in the Cederberg night, on a large flat rock still warm from the day’s sun, watching the milky way materialise from the darkening sky, watching shooting stars and making wishes.
3 April 2021 (Saturday)
I am listening to some Greek music because I’m learning Greek and the more ways you can cross-reference your language exposure the better, and also because I like Greek music, especially the sad old rembetika and heart-lorn sad ballads of loss and the distance across the waters and the moonlight glistening on, I don’t know, the fishing nets. I am even loving the pop music, especially the kind delivered by dad-bodded old dudes, which makes me want to take off my shirt in the sunshine and wave it around over my head to summon the attention of the servitoros to order another potiri krasi. But this is delightful: one of the catchier tunes I am enjoying at the moment is called (in romanised letters) Kommena pia ta daneika, which is an idiomatic way of saying: “No more borrowed money” or “No more long-term loans”. Like just about every pop song it’s a love song, but it’s a somewhat genius invocation of the economic crisis to urge his lover (or perhaps just some gal in the taverna) to live in the present, to take pleasures when they are found, to gather ye rosebuds while ye may:
“Houses, cars, money/ Everything was made of dust/ Everything that they have been telling us for a long time is lost, my darling/ “I love you” was lost too/ Loans are over now/ If you want to live, Love me with what you have now”
John Donne would be proud.
2 April 2021 (Friday)
Going to an actual cinema to watch an actual film with an actual friend. Was it a good film? No. Did I love it? Oh yes.
1 April 2021 (Thursday)
My ex was terrible at April’s Fool’s jokes. She didn’t in the normal run of things play practical jokes or pranks, but on 1st April she always felt compelled to give it a go, from some sense of perverse duty to the gods of japery. I begged her to stop, or at least to temper her approach to them, but each year she would come at it from another, freshly brutal angle. No matter how many times I tried to persuade her that simply lying about something bad but plausible happening isn’t an April’s Fool’s joke, she never quite got the hang of it. One year she told me that we would have to cancel our trip to Turkey because of a work emergency. One year she told me that she had lost her wallet and that someone had withdrawn all the money from her account. One year she very earnestly told me that she had received a serious diagnosis from the doctor. You need to understand: ordinarily she was very bad at lying or pretending, but on 1 April she became Meryl Streep. After a while my nerve strengthened and I failed to be discomposed by anything she said to me on 1 April, and when she realised that, she started shifting the date of attack to 31 March or 2 April. It was absolutely horrible, but I remembered it today, and thought about how apologetic yet proud she always was when she managed to pull one over me, and it made me smile very fondly.
31 March 2021 (Wednesday
1: I went to the dentist for a root canal, and he poked around and decided that maybe I didn’t need a root canal today after all.
2: I met an old friend for wings and beer. We ate the wings and drank the beer, and then we ordered more wings and more beer.
30 March 2021 (Tuesday)
The hazy yellow moon through backlit clouds and a fresh breeze that somehow smells both of the sea and of the cold stone of the mountain.
29 March 2021 (Monday)
Just over a year ago I arrived back in Cape Town on a last-minute evacuation flight from Los Angeles, via Istanbul, for what I feared might be an internment as long as three or four months. One night around a year ago I heard the sound of a nightjar outside and below my bedroom window. I had never heard one before, and I heard it every night for several months until one night it wasn’t there any more. Where do nightjars go when they are no longer outside my window? Where did that nightjar go while I could go nowhere? I don’t know, but tonight the nightjar was back. It isn’t precisely a delight to be reminded that I have given up a whole year of my one wild and precious life to immobility and uncertainty, but there is a consolation in being revisited by an old friend, in being connected to nature itself.
28 March 2021 (Sunday)
I am waiting for some news, and the waiting has cast me down into doldrums of inertia and inactivity. I need the news to be in the affirmative, but I also need it to hurry up and arrive. Tonight I made a bargain with the devil. If the news comes this week, and it’s positive, I shall part with a little of my soul. It’s not nice to part with a little of your soul, nor is it nice to make a deal with the devil, but the feeling of doing something to influence your future, as opposed to just sitting and waiting, is a good and necessary feeling.
27 March 20201 (Saturday)
How delightful it is when what you repeatedly think is a Sunday turns out, each time, to be a Saturday.
26 March 20201 (Friday)
A good friend driving a long way to come and visit, and many laughs, and a lovely evening, and good food.
25 March 2021 (Thursday)
A pale half moon in the late daylight, rising over hills like painted scenery.
24 March 2021 (Wednesday)
A small bird came hopping into the lounge. Hopped past the furniture. Turned right to go to my bedroom. Hopped into the bedroom. I sat at the dining table, watching him. He reappeared again, turned left, hopped through the lounge, past the furniture and out onto the veranda and flew away.
23 March 2021 (Tuesday)
Just past the onion fields the dirt road dips and turns up a low ridge, past a grove of dark-leaved peach trees. It was hot today and the heat released the scent of the peaches, and the cooler dusk air allowed it to drift and hang like perfume.
22 March 2021 (Monday)
The chiming of the church bells in the village on the hour causes me deep delight. They have a distant, dreamy, unhurried, cows-in-an-alpine-meadow quality.
and: I have been feeling namelessly weak and unwell recently, and today was the first time that I felt stronger again. It was a delight to feel my legs carrying me up slight rises on my evening walk.
and: I identified a new bird today, using the Roberts’ Book of Birds that is here in this house. It was a grey wagtail. Apparently they are rare. Imagine that: me, identifying a rare bird. This is not a version of myself that I recognise.
21 March 2021 (Sunday)
There is a francolin who comes every day to stand in front of the glass sliding doors between the lounge and the patio. For hours he stands there, pecking occasionally, peering in at us like a Dickensian waif on Christmas morning. Today is a bright, sunny, autumnal day and the glass doors are open. There is no barrier between the inside and outside, but Frank is standing there, staring in. Occasionally he tries to tap his beak against the glass, but the glass isn’t there, and he nearly overbalances into the house. He walks up and down, looking for the glass. He is too polite to come inside.
20 March 2021 (Saturday)
In the loadshedding, lying on the sofa with candles flickering, listening to an audio-book of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. So spooky, so atmospheric, so genuinely unsettling and thrilling. The closest thing to being a scared, excited ten-year-old again, lying in bed and seeing how scared I could make myself with my mind, but this time knowing that sooner or later the lights will come back on.
19 March 2021 (Friday)
The smell of an onion field – savoury, rich, earthy, promising the full loam of the soil, promising adult pleasures and satisfactions on the tongue.
18 March 2021 (Thursday)
I am reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. (Why didn’t I read it before, when the rest of the world did? Probably because the rest of the world was reading it, and also because of Nicholas Cage.) It’s terrific, but every so often there is a word whose definition I sort of know, but not properly, not so that I could explain it to a small child, say, without being vague. I have been reading many years now and I sort of know what most words mean, and as we grow older, we become lazier and perhaps more defensive about not knowing things, especially words. We find ways around, we get the general gist. But I came upon the word “corybants”, which I didn’t know, and which was sufficiently specialised and unusual that it overcame my resistance to acknowledging that I don’t know it. I went to the shelf and took down a good-sized dictionary. When last did I take down a good-sized dictionary, and have the joy of thumbing through the pages, looking for knowledge? It is not the same as looking up the definition of a word online. Online, you get the answer you’re looking for and none other. Flipping through a dictionary means literally holding all the English words in your hand, it means the joy of serendipity, something catching your eye that you would never have thought of looking for. In a world temporarily characterised by stasis, it is an exercise of randomness, of adventure, a voyage of discovery. I found out what corybants are (in their archaic origins, a corybant was one of the “wild attendants of the Goddess Cybele”, so in modern usage I suppose would connote an enthusiastic pilgrim, or an energetic participant in a religious rite or festival), but I also spent a further happy half-hour lost in delight.
17 March 2021 (Wednesday)
A walk around a small town after sunset, the cuticle-moon over the hills, the southern cross over the other hills, warm air, bats eating bugs, the smell of braai smoke from the Recreation Hall, the sounds of small children playing and shrieking in the darkness while their parents braai meat and have drinks and gossip.
16 March 2021 (Tuesday)
The apartments I’ve been staying in this past year don’t have bathtubs, but tonight I am in a house with a bathtub that runs hot, clean karoo water. Bonus to the delight: loadshedding, and a warm bath while reading by candlelight.
15 March 2021 (Monday)
Cape Town is not, these days, always a city of good smells, but as I walked down between Burg Street and St George’s Mall I was enveloped first in the smell of bacon cooking and then, half a block later, the warm, steaming, earthy smell of a bakery baking bread. Purest delight.
14 March 2021 (Sunday)
I never give birthday presents, or Christmas presents either. If you know me or have ever dated me, you will know how very true this is. There are many reasons why I don’t give presents. The one I like to proclaim is that I am too cheap, but that’s not actually true, that just allows everyone make a joke about it. Another reason is that giving presents creates a reciprocal responsibility in the recipient to give you presents back, and I am genuinely uncomfortable about mutual webs of responsibility. I hate the thought of being the cause of obligation and discomfort. Another reason – maybe the biggest – is that I don’t know what to give people. Giving a gift is surely some sort of expression of your personality and taste, or your apprehension of their personality and taste, and the moment of giving is the frontline at which your personality and taste comes into first contact with theirs, like humans meeting alien intelligence for the first time. The possibility of misunderstanding and of making naked each’s incomprehension of the other is too alarming. So that’s why I don’t often give gifts: it’s a projection of my own insecurities and fear of being exposed, then being weighed and found wanting. But recently I have given two gifts. Today was the second, to a friend who turned 60, and I was sufficiently confident that he would like it that there was no anxiety, none of the crushing weight. My delight today was to have given a gift.
13 March 2021 (Saturday)
The greatest publicity picture of all time: Louise Brooks, who popularised the bob hairstyle and would be Liza Minelli’s inspiration in Cabaret, taken by Robert Richee in 1928
12 March 2021 (Friday)
Lunch with a very old friend – perhaps my friend of longest standing, with whom over the years I have had more wine-driven lunches than any mortal could count – and I managed to discover three new things about her that I have never known before. How is this possible?! There are always new things to discover.
11 March 20201 (Thursday)
The drawings made by Alphonse de Neuville for Hetzel’s editions of Jules Verne’s 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea, in 1870. They thrill me.
10 March 20201 (Wednesday)
The great misty rainy winter storm that arrived in the night, so that I woke up to the sight you might see from the porthole of a ship passing through the Drake passage. A full glorious day of cold and rain and dim light, in which to feel cosy. It was a most wonderful gift.
9 March 2021 (Tuesday)
I have been in a dreadfully low mood for the past few days – drained of joy and energy, anhedonic, dead of eye and heart, unable to be of service to the world or to myself. Is it depression? Is it anxiety? Is it a physical post-viral condition? Hard to say and doesn’t really matter. It will pass, as everything does, and today it was my delight to have a partner who looked at me and told me to lie down on the sofa and watch old movies and to not feel any pressure to speak – to anyone – until I felt like it.
8 March 2021 (Monday)
Tea with my publisher at Rhodes memorial tea-room. I haven’t been up there to pat the lions in twenty years. The city looked very fine and wide. The statue of Rhodes is missing the tip of his nose. I remembered coming for scones and cream and jam with my grandmother when I was young and on holiday from Durban. They don’t seem to serve scones now, which is odd, but there was still the scent of the trees and the feel of the breeze coming down the mountain.
7 March 2021 (Sunday)
How the lights of the city shimmer and dance at night when there is moisture in the air.
6 March 2021 (Saturday)
Some relatives came for tea in the afternoon, and I bought petit fours from Limnos Bakery. Four chocolate, four pink, four white. I wanted a pink petit four – surely everyone wants the pink petit four – but you can’t make a dive for the petit fours when it’s your house, and then I became distracted by drinking champagne. By the end of the tea, I hadn’t had a petit four. Five bottles of champagne were finished, and there was one petit four left. Just one. And somehow, miraculously, it was pink.
5 March 2021 (Friday)
An unexpected invitation to do something I have always wanted to do, in a part of the world I love, I little later this year. It is a joy to feel the currents of energy starting to emerge in the world, to feel the world beginning to stir and stretch and wake again.
4 March 2021 (Thursday)
I am planning on doing something for my birthday, which isn’t for more than a month yet. I never do anything for my birthday – I shun my birthday as one would shun a seemingly sun-dozing crocodile – but this year I am doing something, and it gives me delight.
3 March 2021 (Wednesday)
My delights at the moment are mainly internal: anticipation, hope, excitement. Plans being made and a feeling in my chest like buds unfolding, like grass rising, like small birds and animals awakening after a hibernation.
2 March 2021 (Tuesday)
For the past several months I have been working on four different projects at the same time. Today I finished two of them, and tomorrow will be another one. The thought of starting my new year doing only one thing, with only one set of calls, is a deep, soothing delight. The only thing worse than having too much work is not having enough work, someone once said, but that person does not know my soul.
1 March 2021 (Monday)
A friend of mine told me that 2020 ran from March to March, which means today is New Year’s Day. That feels good.
28 February 2021 (Sunday)
I met Maria-Jose in Valencia a few years ago, with her delightful partner Mariki. MJ was once a tennis professional, and then managed professional tennis players for a living. She has a passion for opera and for collecting interesting people. She has properties around the world but they found themselves locked down in Hermanus last year, in a pair of elegant whitewashed houses side-by-side on the rocks with the sea filling half the vertical space of the lounge windows. Mariki uses one of the houses as a studio for her art. We ate crayfish tails for lunch and drank cold white wine and MJ told us about her ongoing battles with New York opera-goers and the weekends she spent visiting Patricia Highsmith in the countryside. It was a most, most delightful day.
27 February 2021 (Saturday)
I am still being haunted by mongooses. I drove down to Hermanus to spend the night, and as I left the house there I saw a gang of five francolins chasing a mongoose across the road. It kept outpacing them and pausing to look back but the francolins kept coming. They chased him across the street, across the front lawn of the house, and then up the stairs to the front door. There’s something going on with mongooses.
26 February 2021 (Friday)
There were fires somewhere in the east and that is of course not a delight, but the effect was a vermillion moon, a moon in changing shades of red and orange, late into the night.
25 February 2021 (Thursday)
The wind was blowing everywhere except in Sea Point. After dark, the moonlight lay on the sea like magnesium and shimmered like Mae West.
24 February 2021 (Wednesday)
I didn’t have a single work call today. Not a single call. Not a Zoom, not a check-in, not a conference, not another person’s voice telling me things I have no interest in hearing, no one else’s face unwelcome in my home. Not a single forced smile or polite “Mmmm!” I didn’t have a single work call today.
23 February 2021 (Tuesday)
I went to the dentist this afternoon and there was a small girl reading a magazine in the waiting area. She was frowning very intently at whatever she was reading. It is a delight to see small girls reading anything. It is a delight to see someone in a waiting room reading a magazine, and to think about the days when people used to do that all the time.
22 February 2021 (Monday)
I have been planning something, a move, an action that will bring about a new beginning and a new phase of life. Today I paid a lot of money to begin the process. It isn’t a delight to pay a lot of money, but when it is to start something big, it feels like a necessary toll, a commitment to action, a step that cannot be taken back – and that is a delight.
21 February 2021 (Sunday)
There is a red bottle-brush tree below my window, and suddenly it is surrounded by white butterflies that blow about like scraps of white paper. As I watched, one of them danced onto my balcony and out again. When you go to puppet shows, like the Handspring Puppet Theatre, say, there are often puppet-butterflies on wires that dance about and cause delight. I often think that real butterflies are imitating them.
20 February 2021 (Saturday)
A delightful afternoon with the family of a dear old friend whose son I have seen grow from a child to a young almost man, and just about managing not to drink too much. It has always been a source of internal debate, how much is too much, especially with old friends. Sometimes in my life too much has been just right, but I think this time I had it right.
19 February 2021 (Friday)
It has been a lovely summer, and remains one, but I could feel, in the evening breeze off the mountain last night, that undercurrent of cool that tells you that winter, while far from here, is coming. I like winter.
18 February 2021 (Thursday)
I went for a walk alone and finished listening to a podcast series about James Le Mesurier, the former leader of the Syrian White Helmets. It was a good walk and a good series, but the greatest delight is that I made the effort and time to finish it. I have noticed lately how I have fallen out of the habit of finishing things I start. This is good when it’s a dessert, but bad when it’s a project or a programme of action or even a TV series. I have a growing fear of finishing things, and it’s a delight that I have recognised that, and have started taking steps (however small) to fix it. I didn’t notice much of my surroundings, of course, and was strangely cut off from the physical experience of walking, which was less delightful, but there will be other walks.
17 February 2021 (Wednesday)
Receiving email letters from from faraway friends. It is of course gratifying and heart-warming and meaningful to receive a text, say, which offers proof that someone has just been thinking of you, but there is something about sitting down to read something longer from a friend that feels like it roots me to this world and to life. I am not always a great correspondent – not many people are, these days, unfortunately – but it delights me so.
16 February 2021 (Tuesday)
Whenever Nancy Mitford was invited to a party or a function she didn’t want to attend, requested for an interview she didn’t want to give, offered any kind of distasteful chore or job or responsibility, she sent the enquirer the following card:
15 February 2021 (Monday)
I was walking back from the shops and it was hot and I was tired so I sat down on the kerb for a while. I hadn’t heard it while I was walking, but as I sat there I noticed the wind was making the telephone wires over my head hum and vibrate as though there was something sliding along them, like a train running on wires. There is so much you miss when you drive a car, but it turns out there are even things you miss when you’re walking.
14 February 2021 (Sunday)
This is the best thing I have ever done, perhaps: woken in the morning with clouds and mist around my windows, and turned up the air-conditioning very high to simulate an icy Siberian winter, then watched Doctor Zhivago again. Oh, it gets better each time. What a film. And oh, Julie Christie’s diaphenous beauty and oh, Omar Sharif’s moustache and eyes as deep and soulful as the moon on a midnight pond. And the Siberian landscapes and the candles illuminated in ice-crystalled windows and Lara’s theme and – oh, it’s all so beautiful and Robert Bolt’s writing is so good.
13 February 2021 (Saturday)
To Alan Committie’s garden for an evening of socially-distanced comedy on his lawn, beneath spreading illuminated trees and a starry sky. It was good to be with people, laughing, our attention all focused on the same thing at the same time together in the same physical space, the way human beings are supposed to be. And Alan Committie is very funny and very clever.
12 February 2021 (Friday)
This morning there was a fog bank over the ocean. The sky was clear and bright and blue, but the fog was on the sea and it was the colour of the sea and the horizon, so that you couldn’t tell where water ended and air began. There were heavily laden ships anchored in the bay, and the tops of them poked up from the fog, looking as though they were sinking, or floating in the sky.
11 February 2021 (Thursday)
There is a blind in my apartment and it is being stirred by a slight breeze. It’s a very slight breeze, the sort you would find on a hot flat sea in the doldrums, and it causes some part of the blind to click very gently against the window, over and over, softly, slowly, like a beetle in a wood, or a pulse, or the eccentric second hand of a clock.
10 February 2021 (Wednesday)
Driving up Buitenkant Street this morning, after a walk on the promenade, the sky was so deep and blue, and the trees were so green and the blocks of flats suddenly burnt a bright Greek white. It was very lovely.
9 February 2021 (Tuesday)
I watched The Cameraman, Buster Keaton’s first film after signing his life away with a contract at MGM. Imagine laughing out loud at a film made in 1928. And has there ever been someone who runs on screen better than Buster? It was a genuine delight.
8 February 2021 (Monday)
Something in the house broke, and I fixed it myself. I am not a handyman, but now I can understand why some people are.
7 February 2021 (Sunday)
The last light falling on the tops of the tall trees, at the end of a clear, still dusk, and at the end of a calm Sunday in which I have adequately prepared for the week ahead.
6 February 2021 (Saturday)
A lovely afternoon spent with someone who matters the world to me, drinking champagne and white wine in the courtyard in which we used to host annual Hemingway parties, laughing and remembering and being happy and knowing that everything is fine and that everything will be for the best.
5 February 2021 (Friday) (Johannesburg)
A morning walking around the Johannesburg Zoo: the spider monkeys and the long-armed gibbons and the effortless grace of the puma with her cubs. It was raining a little, but the animals seemed happy and I was happy to spend time with them.
4 February 2021 (Thursday) (Johannesburg)
Driving the highways of Johannesburg and Pretoria in the easy, trafficless present. It reminded me of many dreams I had when I lived in Johannesburg of driving fast and unimpeded along the freeways. In those days, before Covid, you had to wait until the Christmas holidays, when everyone left for the coast, to drive the highways the way they were designed to be driven. To do so in the middle of the day was a joy.
And then dinner with my old friend David, whose life, like mine, has changed a lot and not at all since last we met. There are people with whom it doesn’t matter how much time has passed. Those are precious people.
3 February 2021 (Wednesday) (Johannesburg)
My first flight in almost a year. It’s only a domestic flight, but still, it feels like a stretching of the wings, a loosening of the joints..
2 February 2021 (Tuesday)
A swim in the sea without having to look around to see if I’m about to be arrested.
1 February 2021 (Monday)
Any day is a delight when you do something for the first time, and go somewhere you haven’t been before. Unfortunately the somewhere new was the Parow Shopping Centre, and the something new was spending three-and-a-half hours having a TB scan for a visa application. So they weren’t unalloyed delights, but still – you must take your delights where you can find them.
31 January 2021 (Sunday)
The film Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937), which made me cry with genuine, profound, unignorable sadness and heartache. It is a delight to made to cry by the real sadness of a piece of art: it makes it easier to live the sadness of real life. Real life is not currently sad for me, but one day it will be.
(Make Way for Tomorrow was written by the novelist/ screenwriter Vina Delmar. There are a number of things about Vina Delmar that delight me:
- She was actually a pair of writers – Vina herself and her husband Eugene, who worked as a duo, and surely the only husband-wife writing team in history in which the wife received all the credit.
- They insisted on only working at home, refusing to go to the studio, go on set, or speak to any actors.
- They only wrote two screenplays. Make Way for Tomorrow is one of my favourite sad movies of all time, and the other, The Awful Truth, also directed by Leo McCarey, and made in the very same year as Make Way for Tomorrow, is one of my favourite comedies of all time. It stars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.
- Vina Delmar won the Best Screenplay Oscar for The Awful Truth, and the pair promptly gave up writing screenplays, saying they didn’t enjoy the business, and far preferred writing novels.)
30 January 2021 (Saturday)
After a lovely evening, after everyone has gone home, sitting in the dark beneath a tree and watching a golden globe of a moon rising over the golden lights of the city.
29 January 2021 (Friday)
The wedding is today! And I am going to be a witness! That is delight in itself. Another delight: I am wearing a jacket for the first time in months.
28 January 2021 (Thursday)
Two of my favourite people are unexpectedly getting married! Tomorrow! I am being sincere when I say that marriage-for-an-exit-visa is my favourite and most romantic form of marriage.
27 January 2021 (Wednesday)
Another walk, another whale, but this whale caused a different kind of delight: the delight of watching other people notice the whale, and point and beam and squeal, and call their friends to tell them to hurry down to the promenade, near the big statue of the sunglasses, to see the whale!
26 January 2021 (Tuesday)
A walk along the water’s edge to ponder an important life decision, and there was a whale, ten metres away, just past the rocks, swimming up and down, close enough that you could look it in the eye and almost see your own reflection.
25 January 2021 (Monday)
A bowl of ice-cream – always a delight in itself – drizzled with the juice from a jar of brandied cherries, made and given by friends.
24 January 2021 (Sunday)
Listening to William Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices for the first time. Especially the Credo and the Agnus Dei, but all of it, really.
Also: dinner with friends, and a good movie.
23 January 2021 (Saturday)
Watching the whole of Boy on a Dolphin (1957, Jean Negulesco) – which, despite Sophia Loren and the islands of Poros and Hydra and Delos, is not a good movie – just to try find one moment that I remembered from when it was shown in the school hall at the end of a hot summer’s term when I was ten years old. I began to doubt that it was there. Had I just imagined it, like that shot of Purdey being menaced by the shadow of the giant rat in that old episode of The New Avengers? And then finally, in the very shot of the film, just before “The End” – there it was.
22 January 2021 (Friday)
A night-time swim, slow so as not to make a sound. The moon seen from underwater; the call of an owl.
21 January 2021 (Thursday)
My 80-year-old mother, who has emphysema and COVID, called me this morning to tell me she still doesn’t have any symptoms, a week after her positive test. “I feel like a fraud,” she complained.
20 January 2021 (Wednesday)
On a Zoom call with a director in Los Angeles, talking about a plot point, he dialled in a friend from New York, a top-level political image consultant, and he regaled us for an hour with humorous stories about prepping dictators and sheiks for their media campaigns, and the time he had to flee Saudi Arabia at twenty minutes’ notice, taking off from Riyadh, looking down to see cars with flashing lights pulling up at the airport, like the scene at the end of Argo. It was just a delight to be connected to the world again, to hear interesting people telling interesting stories, to feel bigger than the four walls around me.
19 January 2021 (Tuesday)
I had a fifteen-minute screaming match over Zoom with an executive producer in another country. Both of us were filled with righteous rage at the other, and both of us yelled at the top of our voices, simultaneously, until it felt like the walls were going to collapse. Two adults in different countries, shouting at their computer screens. Then we hung up and stomped around, no doubt yelling at no one or each other or ourselves in our separate rooms. Then we got back to work. I wouldn’t say those fifteen minutes were a delight, precisely, but afterwards we both felt much better.
18 January 2021 (Monday)
A lunchtime swim on a hot day. The taste of chlorinated water and the smell of hot stone at poolside and the towel you are using to dry yourself.
17 January 2021 (Sunday)
I have always wanted to be in a book store when someone asks a member of staff for one of my books. I have spent enough time skulking around bookshops that you would think that might have happened before, but no, not until today.
“Do you have Bristow-Bovey’s latest book?” I heard a splendid lady saying.
I popped up my head over the shelf like a meerkat. A dream fulfilled!
“It’s just been published,” she was saying. “Something about bees.”
This gave me pause. I have not, so far as I can remember, written a book about bees. Plus, come to think of it, I haven’t published a book lately.
The staffmember was equally baffled. “No,” she said, squinting at the computer screen, “I can’t see anything here.”
“Yes, yes,” said the customer with admirable certitude. “It’s by Bristow-Bovey, and it’s about bees. ‘The secret of the bees’, or ‘Busy as a bee’ – something like that.”
But the staffmember was not to be moved. “Bristow-Bovey has not written any book about bees,” she said, “and in fact he hasn’t written much of anything lately, the loathesome, idle, good-for-nothing worm.”
Perhaps she didn’t say that last part, but I definitely heard it in my head.
I wanted to jump in on the side of the stalwart member of the paying public, to back her up and protect her right to buy my book about bees. I racked my mind for a book I might have forgotten … bees? Insects? The wonders of nature … oh.
With a sinking heart I stepped forward. “Pardon me, ” I said. “I think you mean David Bristow.”
The two women glanced at me as you might glance at a piece of chewed gum on the sidewalk.
“Yes, of course, David Bristow,” said the member of staff to the customer. “I have it right here.”
16 January 2021 (Saturday)
I have started packing up, and it’s a delight to pack up, not only because of the increasing order and spareness in your life, but because packing up means that something is soon enough going to happen.
15 January 2021 (Friday)
After the beautiful bright summer’s days, to wake up to mist and cloud, like being inside a ship in a fog bank.
And: the agapanthus are all in bloom, lilac-coloured and dripping with late summer.
14 January 2021 (Thursday)
Meeting with good friends who produced the most perfect and thoughtful gift, the kind of gift that makes you a little wordless and flustered and distracted because you don’t quite know how to express how touched you are. And then a lovely late afternoon at their table under trees drinking whiskey and surrounded by green. I feel very lucky and happy.
13 January 2021 (Wednesday)
I treated myself to a delightful monster double-feature. First The Blob (1958), Steve McQueen’s first starring role, in which he is out-emoted by a blob from outer space, and then the original Japanese Godzilla (Ishiru Honda, 1954) which, I have to stress, is in every way a superior movie, and superior to the American versions as well. I don’t know why I am suddenly watching monster movies during the day, but most delights have no reason or utility.
12 January 2021 (Tuesday)
The light blue of the sky in the morning, around 8.47am, with the sun up and some clouds on the horizon. It is deep blue that usually gets all the headlines, but today I noticed the delicate paleness of the blue, the receding emptiness and lightness of it, like fine icing on a pastry.
11 January 2021 (Monday)
A necessary walk and consolidation, in which I resolved to stop the en-slobment of this terrible stasis, and to make an effort once more to live a more elegant life.
10 January 2021 (Sunday)
Laughing first thing in the morning – about the name a friend has given their child, about what shape your legs would have to be if you wanted to move around like a grasshopper, about the word “fungible”about a pizza shop on a Greek island in 2018 that had a sign in which a hungry-looking slice of pizza holding a chef’s knife and riding a chicken chased a cluster of terrified ingredients over a hillside – is the richest luxury, the most profound delight.
9 January 2021 (Saturday)
There were a lot of very silly small dogs on the promenade tonight, just terribly silly and sweet.
8 January 2021 (Friday)
Michael Lewis is for my money the best non-fiction writer working today (The Big Short, Moneyball, The Blind Side, The Undoing Project), and I am delighted, DELIGHTED, to discover that when he was a young boy, his father convinced him that there was a Lewis family crest, emblazoned with the Lewis family motto: “Do as little as possible, and that unwillingly, for it is better to receive a slight reprimand than to perform an arduous task.”
7 January 2021 (Thursday)
Even though I have people clamouring for work from me, I managed to spend the entire day without doing a scrap of it. This, looked at the wrong way, would be a source of shame and anxiety. I choose not to look at it that way.
6 January 2021 (Wednesday)
I am not someone who worries much, but for some reason I was worried about someone going on a journey, but they arrived safely where they were going. That was a delight.
5 January 2021 (Tuesday)
I love this first week of the year, when enough people aren’t back to work yet, so that the city still has that suspended, dozing air of stillness, and no one is phoning you and there are no emails in your inbox. Wouldn’t life be something splendid if this would be how it always is?
4 January 2021 (Monday)
My neighbours in my block of flats are in their seventies, but they know how to live. As I came walking into the block I spied them on their balcony, dressed in crisp white shirts, eating an elegant pasta with a bottle of red wine, and music playing from inside their apartment. He was wearing sunglasses with blue lenses and looked jaunty enough to be wearing a captain’s cap. They looked like a couple taking the evening light on the balcony of their stateroom on an elegant cruise, looking contentedly across the water at Rio or Macao. I greeted them happily, and it made me happy to see them.
3 January 2021 (Sunday)
Day 18 of Delights on the Road (the road back to Cape Town):
1. Tea at the Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein in the clean air and dry heat, beside the burbling fountain in the courtyard that froze the last time I was there, in mid-winter on my way to Sutherland, and I stood on the ice and tap-danced to impress the two young girls I was with.
2. Finishing the Summer of Bruce as we drove down out of the karoo towards the city. After 18 hours of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography and having now made the acquaintance of all twenty of his albums, I would not say I am a Bruce super-fan, but I feel enriched by having sunk so deeply into someone’s life and self-presentation and artistic strivings. I feel greatly edified, and somewhat inspired, and I will miss his company.
3. Arriving in the city and driving down to the promenade for a walk and finding it so … normal. There were people strolling and enjoying the evening, and there were spinner dolphins leaping and twisting from the water, and the air was warm and still and the sea turned purple after the sun went down. It was calm and lovely and beautiful, and I am renewed in my conviction that 2021 will be a pretty good year.
2 January 2021 (Saturday)
Day 17 of Delights on the Road (Karoo National Park):
1. A walk around Bethulie in the cool of the morning, nodding hello to the small gaggle of geese making their way across a field, saying my good mornings to a mare eating a bale of hay and feeding her foal, touching the brim of my hat to the small and excitable dog so happy to greet me he threw himself off his feet.
2. Driving into the Karoo National Park, and feeling filled with the space and the emptiness and the silence.
3. Diving out of the heavy dry heat and into cold clean water. It feels like being a child again – the pure simple pleasure of warm air then water on your skin, your swimming trunks drying almost as soon as you leave the water again.
4. Sitting on the porch in the evening and watching an ostrich on a rocky hillside across the valley pleasuring a lady ostrich, with a great flapping of wings and gyrating of bodies, then afterwards trotting off like a man who has remembered it’s ten minutes to closing time and if he hurries to the pub he can still get a round in.
5. Sitting on the porch at night and watching the silent lightning in the north flashing in sheets across the sky, lighting up hidden banks of cloud, making the sky flicker like a malfunctioning screen.
1 January 2021 (Friday)
Day 16 of Delights on the Road (Bethulie)
1. I start every New Year’s day with a swim in nature, and this year was the dam in Clarens, slipping down a clay bank into the beautiful cool water, watched by a white-faced coot bobbing between the reeds. One of my intentions for 2021 is to swim naked in nature at least 21 times, and this was a good start.
2. Driving along a rutted, pot-holed, orange-earthed Free State backroad towards storm clouds and lightning, with no cellphone reception and fuel running low. In two hours there had been no other car on the road, coming or going. There was no sign of life except for occasional abandoned homes or rusted-out roadside wrecks. It felt like the first act of a horror movie. It was thrilling and delightful.
3. Not a delight, this, but a certain kind of mystery. The whole of 2020, I was crossing paths with mongooses. In Cape Town in my garden, on the mountainside, in Barrydale, in Hermanus, everywhere I went, there was a mongoose a little way ahead of me. I have seen them on foot and from my car and out of my lounge window. The mongoose became my familiar. I have never before seen a dead mongoose in my life, but today, driving between Clarens and Bethulie, I saw five or possibly six dead mongooses in the middle of the road or beside it. What does it all mean?
31 December 2020 (Thursday)
Day 15 of Delights on the Road (Clarens):
1. A walk along the river to a bookstore where once, years ago, I found a signed early copy of The Jungle Book.
2. The quiet contentment of preparing for the end of the year – getting yourself in order, gathering up your reflections and hopes and lessons learnt and still to be learnt. Making decisions and hoping hopes. I have drawn up a list of 21 things I want to do in 2021 – fun things, work things, general things, specific things. They aren’t resolutions, they are yardsticks, targets, direction-finders. They are articles of faith.
3. I measure my emotional well-being by my first internal response to sudden loss or disappointment. A full bottle of whiskey broke so thoroughly that I couldn’t even save any of the amber ichor from the bottom of the bottle. I looked at it and smiled philosophically. It is a delight to end the year in a good place in your heart,
30 December 2020 (Wednesday)
Day 14 of Delights on the Road (Durban to Clarens):
1. Meeting my dear friend Winston, who I haven’t seen in person in twenty years, and meeting his wife and the children who are the same age and older than we were when we first met. There is something remarkable about meeting old friends whose memories of you are unmuddied by intervening years: he remembered things that astonished me to hear. I said that?! I did that?! It was a delight.
2. Driving through the great honey- and tea-coloured rocks of Golden Gate National Park, with great white banks of cloud massing in a hard blue Free State sky.
3. Sitting under a gazebo outside, reading back on my journal for the year by candlelight with a glass of raki, while all around the sky lights up with silent flickers and strobes of distant sheet lightning, through the Maluti mountains into phosphorescent relief. Then the the cracks and peals of distant thunder, rolling nearer, then the first tinkling of a wind chime suspended from a tree branch as the breeze reaches us, and then the first spatterings of rain.
29 December 2020 (Tuesday)
Day 13 of Delights on the Road (Sodwana and Durban):
1. A final dive of the year in the clear, clean water of the upper Agulhas current, with the sunlight spreading itself across the surface and great schools of shoaling fish and coral and anemones.
2. Checking in to the Balmoral Hotel on the Marine Parade, where I have stayed for the last fifteen years, each time I have been drawn back to Durban. The Balmoral looks out across the permanent beachfront fun-fair and the cable-car seats that terrified me when I was young. I remember the smell of melting soft-serve and candyfloss and the burnt ozone of the dodgems, and I remember the carnival sounds through the loudspeakers. It’s all silent now. A red moon rose over the sea.
3. Walking the beachfront, between the piers and remembering being young. There was a blue light descending with dusk over the beach and the sea and my memories. The air was warm and salty, the way it must have been when my dad was young and pretending to be a lifesaver here to meet girls. It was wistful and melancholic, and there is a strong possibility I will never be in this hotel again and never walk here again, never be in this city again, but melancholy can have its delights.
28 December 2020 (Monday)
Day 12 of Delights on the Road (Sodwana):
A gin and tonic on the porch after Cyril’s speech, silently watching the moon rise and bats flit in front of it.
27 December 2020 (Sunday) (St. Lucia)
Day 11 of Delights on the Road (St Lucia):
1. Snorkeling in Cape Vidal, in warm, shallow water surrounded by fish large and small, like dropping into an aquarium.
2. Arriving back to our towel to find an Afrikaans family standing guard over picnic basket, because monkeys has descended from the trees in search a sandwich. “I nearly had to punch one!” said the elder son proudly.
3. Prawns and garlic and cold beer in an open-sided restaurant and a test match fuzzy and silent on the television and the cool evening breeze stirring off the lake.
26 December 2020 (Saturday)
Day 10 of Delights on the Road (St Lucia):
1. The cry of a fish eagle echoing across water.
2. Sitting on the edge of a wooden jetty, looking down into the clear, shallow waters of Lake St Lucia, and the fish nudging through the river grass, and the cool breeze across the blue and grey water, and the distant blue hills and the palms and the hippos blowing and the high, high sky with perfect white clouds against the blue.
3. The smell of fresh grilled prawns in a Portuguese restaurant as you drink a Catemba in the heat.
4. Dusk on the water of the lake – the great, peaceful silence and emptiness of the wild world and how it eases the eyes and the heart.
25 December 2020 (Friday)
Day 9 of Delights on the Road (St Lucia):
1. Waking to vervet monkeys outside and the twinkling lights of the tree in the milky KZN dawn.
2. Taking a swim on Christmas Day. It has been a long time since I have had a swim on a warm, sticky Christmas Day.
3. Taking a walk before lunch and hearing, not far away, the sound of a hippo with its barking-laughing call, and somewhere far away on the other side of town, hearing one reply.
4. Taking a swim on Christmas night.
24 December 2020 (Thursday)
Day 8 of Delights on the Road (St Lucia):
1. Christmas is always a tricky time – it is one of those marker days that throw out buoylines which your mind can follow down through the years into the depths of the past. “On this day when I was 12 …” “On this very day in the year 2000…” But Christmas Eve now finds me in a place I have never been, the St Lucia estuary up the north coast of KZN, where street signs warn of hippo crossings and you are counselled not to go out after dark for fear of bumping into them. As we sit on the upstairs balcony of this lodge, rag-tag travellers and Christmas misfits drift in to take their rooms and hunker down in the steamy green Christmas forest.
2. I came into the room and Jo had produced a Christmas tree and decorations from their hiding place in the boot of the car and was assembling the tree and trying to disentangle the lights. A Christmas tree on the road, in the middle of the estuarine forest: that is an unexpected delight.
3. Late at night on Christmas Eve, after several glasses of festive cheer, going out hippo-hunting in the silent streets, trying to guess where a hippo might hide.
23 December 2020 (Wednesday)
Day 7 of Delights on the Road (Umkomaas):
The delight of rediscovering what I have always known and sometimes forget: that the best holiday days are always the days when you do nothing at all, reading on your porch then lazing and reading beside a pool you don’t even bother to swim in, barely stirring except to fetch more ice for your drink, watching the sudden subtropical descent of dusk and darkness behind the banana fronds. This afternoon I made myself take off my shirt as I lay there on a recliner in the blue shade: it wasn’t a good sight when I looked down, but it was a good feeling, and summer holidays are about the feelings.
22 December 2020 (Tuesday)
Day 6 of Delights on the Road (Umkomaas):
1. The feeling of pride when you take someone under the Indian Ocean for the first time, someone new to diving and to the wild southern sea and its strength and currents, someone afraid of sharks, and you watch them gather themselves briefly at the surface then smile bravely and point their head toward the sea floor and go swimming towards a cave full of fins and teeth.
2. Diving with sharks on Aliwal Shoal. It has been a while since I did it, and it was a joy all over again – the thrill of the encounter, the long dark figures emerging from the overhang cave, the sense of being connected to the vast unseen world.
3. Taking someone who means so much to you now to show them the place where you grew up, the mundane, haunting, poisonous, bitter-sweet place that you just can’t quite shake from your system.
4. As part of the Summer of Bruce we watched Blinded by the Light, an autobiographical film based on the memoir by Sarfraz Mansoor, a kid of Pakistani heritage growing up in 80s Luton who discovers and is saved by the music of Bruce Springsteen. I can’t remember when last I watched a movie that bad and stayed with it all the way through to the end. What could be more delightfully summery and holidayish than to watch a terrible movie with its heart in the right place?
21 December 2020 (Monday)
Day 5 of Delights on the Road (Umkomaas):
1. A morning walk through an indigenous coastal forest. As you step into it the air becomes cooler and more fresh, there are insects and beetles calling from the trees in frequencies and volumes like car alarms, changing their call as you approach or move away from them. Through the undergrowth a flash of red-brown and a fleeing buck.
2. Reaching the coast of my old home province and seeing the Indian Ocean hazy and blue, the way I remember it, between the hills and behind the banana trees.
3. Sitting beside the pool in the guest house of a south coast diving town that I used to visit with my dear old friend Evan, when we were younger and still friends, and watching a small family of vervet monkeys swing through the trees on their afternoon outing, and a watching a small, rapt, earth-bound daschund staring at them longingly, as though seeing a vision of himself with opposable thumbs.
4. A good, long, drowsy afternoon read on the bed with the dozing coast of memory outside, feeling like a summer holiday.
20 December 2020 (Sunday)
Day 4 of Delights on the Road (KZN coast):
1. On the beach at Morgan Bay, taking a long walk before leaving, encountering two girls carrying an enormous fish. They were carrying it as though it was a sleeping dog, or a ten-year-old child. They showed it to me and I admired it for a while – it was a Kob, they told me, and its scales still gleamed silver, so freshly had it been hauled from the sea. They were beaming with pride and delight. “We’ve been coming for years and years,” said the girl carrying it, “and we never catch ANYTHING!”
2. Just past Kokstad, we have checked into the Ingezi Forest Lodge, all surrounded by forest and hills and the sound of breeze through the leaves. My mother and father stayed here many years ago, when I was a very small child, when it was a motel for business travellers and sales reps. I know very little of their lives, and it is delight to have crossed paths with theirs.
3. For no clear reason, we have decided to use this road trip to familiarise ourselves with the life and career of Bruce Springsteen. I have never been a fan and have certainly never listened to a full album, but all twenty of them are queued up in chronological order, and so is all fifteen hours of Bruce reading his autobiography. As he gets to each new album we pause the audiobook and listen to that album a couple of times, then listen to him talking about it, then listen a few more times again. We have made it through the first two somewhat sketchy albums and have reached Born to Run. It was raining when we arrived at the lodge this evening, so as the thunder rolled and cracked and rain came down we watched a documentary, Wings for Wheels – The Making of Born to Run, which besides being an extraordinary look at what it demands of someone to painstakingly make their art, also gave me the pleasing sense of conducting in-depth, multi-source research into Bruceology.
19 December 2020 (Saturday)
Day 3 of Delights on the Road:
1. On a long empty beach in the Eastern Cape I encountered a middle-aged woman who looked at me with the look that formerly law-abiding folks greet each other with nowadays: acknowledgement and fellow-feeling.
“It’s good to see other people out here,” she said.
“As a matter of fact,” I said, “I am an undercover policeman and I am here to arrest you.”
“Please do,” she said. “I could do with a break.”
2. Checking into the worst guesthouse in the world, and then laughing for a while and checking out of the worst guesthouse in the world and hitting the road again.
3. A long swim in the cool sea, and then an evening on the terrace of the Morgan Bay Hotel, drawing up lists of 21 things we want to do in 2021, and the feeling of slowing down to a stop, and taking stock, and looking forward to the future again.
18 December 2020 (Friday)
Day 2 of Delights on the Road:
It’s dreadful for the people who have to make a living, but for people like me who are only passing through, the quietness of the Garden Route is a joy. In the Tsitsikamma Forest I walked to the big yellowwood tree, 800 years old, and sat in the green shade and listened to birds calling and responding in the canopy above, then walked five or six kilometres around on the circular path, and never saw another person.
In this Port Alfred guesthouse we are the only people in a sprawling, multi-roomed mansion. I roam the corridors like William Randolph Hearst in San Simeon. The empty sea throws itself against the empty shore outside my window.
17 December 2020 (Thursday)
Day 1 of Daily Delights on the road:
A day of multiple joys:
1. Finding the most beautiful dirt road between Nowhere in the Klein Karoo and Garcia Pass.
2. Stopping for a drink with friends in Wilderness that became several drinks on their veranda, between the forest and the sea, and lunch and much laughter and much talk of the future.
3. Taking a sunset walk beside the lagoon in Knysna and seeing a Pied Kingfisher hover over the shallows, its beak pointing down a rapier of Damocles, and watching it plunge down and disappear underwater and emerge with its evening meal glistening and silver.
4. Checking into a hotel again. I hadn’t realised quite how much I love hotels. Hotels mean transience and movement and change. They mean energy and nothing lasting forever, or even very long.
16 December 2020 (Wednesday)
It is a hot sunny day out there and I am packed and ready to depart on my antentwig-length road trip. The journey will take me to beaches where I am not allowed to swim and beaches where I am, to parts of the country I have never seen and parts where I grew up and have faded into the hazy status of uneasy myth. I am loaded up with audio books and music and podcasts and real books, and above all I am pre-emptively rich in endless unaccounted-for hours. I was scheduled to be in Lisbon now, bunkering down for a couple of months before going across to Greece to begin building my house: that all fell away with the gusts of chance and global circumstance, and this is the last-minute back-up plan, but I am as happy and delighted as a person could be.
15 December 2020 (Tuesday)
Sending my last email, and knowing that no matter what happens, I am not going to open another email or take another call or do another word of work this year.
14 December 2020 (Monday)
A splendid call with a producer in Hollywood who agreed with me when I said, “To hell with this year. Let’s start this up again in January.”
13 December 2020 (Sunday)
I was watching a film with my partner. It was a French movie directed by a well-regarded female director about a female astronaut who is also a single mother and who has been selected for a year-long trip away to space but she feels very guilty about leaving her child behind and she wonders if she should stay but she really should go because she has broken many glass ceilings to be a female astronaut and she wants to show her daughter that the sky is the limit but she feels very guilty because she loves her daughter and there’s a male astronaut also going but he can leave his kids with his wife and not feel guilty, and Eva Green is the female astronaut and she’s a very good actress and it’s good that movies like this get made and not all space movies have to be exciting and … my partner looked across at me and said, “This is boring. Let’s watch something else.”
12 December 2020 (Saturday)
Even though I haven’t quite finished my work, I woke up today with that holiday feeling of not having to do anything. I felt time and leisure stretching out ahead of me. I realised: even if I don’t finish all my work this year before I stop working, so what?
11 December 2020 (Friday)
I am leaving on Tuesday on a three-week road trip, and I packed my suitcase today. I am traveling light so it’s a small suitcase. I never usually manage to pack in advance, but I should because this was a revelation. I could take my time instead of rushing and fretting and stressing; each item was carefully chosen, carefully folded and arranged and inserted. The result is a work of practical art, a gorgeous model of efficiency and aesthetic satisfaction. It sits there whispering to me: “If only you did everything in good time, your whole life could be like me: beautiful and elegant and functional.”
10 December 2020 (Thursday)
I saw a red hibiscus on a TV programme and was pondering the redness of that hibiscus and wondering if I had seen a red hibiscus in real life, or if you only find them in Hawaii, and promptly drove past a bush of red hibiscus.
9 December 2020 (Wednesday)
Dinner with friends under a spreading tree in a square, and he had received some good news that day about his future. Good news! On 9 December 2020! It was a delight to hear it.
8 December 2020 (Tuesday)
The rain at 10.15pm.
7 December 2020 (Monday)
I have been unwell for the last while, and feeling weak, so today was the first day in a long time that I took a long walk, along the promenade with the tide low and the sea glinting just beyond the dark rocks and the gulls crying and a small flotilla of kayakers crawling across the blue.
6 December 2020 (Sunday)
Myprodol. And Ernst Lubitch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932).
5 December 2020 (Saturday)
A good long drive through mountains that glow blue in air that is clear, but also soft – as though the air itself is a very clear liquid, as clear as clear air.
4 December 2020 (Friday)
Entering with regret into another business negotiation – no one should be negotiating business in December of 2020; this is the time to put down our screens and internet connections and feverish, fearful, calculating minds – and discovering afresh the great advantage your own apathy and indifference can give to your negotiating position.
3 December 2020 (Thursday)
I have started reading a detective series by Steven Saylor, involving a Roman private investigator named Gordianus the Finder who, in this first novel, Roman Blood, is helping Cicero defend Sextus Roscius against a charge of patricide. It is a delight to read a good detective series again, especially one so lovingly, intimately historically persuasive. It is as convincing and gripping as Thomas Harris’ Cicero trilogy, but the real moment of delight came when I read a very simple sentence. Night has fallen over ancient Rome, on a very hot summer’s night, and Gordianus notices that although the glow of the city has extinguished the minor stars, the major constellations still turn high in the night. Coming as it does after the accumulation of small details that have persuaded me, reading away in my bathtub, that I am experiencing Rome during the dictatorship of Sulla precisely as it was and would have been, this suddenly was the final simple detail that opened it up, and I could see the sky, and the yellow haze from the world’s greatest city, so blasphemously bright as to extinguish the stars but not yet so bright as to extinguish the Big Dipper or the Bear or Orion. It was a moment of transport and delight.
2 December 2020 (Wednesday)
A book recommendation from an old friend.
An impulse decision to book a flight to Athens.
Watching a mongoose being chased by two peacocks in a field.
A francolin who keeps pecking at the glass door, like a short sales rep trying to persuade you to open up and buy some of his motor oil.
So many delights.
1 December 2020 (Tuesday)
A walk through an onion field and I saw a large hare running across the dirt road in front of me and bounding like a small buck through the onion plants.
30 November 2020 (Monday)
Some bad news arrived on the telephone in the afternoon, and I knew I had to engage with it, but instead of engaging with it right at that moment, I had a ninety-minute nap. When I woke up, the bad news was still there and I still had to engage with it, but I had already had my nap, and that couldn’t be taken away from me.
29 November 2020 (Sunday)
A pair of doves are making a nest on a crossbeam above the patio. I can sit on my sofa and watch them. She is sitting in a small tangle of twigs, and he flaps down to the ground and pokes around trying out little twigs, rejecting some, choosing a nice bendy one and flying it up to her, handing it over and then looking around for another one. I have just seen this for the first time this morning. Were they there yesterday? I don’t think so. What a delight to watch them, building their little home, pleasantly industrious.
28 November 2020 (Saturday)
I watched Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-Year Itch (Billy Wilder, 1955), and it was a delight to be able to ponder again the ineffable something that made her light up a screen with her presence. They call it star quality but there are too many movie stars for that to cover it. The air around her seems to shimmer with a new kind of illumination. It also occurred to me that I never have any sense of how old she is at any given moment: it seems as though she could be any age. (It turns out that she was 29, but I would not have been surprised it she had been 19 or 46.)
(Also, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which is the seduction theme song of the film, really is very good on a soundtrack, and I remembered, while watching the film, that when I was twelve or thirteen and watched The Seven-Year Itch on television, it was that piece of music that made me think there might be something in this classical music malarkey, and that one day I should find out more.)
27 November 2020 (Friday)
The particular quality of sleep you have after taking two Corenza Cs.
26 November (Thursday)
A cocktail of blackmarket Ritalin and various decongestants containing ephedrine is the closest to delight a man with this degree of debilitating flu can achieve.
25 November 2020 (Wednesday)
I woke up with the flu which made me think about being well, which made me appreciate it keenly. Illness is given to us, it sometimes feels, so that we are reminded to appreciate health. That sounds like the kind of desperate guff positive-thinkers make up to try force a tortured smile on their miserable faces, but it honestly is the thought that occurred to me, and the thought was strangely and honestly happy-making.
24 November 2020 (Tuesday)
The star jasmine outside my office is in full bloom.
23 November 2020 (Monday)
The wind is blowing hard across the vineyard and the petals from all the white roses are being scattered across the ground in clouds of large confetti, as though left over from some giants’ wedding. The sight is sad and lovely, but the real delight of today has been receiving the long and personal letters from so many people who read my newsletter today, and who are writing to share their own lives and their own fears and intimacies. It is a genuine joy, and I want to sit down and write in full response to each of you. I am grateful, and happy.
22 November 2020 (Sunday)
One of my best friends works on the same TV show as I do. We both constantly complain about it and promise each other that this will be our last year, but on Friday we were informed that the channel is cancelling the show, for reasons that have nothing to do with the performance of the show. This represents quite a substantial material blow to both of us. Each of our expected incomes for 2021 has declined overnight by some seven digits. But we discussed the matter on the phone, and we laughed and joked and everything felt good and light and possible. It is a delight to have friends, especially friends with whom one can laugh.
21 November 2020 (Saturday)
There was a bat in the house, flying around in the darkness at 2am. When it comes to opening doors so that the bat will recognise the open space and fly out, bats are about as smart as birds are. But far more exotic.
20 November 2020 (Friday)
This day was, in a year distinguished by a number of bad days, one of the worst. But the sea was curiously and gorgeously flat and still, and the blue of the deep parts was a deep fathomless blue like a melted sapphire and the blue of the shallow parts over the white sand was Grecian and clear, and to look at it from the coast road was to think of the all the water and all the secrets and all the romance of the oceans of the world. It was to think of shipwrecks and pearl divers and scuba and the old Peter Stuyvesant adverts and giant clams and Polynesian atolls and the Mainstay adverts and Atlantic liners and palm-fringed islands and jewelled bracelets lost and found in the shallows and treasure chests and shoals of colourful fish and small children in shallow harbours diving for glittering silver coins. The sea was very lovely, and offered delight.
19 November 2020 (Thursday)
Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History. Oh, what a delight to spend time with someone sane, interesting, funny and good company. The drive between town and the karoo, which I am making regularly these days, every ten days or so, will forever be associated with his voice and his companionship and the reassurance he provides that not everyone – right and left – has gone quite mad.
18 November 2020 (Wednesday)
On most days I stop off for an hour or so at a coffee shop in Bree Street which I like because it is white and airy and high-ceilinged and reminds me in a vague and imprecise way of Greece. The chap who owns it is an artist and is currently teaching someone to whom I am close how to make stained glass window. Every now and then I look up from my work and catch a glimpse of them through the doorway to the workshop in the back, bent over a work table, cutting lozenges of dark blue or light blue or yellow glass or poring over designs, focused in medieval concentration. It is a very delightful sight.
17 November 2020 (Tuesday)
I have discovered a French phrase. It applies to the waiting area in French train stations, but also the large spaces in French courts where lawyers and clients can confer and wait for their time in court, or for airport concourses or suchlike areas where people spend time waiting before doing something or going somewhere, and pace up and down, walking to that side then turning and walking back again. It is “La Salle de Pas Perdus” – the hall of lost steps. That is a wonderful name. (And, with a different emphasis, it can also mean “the hall of the un-lost”, which is just as delightful.)
16 November 2020 (Monday)
On the promenade at 10pm the lampposts drop yellow cones of light through which haze and particles of moisture pass like plankton. The red sliver of ghostly moon has already set and the black sea glitters under a black sky. It smells of iodine and shell and steel.
15 November 2020 (Sunday)
It is always an astonishment to discover how the mind works in subterranean caverns and corridors. Shortly before bed I was thinking about Donald Trump, which honestly isn’t something I often do. I was thinking with some curiosity about the tortured mental processes with which he (or my idea of him) might be making sense of the world right now, turning over what he had and what he did and what he lost, trying to process it. I wasn’t thinking deeply about it, just idly. When I woke up this morning, I found myself humming a song that took me some time to recognise, because I hadn’t listened to it for probably 20 years. It was the REM song, “World Leader Pretend”, from the 1998 album “Green”, and as it came slowly back to me I started half-remembering the lyrics, and looked them up, and it as if Michael Stipe sat down in 1998 to ventriloquize the inner anguishing and fulminations of Donald Trump right now:
“I raised the wall, and I’m the only one who can knock it down!”;
“I demand a rematch! I decree a stalemate! I recognise the weapons, I’ve practised them well, I fitted them myself!”
Even his cry of self-soothing pain as he sits down in front of his TV to watch Fox News and pretend it’s going to be okay:
“This is my life – And this is my time – I have been given the freedom – To do as I see fit! This is my world and I am – world leader pretend! Let my machine talk to me, let my machine talk to me …“
The delight isn’t the song, although it’s a good song from a good band on a good album that I am happy to listen to again. The delight is getting that small peek into the world of connections and memories and creative workshops that takes place in the depths of one’s head beneath the conscious, knowing surface. I didn’t even know that I knew the lyrics to that song from 32 years ago, but they were there all along, hidden beneath the waters, and when I started wading nearby, they somehow came to the surface.
14 November 2020 (Saturday)
I was reading back on some of the delights from this year and was surprised to notice one word recurring more than others: “friend”. I don’t consider myself a person with a lot of friends – I don’t have friend groups or circles, and seldom see any one person more than once or twice a month – and I don’t consider myself a person for whom company or the lineaments of friendship is as important as it is for other people. But over this year I seem to have made a number of new friends, and maintained a number of old friendships, and it’s remarkable how often the thing in a day that has given me most pleasure and delight is the company of someone I care about and am interested in and with whom I can laugh. A friend, in other words. Today I made two new friends, and had a happy two hours sitting at their home, laughing.
13 November 2020 (Friday)
At midnight on Thursday night my Wifi went down during an important call to LA, and I was distressed and defeated and exhausted and inclined to weeping and raging and gnashing and rending my clothes. Everything was urgent and important and cataclysmic, it had to be fixed right now, life itself was unendurable. Then I was reminded of how at night everything is urgent and important and cataclysmic, and that when things are urgent and important and cataclysmic, the best thing to do is go to sleep. I woke this morning and relief warmly bathed me as I remembered again what I have discovered to be true so many times yet keep forgetting: that nothing is ever as bad as it seems late at night.
12 November 2020 (Thursday)
I have just killed a fly with a fly-swatter, and it gave me great delight. Why should it be less creepy to enjoy killing flies, than it would be to enjoy killing sparrows, say, or butterflies? I don’t know, but it’s very satisfying, partially because the well-made fly-swatter may be one of humanity’s greatest inventions: a perfectly efficient and durable machine that demands no upkeep and makes no ongoing claim on the Earth’s resources and adds only to the sum of human happiness. Some would vote for the bicycle, but people on bicycles are annoying. People with fly-swatters are doing God’s work.
11 November 2020 (Wednesday)
I was sitting on an armchair in my bedroom in the morning, not looking at anything in particular and thinking about something else altogether. The light through the French doors to my right was falling across the bed to my left, which I had just made to my specifications: neat, but not militarily precise. There was nothing in my field of vision that was out of the ordinary, nothing of which to take notice. But I became gradually or perhaps suddenly aware of the exceptional beauty and interest of the scene. If it had been painted just as it was, I could have stood for hours before the painting, enjoying the colours – the bright titanium-white of the counterpane, the brown-yellow wood of the bedside tables, the muted yellow lampshades, the tiny black shadows on the leeward ridges of the counterpane, the bright sun-flash on the metal rim of a round steel pillbox, as if on the rim of a metal goblet in a Vermeer. Put a frame around that scene and hang it on a wall and I would have been moved and delighted and my heart would have swelled and my mind raced as I looked at it. But it was only everyday life, so I was lucky to have noticed it at all.
10 November 2020 (Tuesday)
Lamb chops and tzatziki and Greek lemon potatoes.
9 November 2020 (Monday)
I have decided that the mongoose is my familiar. A mongoose ran across my path this morning, and as I was pondering whether or not to make anything of this, another mongoose, this one a striking russet-red, ran across the path ahead up a small rocky rise, and stopped and looked back at me as though encouraging me to follow, or to make sure I wasn’t following, or to somehow ensure I was getting some sort of message.
8 November 2020 (Sunday)
The wintry day over the semi-desert and a glass of porter for breakfast. In The Magic Mountain Hans Castorp has a glass of porter for breakfast, and I can confirm he knew what he was doing.
7 November 2020 (Saturday)
A deep hour-long nap on a Saturday afternoon, followed by a thoughtful gin and tonic in the dropping warmth of the day.
6 November 2020 (Friday)
My mother came to visit me in Barrydale. She drove three and a half hours in heavy rain, up Sir Lowry’s Pass and across Tradouws Pass, unable to see further than the sheet of rain on the windscreen. She is 79 years old – 80 in December – has emphysema and is booked for cataract operations on both eyes in January. That night she drank her share of four bottles of champagne between three of us. For four decades she has been a single mother. I don’t know if I know a stronger person.
5 November 2020 (Thursday)
Europe has locked down, so my flight to Lisbon has been cancelled and the apartment has been cancelled too. Gloom might have descended, but then we decided to make this December the time of a valedictory South African road trip, a tour of my childhood, a three-week odyssey into the past and the present. It will be cheesy and care-free and sweaty and fun. There is a delight in turning disappointment so swiftly into a new idea.
4 November 2020 (Wednesday)
In Barrydale, where I am staying, on the edge of the Karoo, there are masses of roses in full early summer bloom – great banks and clouds of white and red and pink, waves of roses, fields of roses, sweet-smelling and heady. I had no idea there were this many roses in Barrydale, or in the world.
3 November 2020 (Tuesday)
I have a friend who works in management for a company somewhere. He has a boss who has a Bar One every day at precisely 3pm, presumably as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. If you can’t have a nap in the office – a very good reason to abolish offices, I would have thought – you may as well have a Bar One. But my friend is a man of sudden passions and annoyances. Yesterday he decided that he couldn’t bear to sit through another 3pm nosh, hearing his boss unwrapping his Bar One, listening to him chew it. (My friend actually sits quite a distance from his boss, so I imagine it’s more of a case of knowing that he’s chewing it, rather than actually hearing it.) So this is what he did – he went down to the canteen of their office building, and then after that to the cafe across the street, and bought all the Bar Ones in stock. It caused me immense delight to hear that story.
2 November 2020 (Monday)
A stand of riverside rushes that is filled with red bishops and masked weavers and cape weavers and some other kinds of birds, all filling the hot air with non-stop chirping and singing and sweetness.
1 November 2020 (Sunday)
The sound of a light breeze moving through pine needles in the tree over the driveway when you step out of the car after a long happy drive.
31 October 2020 (Saturday)
Walking five hours along the side of a mountain, through sunlight and shadow and the smell of the earth, and coming upon corners of ravines where sudden banks of purple flowers grow.
30 October 2020 (Friday)
A bottle of champagne opened in the early afternoon for no good reason whatsoever.
29 October 2020 (Thursday)
There is a magic second-hand bookstore in Sea Point that I sometimes consult like an oracle. Whenever I am trying to decide on something I go and look in the window, and very often there’s a book there that will, through the power of coincidence or suggestion, tip me the direction to choose. I went to consult it today, looking in through the window to the display, and the first book I saw told me exactly what I needed to know.
28 October 2020 (Wednesday)
The wind rustles the green, green leaves of the trees shading Maria’s in Dunkley Square at lunchtime, but below it is still and cool.
27 October 2020 (Tuesday)
The pleasure of waking up after a long, good sleep. Not a special sleep, or an especially unusual sleep, just a good, sound sleep that was long enough.
26 October 2020 (Monday)
Nearly 40 years ago a kid in my neighbourhood borrowed my bicycle and tried to ride it down Beacon Road, the steepest road on the Bluff. Fifteen years ago I used that incident in a book I wrote for young readers, called SuperZero. Today, I signed a copy of that book and walked down the road and posted it off to the ten-year-old son of the ten-year-old boy who borrowed my bike and inspired the moment inside it. It made me very delighted to think about that.
25 October 2020 (Sunday)
A roast leg of lamb and mint sauce and crispy potatoes and rich gravy.
24 October 2020 (Saturday)
Sitting with friends over the umpteenth bottle of wine and watching the late sun falling like a sentimental memory over the Constantia valley.
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 Kirstenbosch canopy walkway onto the tops of trees. There is nothing that gives me 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 corrects her:
SULLIVAN TO THE GIRL: You look about as much like a boy as Mae West.
THE GIRL: All right, so 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. 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 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, which is precisely the right time to take the afternoon off. I 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) (Churchhaven)
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) (Churchhaven)
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) (Churchhaven)
The diaphanous 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) (Barrydale)
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) (Barrydale)
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) (Barrydale)
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) (Barrydale)
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) (Barrydale)
A wood fire and sleepily watching a horror movie with friends on a cold night.
4 September 2020 (Friday) (Barrydale)
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) (Barrydale)
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) (Barrydale)
The sensation of calm and clarity when your mind, which has been in some turmoil, finally settles again,
1 September 2020 (Tuesday) (Barrydale)
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) (Barrydale)
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) (Barrydale)
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 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, it impresses me that 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.
Also: A rainbow
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 then I 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, coalescing 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 seaside restaurant to work 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, instead of individual downloaded songs. She 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 then 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 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 funny 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 – a big purchase – 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 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 people 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 – that feeling of reading something that is, if not unique, at least unique to my experience, and which opens possibilities I haven’t considered.
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 another person that I loved. It is a common enough experience, and 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. I say 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. 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 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; 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 new 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)
Today 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 about.
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 wrote 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. We exchanged a number of messages through the day, and it feels quite delightful to have achieved what we have achieved – a mutually respectful 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 door-to-door, and am both lucky and unlucky enough to 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, with no traffic, that it’s unclear where they are. They might be in Stellenbosch, or Port Elizabeth. They are far enough away for me that I only hear little bursts, distantly and intermittently. 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) (Cape Town)
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.) (This is a link to the opening of Omega Man.)
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 in the West Hollywood Public Library, 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) (Los Angeles)
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 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, 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, in Johannesburg, 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 speaker stands that you would park next to when you went to the drive-in. You would clip the metal speaker onto the driver’s side window to hear the movie. I was eating a toasted chicken sandwich 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 wrapped in tin foil inside empty plastic ice-cream tubs; never being allowed to have a slush puppy, no matter how we begged; 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, blue sky 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 there was 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)
The road leading up the apartment block where I’m staying is lined with rows 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)
My dear friend 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 with the loadshedding. 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 reach his 100 before the lights go out. 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 read an article recently about how contact with soil might boost your immune system and your happiness, so we start rubbing our hands experimentally in the soil. “This,” she says, after a few minutes of soil-rubbing, “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, on my way from Lisbon to Malaga. 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 aren’t afraid. They aren’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 rain shower, 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 this morning 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, looked at 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 lasts 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, waiting for the bus. The daughter was about four, and it was a bright but cold morning so she was bundled up in a puffy pink jacket, and 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.