From Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios: Only a few men, painters, have been able to see the mind through the face. Other men in their judgements reach out for the evidence of word and deed that will explain the mask before their eyes. Yet, though they understand instinctively that the mask cannot be theContinue reading “Duplicity”


A precise, and concise, description from Joseph Roth, in The Radetzky March, of how it feels to be drunk: Lieutenant Trotta did not budge.  He could remember that his father had recently arrived, and he understood that it wasn’t this father, but a whole bunch of fathers that were standing in front of him.  ButContinue reading “Drunkenness”

Drug addiction

I’ve never been a drug addict myself (I’m glad to say) but this description of addiction from Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios paints a very convincing picture of how addiction can take hold: The process is always roughly the same. It begins as an experiment. Half a gramme, perhaps, is taken through the nostrils.Continue reading “Drug addiction”


This definition of doublethink from George Orwell’s 1984 is horrifyingly resonant in 2020 UK: To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic,Continue reading “Doublethink”

Doing stuff

I find this advice from John Kay’s Obliquity very useful: When faced with a task that daunts you, a project that you find difficult, begin by doing something.  Choose a small component that seems potentially relevant to the task.  While it seems to make sense to plan everything before you start, mostly you can’t: objectivesContinue reading “Doing stuff”

How to lose weight

A wonderfully straightforward piece of advice from ‘Mrs Hawkins’ in Muriel Spark’s A Far Cry from Kensington: As an aside, I can tell you that if there’s nothing wrong with you except fat it is easy to get thin. You eat and drink the same as always, only half. If you are handed a plateContinue reading “How to lose weight”


Thomas Buddenbrook on the beginning of the end in Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks: Happiness and success are inside us. We have to reach deep and hold tight. And the moment something begins to subside, to relax, to grow weary, then everything around us is turned loose, resists us, rebels, moves beyond our influence. And then it’sContinue reading “Decline”

More death (and love)

And while we’re on the theme of death and the Great War, here’s Joanna Cannan in High Table: Look on, Cynic, your dozen years, to the time when such words as these will be explained away as wartime hysteria, when such a marriage as is planned now, in this brief, pink-and-white haven, will be dissolvedContinue reading “More death (and love)”