A balm for the soul of a Pope in a gilded cage

The Sistine Chapel Choir is launching the first album in its 500 year history. I went to hear it perform in a private concert under the frescoes of Michelangelo, and found that for the first time there is a British man among the Pope’s full time personal singers. The Vatican provokes complicated reactions in me, as this piece for the Independent on Sunday probably shows.


Saying goodbye to Bartley Gorman, bareknuckle boxing champion of the world

Pictured is Bare Knuckle fighter, Bartley Gorman "King of the Gypsies" who is seen back in trainig for his final fight after being champion for 25 years. Bartley, 53 of Uttoxeter was due to fight Mr Francis a  33 year old geordie, but the police heard about the illeagal fight and cancelled it.The new heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is said to be related to a legendary figure called Bartley Gorman who was for decades the bare-knuckle champion of the world. I was at Gorman’s funeral in 2002, a day that lives long in the memory. This is what I wrote at the time. Continue reading “Saying goodbye to Bartley Gorman, bareknuckle boxing champion of the world”

Firle: In An English Country Melting Pot

Nowhere in England looks more like the perfect English village than Firle in East Sussex. It has an ancient church, with bells that ring out across beautiful countryside. There is a fine old pub with a roaring fire. The cottages, made of brick and flint, have roses growing in their gardens. Children are playing in the lane, pretending to be on the village cricket pitch — which is one of the oldest in the country, and a model of its kind. And to add to the feeling of fantasy, Firle even has a working post office.

The little shop looks as it did nearly a century ago, when Virginia Woolf strolled up from her rented cottage to post letters. Outside is a classic red Gilbert Scott phone box. Inside, a woman smiles as she hands over bread and milk, writing down the cost in a till book to be forgotten about until the end of the month. “I know everyone by name,” says the postmistress, Ami Reece. “I trust my customers. They are my friends.” Can it be for real? Continue reading “Firle: In An English Country Melting Pot”