How a family of corvids helped me cope with Covid.

Illustration by the von Wright brothers

In the courtyard behind our apartment building in Paris there is a cherry tree. Tall and spindly, its uppermost branches are level with our kitchen window on the third floor — so close you can almost reach out and touch them. Last spring, a few days after we’d been locked down (the French called it “confinement”, perhaps to rhyme with “refinement”) I noticed that a pair of magpies had started building a nest there.

Thanks to the proximity of the tree it was like watching a wildlife documentary. I’d stand at the window sipping my morning espresso, a sedate activity…

Forced closures and dwindling resources threaten a vital element of the French way of life. This writer is taking it personally.

“They’re going to kill us, in any case,” says Pascal, his mask hanging like a bandage at his throat, as if it’s already been cut. “It was difficult to come back last time. This time, it may be impossible.”

Pascal and his wife own Le Jean Bart, the brasserie where I have a coffee most mornings — ah, that supercharging double hit of espresso — and eat lunch a couple of days a week. …

In May 2000 my life changed for good.

The author soon after arriving in Paris. He’s quit smoking, but not wine and contemplation. Pic: Tim Green

I was 32 years old when I got the email that brought me to France. By then the course of my life looked pretty much circumscribed. Like many English people I spoke no foreign languages, and there was little to indicate that I would one day live abroad, apart from a taste for subtitled films, croissants and novels in translation.

Weekday mornings I took the Tube to my mildly enjoyable job at an advertising trade magazine, picking up a copy of The Times to read along the way. At weekends I ate pub lunches and ambled in the park and…

My dad died this year, but his legacy was an immortal hero.

When the name of the new James Bond movie was announced this week, I felt — as Ian Fleming might have written — a sharp stab of pain in my abdomen. Not because of the name itself: in fact, No Time To Die almost sounds like a pastiche of a Bond movie title. But because of my dad.

My father died in March this year after a long illness. A funny and talkative man, he couldn’t resist charming those around him. Even towards the end, he was making the nurses at the hospice laugh. …

Finding characters and a kind of therapy in the quirky pools of Paris.

If you get there early enough — and I nearly always do — you can be first into the water. But for the moment you stand at the side of the pool, toes curling as you contemplate the perfect rectangle of turquoise, broken only by the cheerful red-and-white beads of the lane dividers.

You flex your knees, lower your head. And then you’re in, gliding through a cool blue world, utterly cut off from the distractions of terrestrial life.

Swimming is not just exercise. It’s a tempo, a rhythm, a chance to reflect. Immersive is the word, all right.


I was standing in line at airport security at Berlin Brandenburg when I got the call. As soon as I saw my wife’s name on the screen, I answered. She rarely calls cold like that — almost always sends a text. So already the numbness in my gut told me it was bad news.

“There was something on my mammogram,” she said. “They have to do a biopsy.”

“So they don’t know what it is?” I said. “Could be nothing.”

“No,” she replied. “I feel it. I know it. There’s something.”

There was an edge of tears in her voice…

Mark Tungate

British writer happily stranded in Paris. Author of seven books about advertising, branding and creativity.

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