Katherine Whitehorn, journalist

When I moved to London from  Dublin, Katherine Whitehorn represented what  I saw as the glitzy, literary London scene. She  was witty, audacious and down to earth  in a clever sort of way. There were other women journalists  who were  also great to read but she was top dog and unopposed queen of bedsitter land.

I remember a story she told about herself when leaving a rather staid women’s magazine. Her f inal contribution to the  handicraft section of the paper – which she just managed to get past  the internal censor – was a suggestion to the readers: ” Why not knit yourself a little Dutch Cap this winter.”

It was terrible to learn that she had advanced Alzheimers. The loss is ours.



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Tomorrow is the pre-christian celebration of fertility. Big in Ireland as it is a Celtic tradition and quite big in Oxford where it is called May Morning. Lots of comely maidens and supposedly randy males gathering their nuts in May.

Best place to be at 6am is on Magdalen Bridge to hear the college choristers sing an ode to May dating back to the time of Henry Vlll. Great time for subversion and creating mayhem. Do it.

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Winnie Mandela – what happened when I met her in Soweto.

I worked  as an election observer for the first democratic elections in South Africa and was based in Burgersdorp in the eastern Cape.

I went to Soweto to visit the small one storey house she and Madiba had lived in. It is now a sort of museum. While I was poking around letters and ANC posters etc a door opened and Winnioie entered accomanied by a small group of Chinese men, possibly a delegation from  the  Communist Party. Possibly.

I melted into the background before offering to take a photo of Winnie and her visitors –  it beng the day before selfies etc. To be honest, knowing her reputation for being a somewhat forcefull woman, I was slightly intimidated by her. However, she smiled  and asked: ” Don’t you want to be photographed with me?”

I thought of  the many friends  and co-workers who disapproved of Winnie for a variety of reasons, people both black and white.

Nevertheless I put those thoughts to one side and accepted her invitation. I was influenced by a friend, Frankie,  who together with her husband ran the anti apartheid group in Ireland and who stuck with it throughout those terrrible years of Madiba’s incarceration. When people criticised and shunned Winnie, Frankie pointed out that Winnie too had suffered during those years – imprisonment, solitary confinement ( 400 days) , relocated to different faraway towns, threats to her children, reimprisonment. And still she kept stong and faithful to the ANC. And so I had my photo taken with her and when  she put her arm round me it was strong as a steel.

Next blog is about the first sitting of the first  democratic parliament of South Africa. Winnie was there. So was Madiba, Joe Slovo and other stars of the struggle.

It’s all in my book: Journeys of a Lifetime.




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Remembering a visit to Barbuda

One of my books – Journeys of a Lifetime –  contains a description of a visit I made to Barbuda. Here’s what I wrote in  2004

” Barbuda is a flat sand-coloured leaf loating on a pool of blue. Water laps its edges amd the wind, whistling across its desolate  landscape, makes me feel uneasy and unsafe, fearful that at any moment a wave may flow  across the whole island and engulf it….      Barbuda bangs and clangs  like a ship buffeted by winds  that seem to strike it from every direction…”

Later, I called in to the rum  shop and had a stiff drink.



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The Codrington Library, its connection to slavery, sugar and Oxford


The Codrington library at All Souls, Oxford.


Some years back, I made preparations to go  to the Eastern Caribbean.


“ If you go to Barbuda,” said Bill Heine  who presented a programme on BBC Radio Oxford, “send me a postcard.”

The capital of Barbuda is Codrington and Bill remembered how a portrait of  Codrington hung in All Souls College, Oxford which he had attended. He’d found Codrington glowering down on him unsettling.

When I got myself to Barbuda ( it’s the sister island of Antigua)  I went to the post office to buy a postcard and a stamp.

There were no postcards so I bought two envelopes, wrote on one, folded it up and put it inside the second envelope.  Next,  to buy  a stamp.

The man behind the counter offered me an array of stamps. “ Pick,” he said. They all had different pictures on them including ones of Winston Churchill, a parrot and a kettle. I chose the parrot one.

“ This OK for Europe?” I asked him and he replied cheerfully: “ Whichever.” The card reached its destination. Job done.

Today it’s Open Doors Day in Oxford so I am going to All Souls to see the Codrington Library which has been closed to visitors for some months.

The Codrington family set up sugar plantations in this part of the Eastern Caribbean in the 1600s.

Now, here’s the irony: under Codrington’s rule, slaves were forbidden to learn how to read  while at the same time, Codrington slave money was used to establish a library for the privileged few back in England.

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Famous writer pinches things in Regents Park


From Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On

I was given this book for Christmas and am now on page 361 out of 753. Quite a bit to go which is great as I won’t want it to end.

Also reviewing another book at the same time and the temptation, with KOKO, is to pick up a pen and make notes. Fatal. I’d be making notes all the time.

Here’s one anecdote out of many: he cycles through  Regent’s Park every day for the exercise but one day it’s raining so he walks.

“Almost out of piety and a respect for a tradition I filch a couple of  branches from the base of  a balsam poplar  on the north side of Regent’s Park. The buds are hardly open  and thus are briefly heavily scented.  Now in a glass on the sitting room mantelpiece they bring a flavour to the room as they have done every spring for the last forty years.”


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Here’s what I’m reading


Never knew what a Tidy Betty was till I read about one here.

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