THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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More Metz

Fair play to the AA. They extended my hotel booking as promised and confirmed by text message. I was happy to be spared a wait on the line to their call centre and headed out earlier than I’d hoped,

Today I was less fortunate in my choice of breakfast café. Still, a baguette and jam will do the trick, washed down with a morning cappuccino. During breakfast the devis (estimate) arrived from Speranza’s workshop. The journey-stopping repair is incredibly cheap. They also offered to fix the air conditioning, which I was going to leave to the annual service.  I agreed as long as it didn’t delay completion and I’m glad I did as — although that’s a much more expensive item — I’m sure it’s cheaper than in London. It will make for a more comfortable ride as we head South next week.

I signed and returned the devis as requested and promised a 10% pourboire in cash if she’s fixed on schedule. The French present as less materialistic than us but the goddess of the market responds reliably to such offerings in my experience. At any rate, the nice lady receptionist emailed this afternoon to say a mechanic will work Wednesday evening to be sure the job is done on time.

After dealing with these matters at my breakfast table, I set off to the cathedral and this time ventured inside. The vaulted ceiling is one of Europe’s highest and the stained glass is superb. I’ve added more pictures to my album.

Metz 2024 Day 3-1I still have no religious faith. The more of my loved ones I lose, the more I wish I could believe again. I’d like to think Mr P. Senior is making peace with his dad and perhaps even the late Mrs P. right now (if he can get a word in now her mum has joined her). He was such a good man. My own mother would love to see him again. I never found a wife who wanted 67 years with me, still less one who thought it insufficient! He was as much nicer than me as my grandad was tougher. When young, I hoped to combine their virtues but genetics just don’t work that way.

The late Mrs P. became a Catholic in her final year. When I visit their cathedrals (my Catholic friend, the Navigator, reckons Henry VIII’s theft doesn’t count so they’re all their cathedrals) I light a candle for her. She wasn’t fond of road trips but, graduate in French that she was, she loved this country and would have enjoyed Metz. It’s 13 years since she passed away but lunching in a French square brings her back. She’d have looked for ways to demonstrate her mastery of the subjunctive. Then she’d have edited this post. You may have noticed the blog is wordier since she departed.

Metz 2024 Day 3-2I wandered into the Old Town and found a pavement restaurant of which she might have approved. Then, because that silver lining must be pursued, I made menu choices she’d have vetoed. I’ve been slowly losing weight on my intermittent fasting regime, despite making less rigourous meal choices than I did on my 50kg megadiet of 2018. As long as I’m punching a new hole in my belt every month or so, I’m not going to worry about the rate of loss.

Metz 2024 Day 3-15After lunch, I headed back to my hotel to process photos and write this, pausing en route for a Ricard. I like it generally as a Summer drink, but it tastes better in France.

Practical consequences of my delays will kick in soon. To make space for Babička’s luggage, I restricted myself to a carry-on and my clean clothes are running out. I’d expected to be in Prague with access to a washing machine. My hotel has no laundry service so some of Wednesday will be spent in a local launderette.

We aim to set a cracking pace from Prague to make an appointment Babička has in Provence so there’ll be no time en route. A Wednesday wash should see me through to her daughter’s in-laws’ French home where she’ll meet her new granddaughter next week. I hope my mechanics deliver so I can be a witness to that tender moment. I envy none of my friends' successes or possessions, but I confess to being jealous of their grandchildren. 

Where we are and what we see

Nine years after I gave up legal practice, I have stopped calling myself a lawyer. If you ask me now, I would say I am a photographer. I devoted my professional career to words and now I am trying to develop my visual sense. I don't do it professionally. I don't need to. I just love it and enjoy the challenge of trying to be good at it. It's a wonderful craft to open ones eyes to the world and to see it differently. Armed with a camera, I have noticed details of both my neighbourhood and the places I have travelled that I would otherwise have passed unseen. These days, I generally just won't go where my camera isn't welcome.

Visual literacy comes from "reading" lots of images – as many as possible by the Austens and Dickenses of the photographic world. In my morning feed of my favourite sites on the web, there are now as many photographers as writers. They seem to be mostly of the artsy-luvvie tendency. I remember a portraiture workshop with an eminent photographer (several of his portraits are in the National Portrait Gallery) who directed his model to adopt the expression of "someone nice, like a left-wing politician". He was not being provocative and seemed genuinely puzzled when I bridled. When it came to my turn to have a go, I asked her to give me her "most evil, grasping look" while making a clenched fist salute. I pointed out to my eminent tutor that there is nothing "nice" about the people who had taken most of my life's work by force to bribe their voters to keep them in parasitical idleness.


This low-octane, mostly lowbrow wingnuttery applies despite (or perhaps because) of the fact that photographers work in a hard-fought, competitive market. The ubiquity of camera phones means there are now few full-time newspaper photographers, for example. Television killed the photo magazines where the "greats" of photography mostly earned their crusts. The rise of Getty Images and the like has destroyed residual income from stock photography. More images are being generated than ever, but less money is being earned for making them. Their main problem is like that of actors, however. It's a fun, creative job that many people want to do but there are too few customers to pay more than a minority of them. If they were not so disdainful about economics, both professions would find the outcome of that predictable. Mostly they just see it as "wrong" however.

There are playful souls among them but they tend to be more than averagely earnest. There's an historical reason for that. In the early days of photography it was derided by fine artists as mere mechanical trickery. Painters and sculptors thought of photographers as the Church had once thought of them  - as low class artisans unworthy of respect and to be cheated of their pay wherever possible. In consequence photographic pioneers longed to be seen as artists too and paid a lot of attention to "serious" subjects and "social" issues.

An art form needs to be well-established and respectable before its practitioners can have fun with it. The headspace of many photographers is very much in what I call "Magnum World" – a dark, miserable oppressed place plagued by manifold injustices, as portrayed by the members of the Magnum Photo Agency. If Earth feared invasion by hostile aliens, our best defence would be to broadcast electronic slideshows of Magnum photographs. The invaders would react like the Roman legions on reaching Scotland and advance no further, leaving us poor miserable Earthlings to our poverty-stricken suffering and oppression behind a galactic Hadrian's Wall.

In amateur photography, the comfortable pensions of teachers and university lecturers mean there are far too many of them in a leisure field that requires a certain amount of investment in kit - adding further layers of pseudo-intellectual pomposity, musty from a lifetime of never being challenged. I am a member of the Royal Photographic Society, but though I enjoy a few of its workshops from time to time, mostly find its members smug and insufferable. I hesitate every year before renewing. Its beautifully produced magazine, for example, unquestioningly peddles the conventional thinking of the BBC class. I have learned to appreciate the images while ignoring the priggish text around them. 

You may think I would find this milieu uncomfortable, but I rather enjoy it. I am missing my photographic comrades during lockdown. Exchanges like the one I mention above are rare. I don't pick fights. I concentrate on their skills not their views, learn from them and move on. They are no worse than most of my rich, West London neighbours – and at least the photographers have a job description that makes sense and occasionally bring some beauty into the world.

Finally, in my last post I wrote of confirmation bias among journalists and bloggers. I have noticed the same thing among photographers. The camera doesn't lie, but photographers can and often do. Their choice of lens can make the same group of people look rashly hugger mugger or responsibly social-distanced, for example. Their choice depends on how they want you to see the world – and who doesn't want others to see the world as they do themselves? The photographer is sometimes consciously deceiving his viewer but more often is first lying to himself. Attending many photo workshops has proved to me repeatedly that photographers standing in the same location with similar equipment will produce very different images. That difference seems to depend just as much on their metaphorical point of view as their literal one.

Underground in Épernay

We took our time over a shorter drive from Beaune to Épernay. French autoroutes somehow sit more lightly on the landscape than British motorways. They lack the embankments to screen them from their neighbours, the gantries to monitor and nag their users and the ugly safety infrastructure that makes a British motorist feel part of some dark industrial process. In consequence one can get a sense of terroir as one passes through it. I enjoy driving in France more than anywhere I’ve been — except the United States. Swiss roads are more beautiful perhaps, but too aggressively policed to provide enjoyment!


Higher speed limits help too. On this run I made a conscious effort to slow down in order to break the habits I’ve acquired on this road trip before returning to the UK. The French limit of 130kph is 11mph over the UK’s maximum. I need our home limit to feel fast again when I return or I’ll be picking up points between Folkestone and London. 

At one stage of our run, we found ourselves stuck in a convoy, driving precisely at the French limit, behind a gendarmerie van. Time after time we were overtaken by motorists surprised to find themselves faster than a Ferrari, a Porsche 911 and a nifty little Abarth 500 only to watch their brake lights come on as they spotted the gendarmes’ waspish paint job and see them join our snake of frustration.

They played with our heads a little to amuse themselves. They slowed by 5kph at one point, tempting a Citroën to overtake them — very slowly — only to return to the limit and hold him there, uncomfortable in their gaze. They tried that again after a few kilometres but no-one took the bait. We never did find a boundary to their jurisdiction. We took the exit for the road to Lille and Calais while they carried on — for all I know or care — all the way to Paris  


Our goal was to arrive at Moët et Chandon’s headquarters on the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay in time to take a tour. We arrived at 3.15pm. Having posed for a photo with the statue of humanity’s benefactor Dom Perignon and bought our tickets, we rested in the elegant exhibition area for thirty minutes before joining the last tour of the day with Belarusian guide, Marina. 


I’d been before so knew that Mrs P II would enjoy it. Épernay has 110 kilometres of champagne cellars beneath its streets. 28 of those kilometres belong to Moët et Chandon, the biggest if not necessarily the greatest of the famous houses. Marina told us it produces enough of its fizzy joy juice for one bottle to be opened every second. That’s almost true. The house produces 28 million bottles a year (taking seven years per vintage bottle). There are 31.5 million seconds in a year. Near enough for elastic marketing arithmetic.

I enjoyed the tour as much the second time as I did the first though I’d forgotten how much Napoleon featured in the story. M. Moët was so excited at the prospect of his enthusiastic imperial customer's first of several visits that he built a palatial Versailles-style home opposite his workplace to receive him. We viewed that from a domed pavilion built to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Moët Impérial — the House’s iconic product — created in 1869. The dome is made from bottles of it! 

Boney is of course the Emperor referenced in the cuvée’s name. Marina’s constant warm references to that old tyrant jarred a little, but he’s long dead and deserves some credit for his excellent taste in booze, watches and bonbons. Sadly his influence lives on in his legal code, which has done more damage (in the view of this proud Common Lawyer) than his cannons ever did. 

Our tour rounded off with a tasting of the white and rosé expressions of the latest vintage — 2012 — we bought some to take home and headed for our hotel. 


We are spending our last night of our honeymoon in one of my favourite hotels in the world. Many years ago I was journeying south in Claudia — my beloved Mercedes cabriolet — with my family. I asked the satnav to suggest a lunch spot on our route. It guided us to a converted brickworks on a champagne estate where we enjoyed ourselves so much that it became our regular overnight stop on road trips from our then UK home in Chester to the Côte d’Azur.

Since I was widowed and moved to London it’s been too far north to be a half way point and I’ve tended to break my journeys at Dijon instead, but I wanted Mrs P II to experience its charms. I knew its splendid restaurant would provide a superb last supper of our honeymoon.

After an aperitif in the sunny garden outside, It duly did. 

Beaune, idle

Today was one of the more ambitious in terms of driving. Our South of France idyll over, we reluctantly locked the door of our friend's villa and headed to the autoroutes. Our destination today was Beaune, which is 370 miles from Mougins.


We decided to make the trip slightly longer by diverting to Abbaye Nôtre Dame de Sénanque. Our goals were not devotional – our researches suggested it would be a good place to photograph the lavender fields of Provence.

A couple of hours into our drive we found the place. After some excitement entering the car park (two Italians in motorhomes insisted on our backing up all the way to the entrance so they could exit – even though they need only have waited a few seconds for us to get out of their way) we set out for the short walk to the Abbaye. It's a functioning Cistercian monastery and growing lavender is indeed one of the ways the monks sustain themselves. Our internet researches suggested the guided tour (for which the monks will break their silence) is not worth the time or money so we contented ourselves with viewing the exterior and smiling at the antics of photographers trying to make the early and rather unimpressive displays of lavender look more dramatic than they were. Instagrammers had come dressed to pose in the lavender and the monks had thoughtfully provided a small patch with wide spaces between the plants so that their quest for the ‘grammable moment did not damage the crops.


We then headed back to the road and were soon heading north on the Autoroute du Soleil. I was trying to rein Speranza in. We had left our last Euros as a tip for the cleaner at our villa so a speeding fine would have involved a slow drive in police convoy to an ATM. I have experienced this before and it's best avoided!

The speed limits had been reduced by 20kph because of a "pollution alert". I think one reason I became a libertarian is that I take laws so seriously they inconvenience me more than those who adopt the Jack Sparrow approach ("more like guidelines really"). So I wanted to comply. The locals seemed unconcerned however, except when the presence of radar controls was signalled, so I went mostly with the flow and complied in the broadest of senses. Two youngsters in a VW Golf amused Mrs P II by giving her the thumbs-down sign as they overtook us – indicating their contempt for Speranza, or more likely the unworthy chap driving her so sedately, 

We took breaks for lunch and petrol and bowled along enjoying the sights of Provence, Beaujolais and Burgundy while listening to our music. The day passed pleasantly enough for all the blistering heat. The roof stayed firmly up. Driving with it down is not much fun at high speed on motorways anyway and we wanted the comfort of the air-conditioning. Besides, the boot/trunk is fuller than when we set out as we have both received gifts and bought some of our own. The space required for the roof to be stowed is full of those acquisitions so the option is not available. 

Our hotel in Beaune is another old Abbaye, but no longer in monastic use. It's an impossibly cute hotel now, right in the city centre. We are idling in our air-conditioned room to recover a little before heading out to see the sights and find somewhere informal to eat. Much as Beaune may have restaurants to compete with those we've recently visited, I want somewhere I can go in the denim shorts and Fulham training shirt I am wearing in this  heat!

Apparently this is our last day of it as the weather forecast suggests Epernay – our destination tomorrow – will be a full ten degrees cooler and that it may even rain!

Another day in Florence

Our B&B is agreeably like staying in someone's home. We had a simple breakfast on the terrace in the morning sunshine before setting out, dressed in our lightest clothes, to face another 30℃ day. The queues at the Uffizi Gallery were an hour long, so we bought tickets in advance for the afternoon and headed to the Duomo. The queue there was around the block too, but seemed to be moving quickly so we took our place at the back. Forty-five minutes later we were by the door when a German guide leading a group of tourists barged them all in ahead of us. There is no hope for a united Europe if we cannot even harmonise basic politeness! 

It was a minor frustration and soon we were inside. Given the magnificence of the exterior, the inside of the cathedral is surprisingly plain - at least by the standards of Catholicism. It's elegant and beautiful though and we paid the fee to enter the museum in the crypts too, where excavations have revealed parts of the foundations from different periods. Our museum ticket also entitled us to climb to the viewing platform around the Dome but, rather to my relief, that was fully booked until next week. We contented ourselves by visiting the Baptistery instead  


What can I tell you about the Uffizi? Just as Hamlet is, to moderns, a play full of familiar quotes, so the Uffizi Gallery is full of paintings and sculptures you know on sight. For Europeans, they are a part of our cultural subconscious, even if we may only have seen them on book or album covers rather than in the flesh, It was an exhausting exercise, in our enthusiasm, to try to stand in front of every one - even so briefly as to rather insult the master who made it.

I was so tired as we headed for our hotel that we decided to eat early and head back to our rest rather than change and come back out again for dinner.

Tomorrow we have a longish drive (more than five hours) to our home for the week in the South of France. We have no deeds to do when we get there however so can take our time and look out for a pleasant place to break the journey for a long lunch!


I am back in my favourite city and Mrs Paine II is enjoying its delights for the first time. After yesterday's stress, we had only a two hour run to Florence, so took a leisurely breakfast and sauntered automotively to the autostrada. South of Modena a convoy of three Ferraris overtook us at speed and we made a fourth for a few exciting kilometres until they decided to comply more narrowly with the speed limits and we left them behind. 

The first of two challenges was exiting the toll road. Our ticket was rejected for some reason the help desk lacked the English to explain. In the end the machine issued a "pay later" ticket and the barrier lifted. We still don't know what the problem was (and the "pay later" toll seems high) but no matter. The second was finding our quaint city B&B in an old apartment building on a roundabout outside the city's southern gate. After circling the block a couple of times we eventually found it. We parked in the careless Italian style we'd seen others adopt, and unloaded. Our hostess directed me to a quaint little garage nearby where Speranza was given a place of honour for the next two days. 

Then we headed out to find some lunch and begin our exploration. This is my third visit and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my wife’s reaction to catching sight of the Piazza della Signoria for the first time. There’s a known psychological phenomenon that makes us want to share a great movie or book with our loved ones and it probably accounts for the pleasure I felt in seeing a familiar favourite place through her eyes. 


As always our travels are recorded on the "Track my Tour" app and the map can be found here

A mad rush to Mantua

We set ourselves too hard a task today. This is meant to be fun and relaxing. Mostly it was, but a couple of delays in leaving Switzerland due to accidents ahead of us meant that we fell behind. As much of our journey was on Swiss roads, we couldn't make it up with a bit of judicious speeding or as I call it "broad compliance" with local laws. A French friend who lived many years in Geneva told me years ago never to speed there as "every Swiss is a policeman" paid or not!

Screenshot 2019-06-20 at 18.41.19

We had hoped to stop for a relaxing lunch near Lake Como but pressed on instead, pausing only for fuel, using the time to keep our appointment with Silvia of the Automobile Club Mantova. She holds the keys to the Museo Tazio Nuvolari and had kindly agreed to open it up at 3pm for our visit. Mrs P2 enjoyed the beautiful Swiss scenery through the car windows, apart from during one spell of rain so heavy it removed the screen kill! We encountered more traffic while circumventing Milan, but that was to be expected. Eventually we were out on the autostrada, where speed limits are similar to Switzerland, but more loosely observed. We arrived with time to spare and, having parked near the museum, found a cafe to rest and recover.

Silvia was on time and I was soon enjoying all the great man's trophies and mementoes. News that the museum was open spread and soon Silvia was taking money from Italians who sat and watched the few rare films of "the flying Mantuan" in action. 


We then explored the charming, undeveloped little town. Artificial lakes were constructed on three sides of it in the 12th Century to defend the stronghold of the Gonzaga family, later Dukes of Mantua. This constrained its expansion and made it a modern backwater. Its inhabitants economic loss is to some extent our gain — if we like old buildings. Its historical centre is a UNESCO world heritage site and it has been both Italy’s capital of culture and Europe’s capital of gastronomy. My interest in motorsports — indulged my my lovely wife — has brought us to a little gem of a place.


Tomorrow we make a more leisurely journey to my favourite Italian city, Florence, where we stay for two nights before heading on to our borrowed holiday home (the use of which is a wedding gift from kindly friends) in the South of France. 

To Lucerne via Saarschleife and Strasbourg

A Ferrari factory tour and the Tazio Nuvolari Museum in Mantua seem romantic enough destinations to me but one of our friends last night suggested a nature ramble might be a more appropriate honeymoon activity. So after breakfast this morning we set off to the BaumWipfelPfad or "Treetop Walk" at Saarschleife. We had a short, pleasant walk from the visitor centre on a high level wooden walkway in the canopy of a forest to a spiral overlook structure above the banks of the River Saar at a point where it makes a horseshoe-shaped meander. It was "wunderschön”

The photograph of the viewing platform will give you some idea of the amount of serious engineering Germans are prepared to put into improving their view of a beauty spot!



One of our friends, now a naturalised Luxembourgoise, was born in Strasbourg. On her advice we abandoned our previous plan to visit the European Parliament building in her home city. Instead she recommended a restaurant where they specialise in a healthy, fish-based version of the usual, meaty Choucroute Strasbourgoise. So we headed off through Germany (where we got Speranza up to 225kph on a short stretch of unrestricted autobahn) and then France to sample that. It was excellent.


We then walked around the outside of the amazing Gothic cathedral in the blistering heat (32 degrees C) before heading back to the car and driving to Lucerne.

It was a great drive, though mostly through France so lacking in high speed opportunities. We found our way through the pedestrianised old town (as advised by the hotel and assisted by a police woman who gave us directions) under the disapproving gaze of hundreds of passing Swiss. It's a beautiful country but the locals love their rules so much that I never quite feel comfortable around them. I always feel they are looking for an opportunity to call the police!

After unloading our bags in the narrow alley outside the hotel, I left Mrs P2 to check us in and arrange for the luggage to be taken to our room, while I drove Speranza away to a modern car park across the river where vehicles are allowed.



On my return we took a short walk around Lucerne, photographed the famous bridge and forewent dinner to have ice cream instead. This cooled me down to my optimum operating temperature and was a rare treat under my new dietary regime.

Tomorrow we head for Mantua and the museum of my hero Nuvolari, the great racing driver. 

New Delhi / Old Delhi

My hotel in New Delhi is in the leafy diplomatic district of Chanakyapuri. Some of that extensive foliage nearly took me out today when a tree fell in front of my Uber on the way to visit the Red Fort. Effete Westerner that I am, I thought the driver would turn around and find another route. However, he got out first to check on the welfare of a gardener who had barely managed to jump clear. Then he helped him, along with various auto-rickshaw drivers whose way was also blocked, to pull the large tree to the side of the road so that traffic could pass. For a wiry bunch who looked none too well-fed, I have to say those Delhi-ites were strong chaps.

There was a big police presence outside the US Embassy compound as we continued our journey. Perhaps that was something to do with the attack on the Embassy in Beijing an hour or so before? It didn't add too much to the already dense traffic in my way.


The Red Fort is a disappointing, poorly maintained and rather shabby affair compared to the splendours of the Amber Fort. It's still a military complex and has heavy security. It was a bit disconcerting to see sentries standing in metal cabins with guns poking through firing slots. It needs some imagination to picture its former glories, whether as home to Mughal emperors or as a garrison for the British Army. 

It's certainly large enough. There's a lot of grassy open space which was, after recent heavy rains, an implausibly deep green. At the entrance to the complex, after separate pat-downs and metal detector screenings for men and women, you arrive in the covered bazaar which used to cater to the ladies of the Emperor's Court by selling jewellery and clothing. Now its tenants aggressively sell souvenirs to the masses of tourists who pass through every day. Some of the handicrafts were not bad and I might have bought more than I did if I had not developed a serious aversion to the pushy tactics of Indian shopkeepers. Given time to browse and a little attention to what I was actually looking for, I would have opened my heart and my wallet. As it was, it wasn't long before I was repressing a powerful urge to bark Anglo-Saxon and leave empty-handed.

I am glad that I have seen the Red Fort but, having checked it off the list, will not be making any special efforts to return. I enjoyed rather more my transfer by auto-rickshaw to Connaught Place for lunch and a bit of light shopping. Having watched the drivers of these nimble vehicles tootle in and out of traffic comprised of heavier, stronger cars, buses and trucks,  I was curious to see how it felt for their passengers. It felt like a fairground ride! My long legs didn't easily fit but I soon found a way to get them entirely onboard after nearly being kneecapped by a passing Delhi bus! The bus drivers are apparently notoriously aggressive even in a driving culture where everyone appears homicidal, suicidal or both!


After lunch in a hipster cafe (which served a decent paneer tikka) I took a stroll to get in some exercise and headed back to the hotel to relax and prepare for my final dinner in India on this trip.

It's a fascinating country and, d.v., I shall return. I've seen a lot of interesting stuff during my short visit, but there's an entire sub-continent to explore! Next time I will come in Winter though and be less hesitant even then about sacrificing sartorial propriety to comfort! I shall also practice the polite, arm-at-45 degrees, palm open toward the offender gesture that I saw Indians use politely to warn off hawkers, beggars and (genuine or fake) tourist guides touting for business. Getting annoyed only amuses them. Expressing that annoyance only lowers you in the eyes of passing members of the majority of polite and friendly Indians who find them just as annoying as you do.

As for the various scams I encountered, it seems churlish to worry about them after taking into account the excellent value offered by the hotels, restaurants, guides and taxi companies who took such excellent care of me. In any case the total losses amounted to less than the rip-off perpetrated by a currency exchange desk at Heathrow Airport. Next time I shall also order my rupees well in advance!

Chand Baori and the Taj Mahal

Today I travelled to New Delhi from Jaipur via Agra. My friend and I wanted to visit the thousand-year old step well called Chand Baori and – of course – the Taj Mahal. After breakfast we checked out from the hotel at Jaipur and headed out front to meet the car and driver we had hired. We set off at 10 am and arrived at Chand Baori at about 1145 am. First we visited the Harshshat Mata temple in the same village and then headed to the step well. 


Up until today, I had not been much troubled by people hassling me in the street. That was probably because we had a professional guide with us in Jaipur and he had waved them off. At the step well we declined the services of a pleasant young chap outside and headed straight in. A wilier older "guide" simply started to provide the service unbidden. He wasn't very good at it, but I reasoned that the economy of refusing to pay his modest fee was not worth the grief of getting rid of him. I concentrated on my photography and he spoke mostly with my friend. When we were done, we paid him a modest sum and headed back to the car – where once we were underway my friend realised that her iPhone was missing. 




We tried calling it in case she had dropped it in our car somewhere, but it had already been switched off – presumably to prevent the use of the "Find my iPhone" location feature. She set it to wipe its data on next connecting to the internet and cancelled her SIM. She recalled that our "guide" had bumped into her clumsily at one point and we realised that it must have been him who had stolen it. It was an old and damaged phone she'd just been using for India. Her brand new Pixel was safe so, sadder, wiser and determined to be less generous with beggars and service pests, we continued to Agra. 

I reckon the first time I heard there was a place called India was when, as a boy, my grandmother produced an old Viewmaster 3D viewer with slides of famous monuments from around the world. The Eiffel Tower for France, the tower of Big Ben for England and – of course – the Taj Mahal for India. We've all seen it many times in photographs and films and I was braced for disappointment. As a photographer I was also apprehensive that I wouldn't be able to find an interesting new perspective on one of the most pictured monuments in the world. 

The fact is, it's just as magnificent as every cliché says. The general shape cannot surprise anyone now but the context is attractive, the other buildings in the complex are appealing and the architectural details of the Taj itself are elegant. If you haven't been, I can't spare you the expense by telling you it's not worth it. It just is. Sorry.


We spent a happy couple of hours wandering around the exterior before returning to our car and continuing to New Delhi where we will spend our last day tomorrow before I fly back to London on Friday