21 November 2018, The Tablet

This might be a slippery slope. Next I could be asking questions afterwards


I WAS CAUGHT nodding the other evening. I don’t mean nodding off, though that’s a danger for me in any nice warm lecture theatre after a day’s work.

It’s strange. At 4 a.m., lying in bed, I’m suddenly wide awake and can scarcely be lulled back to sleep, even by the lengthiest review in the TLS. At

7.30 p.m., sitting being told quite interesting things, I have to stick a pin, left in my lapel from Poppy Day, in my finger in order to stay awake.

No, it was a different kind of nodding I was caught at. The lecturer, Xavier Bray, the admirable director of the Wallace Collection, was to talk about the violent seventeenth-century paintings of José Ribera. First he showed a slide of a portrait of a bearded lady suckling a baby. I shared a fellow feeling, not because I’m bearded, but because my encounter with the picture was just like his.

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