Memories of 1976

The Guardian asked for readers’ memories of the hottest summer on record. Here are mine.

1976, the hottest summer in living memory. Every afternoon in my parents’ Home Counties garden, my best friend and I slathered Hawaiian Tropic over every inch of our exposed flesh, hoping to sizzle like chipolatas. This dark, coconut-scented oil offered virtually no protection from the sun, only the means to fry even faster.

We’re supposed to be swotting for exams, but the books lie open on the ground and Radio One crackles from the transistor. We turn it down when my mother comes out from the kitchen bearing a jug of lemon squash, ice cubes clinking against the glass… [click here to read more]

Gaziantep: Capital of Baklava

In October last year I went to Gaziantep, on the ancient Silk Road in south-eastern Turkey, to write about that sweet pastry beloved throughout the Middle East: baklava. Gaziantep is famed for its cuisine, and its baklava above all. There are some 500 baklava producers in the city – some of who have been established since the 1870s – and I met a few of them to find out why Gaziantep’s baklava is considered the best in the world. Follow the blue link above to read my story.

Some of Gaziantep's famed baklava makers. © Gail Simmons

Some of Gaziantep’s famed baklava makers.         © Gail Simmons

Jordan: Before Petra

In April I returned to one of my favourite countries, Jordan, to write a story about its amazing Neolithic archaeology. Although most people know Jordan for Petra (and perhaps also the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum), not many visitors know that Jordan has some of the most important Neolithic sites in the world. I went to discover some of these sites, which bear evidence of the very beginning of farming and communal living. This is my story.

Photo: George Azar

Photo: George Azar

Autumn in Oxford

I’ve lived in Oxford on and off (though much more on than off) for almost 30 years, and although I know it inside out, I’m always surprised by new discoveries. This is what makes this gorgeous little city so special to me. So when the Telegraph asked me to be their ‘”Oxford expert” I was happy to oblige. As well as writing a comprehensive guide, the gig also involves regular ’round-ups’ of the city. Here’s my latest.

Cumin, Camels & Caravans: A Spice Odyssey

I was delighted to be invited to review Cumin, Camels & Caravans: A Spice Odyssey, the new book by the eminent food historian and ecologist Gary Nabhan. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history, culture and food of the Middle East and Europe, and was published in the September 2014 of History Today, the history magazine which has been going strong since 1951.

cumin

A Little Place I Know: 24 of the World’s Best-Kept Secrets (TIME Magazine)

As one of TIME’s regular travel contributors I was asked to write a small piece on a well-kept travel secret. I suggested a few of the more exotic and remote places I’d been, including Wahiba Sands in Oman, Bardsey Island in North Wales and Ta Cenc in Gozo. But the idea they liked best was one closer to home: a quirky cricket ground on the lawns of a country house picturesquely set in the Howardian Hills in North Yorkshire. Scroll to the third one down in the article to read it.

Hovingham Hall with cricket match on the lawn

Hovingham Hall, North Yorkshire, with a cricket match on the lawn

Hebron’s glass story

In June last year I spent a few days in Hebron, Palestine, meeting some of the extraordinary glassblowers who work in searing temperatures to practice their craft in the centuries-old way. Hebron, lying on a crossroads of ancient caravan routes, and with the necessary minerals  nearby, is famed for its glass – as well as its ceramics and leatherwork. With the occupation – and virtual strangulation – of the city by extremist Israeli settlers life has become very difficult for these craftsmen, whose ancestors for centuries exported their wares throughout the world.

With me on the trip was the photographer and film-maker George Azar who took some gorgeous photos of the glassmakers, their wares and the old  city of Hebron (recently nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Status). Here’s our story about them.

Glassblowing in Hebron © George Azar

Traditional glassblowing in Hebron © George Azar