Koi Arthur Koestler SMAP

It’s hard to get run over when I’m walking with Barney in the fields behind my home. Most of the traffic is on the Thames, and as long as I stay out of the river I’m not going to collide with a narrowboat.


Barney is fascinated. He loves to lap the water on a warm day and watch the flashing relections of the fish. He’d love to chase them, but he doesn’t want to get his paws wet.

The big danger to our fish are the herons. These magnificent birds have a killer instinct, and little fear of humans. To keep them at bay, we’ve added two bronze statues of herons — the birds see them as rivals, and stay away.

Koi can cost up to £50,000, which is a lot of money to spend on fishfingers for herons. We wanted to find beautiful fish without breaking the bank, and on one of our forays to a garden centre my heart was stolen away by an elegant Russian beauty called Sasha.

She’s a tortoise: I was surprised to find her for sale, because I thought tortoises were banned as pets in the UK but apparently it’s OK if the animal has been bred here. Many people think tortoises are always African, natives of the Sahara desert, but another species is widespread in Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan.

A tortoise was my first pet, when I was just four years old. It learned to recognise my voice and would come when I called — not quickly, but it plodded across the earth to me, to accept a green tidbit from my fingers.

When I was ten and my mother remarried, I was sent away to a kibbutz. I gave my tortoise to Tami, my first girlfriend, and though it broke my heart to lose my pet, I hope it gave her many years of happiness.

Hanna and I haven’t bought Sasha yet, but we’re tempted. She’d be just the thing to keep the dandelions down. Tortoises can live for a full century though, which means that when she’s an old lady I shall be 160 years old… and I’ll probably look like a tortoise myself.


The writer and mystic Arthur Koestler confided to me in the mid-Seventies his frustration that so many scientists could not see what was staring them in the face. “Millions of people have experiences that cannot be explained by the conventional laws of physics,” he insisted. “These are often among the most profound experiences of our lives.

“The are unpredicatable, unclassifiable and of course they never occur in laboratories. But they are utterly real. Often they are recounted by men and women of impeccable credentials and proven truthfulness. When will science wake up and take these phenomena seriously?”

In his will, Arthur provided the funding for his own research foundation, and perhaps one day the open-minded scientists working in his name at Edinburgh University will solve some of the mysteries that so fascinated him.

I thought of Arthur Koestler this week as I read the translated notebooks of a compatriot of his, the Red Army war reporter Vasily Grossman — probably the greatest and bravest frontline correspondent in history.

With a few gripping phrases, Grossman could depict the horror of warfare in frozen trenches and gunfights in bombed-out cities. He was the first reporter to reveal the Nazi holocaust, as he marched with the Soviet forces to liberate the death camp at Treblinka, and his evidence was used at the Nuremburg war crimes trials.

But one of his most touching reports went virtually unnoticed — when a premonition told him his mother had been killed by the Nazis.

“Dear Mama,” he wrote, long after she died, “One night at the front I had a dream. I entered your room. I knew for sure that it was your room, and I saw an empty armchair, and I knew you had slept in it. A shawl with which you’d covered your legs was hanging down from the armchair. I looked at it for a long time, and when I woke up I knew that you weren’t any longer among the living.”

The language is simple, stark and honest, as all Grossman’s reports were. No one would doubt the horrors of Stalingrad and Berlin which he witnessed. Why are so many people still stubbornly, blindly sceptical about the clairvoyant power of dreams?


caption: Regular readers will remember how I flew to Japan last month to meet Japan’s biggest boyband, SMAP, who are also their country’s most popular TV stars with their celebrity superchef show.

And I haven’t forgotten how the boys and I were hit by a fragment of space debris, identified by the astronaut Captain Ed Mitchell as the tip of an aerial from a burned-out satellite disintegrating in the outer atmosphere as it fell to earth.

But I had forgotten that the programme was prerecorded, and not scheduled to screen until last week. So it was a nice surprise to see my inbox flooded with emails from new Japanese fans who were mind-blown by the concept of bending metal.

My friend Toru Tokikawa, a genius with internet statistics, emailed to say that my name was the fastest-rising search term on Google in Japan.

I predict that the search engine giants will soon be able to shave miniscule amounts of cash, perhaps just a tenth or a hundredth of a cent, off our bank accounts with every search we make. And when that happens, Google rankings will become far more important than TV ratings.

Talking of technology, I have become addicted to Twitter. I picked up on this internet craze to post updates for my family as well as fans, but I only started really having fun with it when I discovered I could send photos from my phone.

Now I’ve cracked a method for broadcasting video footage from my BlackBerry. It’s early days and I can only send bursts of a minute or less, but before long I expect it will be easy to run a continuous video feed, from a camera on the head or body. In effect, we’ll all be walking, talking, live outside broadcast units.





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