I travelled to Lisbon from London on New Year’s Eve. A lot of people head to London on 31st of December every year. However, I was more than happy to escape from my adopted city for a few days. In the past, the clock always struck midnight when I reached Spaniards Road cycling home from work and would see fireworks going off in Central London from far afield together with a small crowd of curious Londoners who stood in the dark on the edge of Hampstead Heath to see the spectacle.
In September 2006, I cycled from Hampstead to Brick Lane as I intended to write a feature on a bookshop there for The Bookseller. I saw a pile of books in the shop titled Wall and Piece. I was familiar with Tolstoy’s epic novel but unaware of its near-namesake. And its author had an unusual name – Banksy. The book was published by Random House but its title page stated that ‘copyright is for losers’. The author had published three books in handy pocket-sized format himself before he was signed by RH. The shop assistant told me that Wall and Piece was one of their fastest-selling titles. This was my impromptu introduction to Banksy. The cover image was that of a masked protestor throwing flowers. It is an evocative artwork but it took me some time to realise that there is a bouquet rather than a stone in the hand of the protestor. It was reminiscent in fact – likely even a direct homage to – the iconography of the 1960s flower-power student protest movement.
Having grown up in the valley of Kashmir, I am always drawn to snow-clad mountains. So when a friend from Srinagar visited London last summer, I jumped at the chance of travelling with him to Switzerland for a few days to walk in the mountains and see the glacier on Mt Titlis. I think of Switzerland as an idyll, the country where Vladimir Nabokov lived in a hotel for the last 16 years of his life and chased butterflies in its Alpine meadows.
Switzerland currently has 1,400 glaciers, according to the scientists at ETH, a research university in Zurich. About 1,000 glaciers have disappeared in the last 30 – 40 years. It is a staggering number for such a small country. Switzerland’s glaciers have lost more than half of their volume in less than 100 years and it is likely they will disappear completely before the end of this century. There is a consensus among scientists that climate change is caused by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.