‘When I finally reached Magadan, I hunted for days for a survivor. “I’m sorry, they are all dead, was the refrain. With male life-expectancy in Russia a mere 58, I should not have been surprised, but I was devastated’

‘I look around the dimly-lit bar and notice how the hard-drinking clientele watches suspicious newcomers like me, with my British-tainted accent and far too many questions. I ask another one: “Do the Hell’s Angels come here, Brian?” Bingo.’

‘I cursed and gaped. I closed and reopened the web site and there it all was again, three years of work, plus debt and lack of medical care and some rather bizarre house-sitting to save on rent while I finished the manuscript on a small advance, with the promise of rewards in proportion to the book’s sales.’

Russians cling to the idea of being a great power, even though the quest for empire has become illusory and self-destructive. Can a new generation change this?

For more than 50 years Martin Heidegger worked up in the mountain resort of Todtnauberg, at a simple desk looking east. It is not surprising that the philosopher chose to dwell in a world that has changed very little since his day. 

The veneration of saint’s relics largely died out after the Reformation, but the bones of one 19th-Century nun inexplicably attract millions of pilgrims from around the world today

Health care reform is one of the hardest things in politics. If Obama may be heading for defeat or a bloody draw, this is nothing compared to what awaits the ANC as it attempts to force through its National Health Insurance scheme.

‘Russians think about blacks, Jews and women in the way Europeans did a generation ago’

‘In the 1950s, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene wrote triumphalist Catholic novels with miracles as part of the story — Brideshead Revisited, The End of the Affair. They were bestsellers. Since Vatican II, however, the tenor of Catholic fiction has been doubt, dissent and disillusion.

‘In February 2007, a naked, emaciated, mutilated, charred and stabbed man is discovered near railway tracks in the Parisian suburb of Sainte Geneviève-des-Bois. He is taken to hospital where he is pronounced dead just before noon.