‘All writers of fiction should be required by law to go out and do a bit of reporting from time to time, just to remind them how different the real world in front of their eyes is from the invented world behind them’. This is what Frayn did in mid-career, when he took up his old trade, journalism, and wrote a series of occasional articles for the Observer about some of the places in the world that interested him. He wanted to describe ‘not the extraordinary but the ordinary, the typical, the everyday’ and his accounts became the starting-point for some of the novels and plays he wrote later. From a kibbutz in Israel to summer rains in Japan, bicycles in Cambridge to Notting Hill at the end of the 1950s, they are glimpses of a world which sometimes seems tantalisingly familar, sometimes vanished forever.
"[Frayn] is a quietly empathetic and unintrusive presence as he criss-crosses the lost world of the late 20th century… One of the strengths of this collection is Frayn’s open mind and evident curiosity. Frayn seems simultaneously to see the funny side and the melancholia of the human condition… Reportage that has stood the test of time" - Financial Times
"The reporter as amused onlooker, his eye cocked for the absurd, the whimsical, the offbeat … Several pieces are about societies that have now vanished - divided Berlin, communist Moscow, Cuba when the revolution was young. [Frayn] hopes they are of archaeological interest. They are more than that. They are of human interest, which doesn't date. Good writing is good writing" - Daily Mail
"If they have a historical flavour, they also have a timeless kind of ease and an indelible freshness of observation" - Tim Adams, Observer