Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Real cyclists don’t use e-bikes

An impossible 45 years ago, I decided the moment had come to get back on my pushbike. I had long hated the way the motor car was taking over the world and wanted to play my part in changing this. I also had a more selfish reason. After two years on the Fleet Street diet

The trouble with wild campers

It’s not just bears that squat in the woods, as you’ll discover if you ever have the pleasure of a visit from wild campers. Other disfigurements to the land have included scorched patches of grass, which luckily didn’t become full-blown wildfires, branches severed from trees (presumably for wet firewood), stakes removed from young saplings (ditto),

What skinheads did for reggae

Let’s play a game of word association. I’ll start: ‘skinhead’. Hmm. I think I can guess which words instantly occurred to you: ‘thug’ perhaps, ‘hooligan’ probably and possibly even ‘racist’? Yet for anyone who remembers the original incarnation of skinheads, another word will always spring to mind: ‘reggae’. If you believe that Britain’s love affair with

Martin Amis and the hunters’ lunch

Dordogne, France Down here in southwest France, the ripple effect of the war in Ukraine has become oddly visible. Normally the fields around our house are planted with sunflowers and maize – but not this year. Wheat and barley stretch to the horizon. As you drive around, the roadside fields all bear witness to the

Julie Burchill

Sinéad O’Connor deserved better than the music industry

It started with That Song on the World Service in the early hours, the one I’ve always loathed; for me it symbolises the start of the state we’re in now whereby perfectly good toe-tappers are routinely strung out in slo-mo by interpreters for whom misery passes as creativity. OK, the Prince original wasn’t exactly a

My Sinéad O’Connor story

It must have been late 1993. She was at the height of her fame and I was in the earliest days of my journalism career. I was working for a small press agency in Clerkenwell whose stock in trade was day work for newspapers: court cases, press conferences and particularly door knocks and door steps. As

Who needs Hollywood actors anyway?

For the past week Hollywood’s film and television actors have been on strike, plunging Los Angeles’s most famous industry into chaos. Performers joined screenwriters (who have been striking since May) on the picket line after talks broke down in what has become the first simultaneous strike in more than 60 years. The strikes have attracted plenty

Geoff Norcott

Can topical comedy survive?

Seen any good stand-up recently? It’s a loaded question, but if you have, there’s every chance you didn’t view it via terrestrial TV. You might instead have laughed at some brash American on Netflix, or a deeply un-PC comic on YouTube – or more likely still, a comedian sitting in the palm of your hand.

The politics of sun loungers

The poolside was deserted when we passed on our way to breakfast. This time, I thought, as we ate at the still-quiet restaurant buffet, we’d triumph. Yet arriving back at the pool after eating, all the sun loungers closest to it had already been claimed – by owners who were nowhere to be seen. Reserving

Rory Sutherland

Light bulb moment: the flaw in the petrol car ban

This week, writing in the Daily Mail, Matt Ridley produced a devastating takedown of the government’s 2030 ban on the sale of new conventionally powered cars. He plans to pre-empt the ban himself by buying a brand-new petrol car in 2029. Innovation happens gradually and delivers its benefits unevenly – therefore it is stupid to

Julie Burchill

Confessions of a tanorexic

In an interesting piece for Air Mail, Linda Wells writes of ‘The secret lives of tanorexics’, asking: ‘What drives these bronze obsessives – and why won’t they ever learn?’ She questions her sun-baked friends about why they are so intent on doing a thing which they are warned will ruin their complexions and make it

The English have always loved gossip

Our national conversation is overwhelmed by tittle-tattle, rumour and gossip. Last week, a salacious email listing George Osborne’s alleged improprieties was circulated among the Westminster bubble. Inevitably, it was then circulated to everybody else, too. Meanwhile, the internet is aflutter with rumours about the identity of a BBC journalist who’s alleged to have paid a teenager

Why modern life doesn’t make us happy

The greatest delusion ever sold to us by modern advertising is not that we need to buy water in bottles or that rocks make good pets. It’s the delusion that we should expect to be happy all the time. This idea certainly would have been news to our ancient ancestors. Over millions of years, they became

Starting a Threads account feels like adultery

As I hit the pillow, up popped a notification: ‘Threads’, Meta’s new offering, is available to download. My heart thumped – I’ve been excited about this launch since I first heard of it. As a frustrated influencer, and somebody who couldn’t care less what Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk are doing to each other, I don’t

How to avoid paying parking tickets

My year of motoring tourism didn’t begin auspiciously. Early on the morning of New Year’s Eve, in downtown Dieppe, I looked out of the window of our rented apartment with its magnificent view of the Église Saint-Jacques, painted by the likes of Pissarro and Sickert, and noticed that our car had disappeared.  What followed over the

Leave Captain Tom’s daughter alone

Two years after his death, the army veteran and patron saint of the NHS, Captain Tom, is in the headlines again. Hannah Ingram-Moore, his daughter, has come under fire for allegedly using the Captain Tom Foundation’s name to build a spa and swimming pool complex at her house.  The story of Captain Tom captured the

Julie Burchill

Now I’m 64: my tips for a happy old age

On my 20th birthday, I locked myself in the bathroom of my bungalow in­­ Billericay and cried. Having achieved my dream – becoming a published writer – at the tender age of 17, I thought it was all downhill from there. Yes, some of this had to do with marrying the first man I had

Why tech bros love fighting

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the maaaiiin event of the eeevening. In the red corner, fighting out of Boca Chica, Texas, Eeeeelon ‘the Execuuutioner’ MUUUSK! And his opponent, in the blue corner, fighting out of Palo Alto, California, Maaaark ‘The Madman’ ZUCKERBEEERG!  Sadly, we might never get the fight between Elon Musk of Twitter and

Confessions of a mid-life rollercoaster addict

My heart is racing, my breath ragged and my stomach threatening to send back the burger I ate for lunch. But as the safety harness I’m wearing is released and I lower my shaking legs to the ground there’s only one question on my mind: when can I experience it again? My name is Antonia

Isabel Hardman

Is the glucose monitoring craze really so healthy?

At £300 a go, the Zoe is a reassuringly expensive accessory. It has a recognisable logo and even had a 200,000-strong waiting list at one point. That wouldn’t be so unusual if Zoe was a must-have handbag or jewellery, but it is  a continuous glucose monitor that you stick to your arm. Some charities ask

The ‘noise cameras’ silencing the supercar show-offs

As a motorcyclist, I’m used to hearing complaints about loud exhausts. Plenty of bikers revel in the roar of their motor – after all, a powerful engine is one of the main appeals of motorbiking. But for anyone living near a busy road, the sound of revving can be thoroughly stressful. Most people who spend

Glastonbury has become the new Last Night of the Proms

Time was when the pinnacle of the summer’s musical experiences – certainly from a UK television perspective – was the Last Night of the Proms. Preceded by weeks of more staid performances of classical music which most people did not tune in to, the conclusion of the Proms season, which dates back to 1895, was

The invasion of the wheelie bins

Once I thought nothing could make residential Britain look uglier than pebble-dashing, PVC windows and satellite dishes. I was wrong. As if the country had not been brutally homogenised enough by the fact that every high street has the same shops, now every residential road is reduced to being an identical backdrop for a very persistent

How to see world-class opera for £11

I’ve always been happy to splash out on attending all sorts of events – £80 on tickets for run-of-the-mill Premiership football matches; £120 for the ghastly experience of watching rugby in Twickenham’s concrete jungle; £60 to attend a concert by ancient rockers who’ve seen better days. As an English teacher, I’m also an avid theatre-goer

Is Scottish reeling the route to romance?

‘Remember to flirt outrageously.’ This essential piece of advice is imparted courtesy of Country and Town House magazine for its readers curious about Scottish reeling. The reel, a social folk dance, dates back to 16th-century Scotland and has remained popular for all this time, notwithstanding a brief hiatus in the 17th century when the Scots

There’s nothing rock and roll about Glastonbury

In 1970, Glastonbury was a humble new festival for ‘free thinking people’. Entry cost £1 and you were given free milk for the duration. Today Glastonbury attracts more than a quarter of a million people from all over the world. Tickets cost £335, reassuringly expensive enough to keep the riff-raff out. You’re more likely to pitch