Spectator Life

Spectator Life

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

Inside Jerome K Jerome’s nine-bedroom Oxfordshire house

Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat – a tale of three hapless, hypochondriac London clerks who take a trip along the River Thames in the hope of curing their ailments – became an instant bestseller when it was published in 1889, and hasn’t been out of print since. Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux and

How Vegemite took over the world

Vegemite is 100 years old. The first yeast paste, Marmite, was introduced in the UK in 1902, named after the French cooking pot; New Zealand Marmite, currently a quite different product, emerged in 1919. The mite suffix had nothing to do with might, but the association was irresistible, and Vegemite was created in Australia in

Help! I’m on a dating blacklist

There’s a online blacklist of men you should avoid dating and I’m on it. I discovered this over the summer when a colleague gave me a nudge and showed me a screenshot of my dating profile. ‘That’s you, isn’t it?’ A wave of fear passed through me. I had been posted on a Facebook group

The world is a mess. Why not find escapism through wine? 

In most children’s stories, the good characters live happily ever after. Works suitable for older readers tend to greater realism. Even ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’, that most joyous of drinking songs, presses the case for carpe diem. ‘Get stuck in to your pleasures laddie,’ it seems to be saying, ‘before it is too late.’ With the world

We don’t have to apologise for Friends

This weekend became The One Where We All Lost A Friend: Matthew Perry, Friends actor, addiction spokesperson and rehabilitation advocate, who died aged 54. He played the sweetly acerbic, chronically insecure Chandler Bing. Perry’s comic genius and impeccable timing meant he created a particular style of delivery and physicality that was uniquely his but endlessly imitable, epitomised

Julie Burchill

Advent calendars are becoming offensively showy

Each year in the charity shop where I volunteer, the Christmas cards arrive in August; by September, they must be on the shelves. We’re a small shop and space is precious; shoes and bags which would make us a healthy profit are swept aside for half-hearted etchings of mardy robins. But at least it’s in

In defence of the office romance

In the wake of Philip Schofield’s ‘unwise but not illegal’ relationship with a much younger employee, ITV have issued a new policy. It requires staff members to declare the names of their ‘associates’ and the ‘nature of their relationships’ on a Google Forms questionnaire. This is frankly a pathetic attempt to stamp out abuses of

My terrible evening on a stand-up comedy course

A few years ago, I abandoned a five-year counselling course after just 40 minutes. Apparently, I couldn’t have a refund from the community college but could transfer to another course. I may have a writer’s fascination with finding things out but I have a strange aversion to being taught. Looking at the long list of courses

Among the Glastonbury pagans

England is a mystical place, and its epicentre is Glastonbury, known by its pagan residents as Avalon, the mythical island of the Arthurian legend. It has sacred springs, the supposed tomb of King Arthur, the Tor and ruined tower, proximity to Stonehenge and now a thriving, sprawling community of pagans, with dozens of denominations from druid to water-witch.

James Heale

Life behind bars: so long to Westminster’s favourite landlord

If you work in politics, chances are you have drunk in the Westminster Arms. Located just off Parliament Square, every night it hosts the collection of hacks, wonks and mandarins that comprise the SW1 bubble. For 30 years, Gerry Dolan has run the pub with his mix of Irish humour and no-nonsense determination. When we

Melanie McDonagh

How to make Irish barm brack

Those of us who grew up with a traditional Halloween, that is to say, in Ireland, don’t have much truck with the contemporary version. The pumpkin-coloured, gore and chocolate fest that has come to Britain via the US is gross by comparison; we had a simple version. We dressed up, but in masks and any

Julie Burchill

Sam Smith, please put it away

Undressing. Getting one’s kit off, whether for the lads or the ladies, depending on one’s bent. Disrobing, divesting, denuding. Slipping into something more comfortable. Giving one an eyeful. Getting ‘em off. Once we put away childish things and cease frolicking as nature intended, stripping off becomes a whole new ballgame. In our newly found state

The forgotten genius of Dennis Price

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the sad death of the actor Dennis Price, star of the classic 1949 black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, regarded by many to be the greatest British film of all time. Price was only 58 when he died from cirrhosis of the liver and complications following a broken

Britain’s most haunted country houses

For centuries, the English country house has provided the setting for some of the most terrifying fiction in our history. These isolated buildings, with their many empty corridors, secret backstairs, shut-up attic rooms and dark corners, their inherent eeriness has made them iconic settings for chilling encounters. But which real country houses inspired their fictional

The beautiful sadness of Matthew Perry

Matthew Perry, who died yesterday, was the funniest of the Friends – and the saddest. ‘What must it be like to not be crippled by fear and self-loathing?’ his character, Chandler Bing, asked. It seems Perry never quite figured out the answer. Chandler was a brilliant comic creation – and Perry, a melancholic clown, perfectly suited

Tips for Doncaster and Newbury tomorrow

I have a policy of not betting or tipping on jump racing until at least the first week of November. That’s because the early season form over chases and hurdles is so difficult to predict in that it is hard to know which horses are fit from their summer break and which are not. Having

Gareth Roberts

My favourite, ferocious teacher

In 1979, I was 11 years old, and I had a quite remarkable teacher. Don’t worry, though – this isn’t going to be one of those anodyne paeans to an inspirational educator that the Department for Education use in their ads to lure people into teaching. In fact, if the lady I’ll refer to here

Sofia Coppola made girls sad

When Cecilia Lisbon, the youngest of the five Lisbon daughters in Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides, winds up in the hospital having survived an attempt on her own life, the doctor tells her: ‘You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.’ ‘Obviously, doctor,’ Cecilia replies, ‘you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl.’

It’s time to ban balsamic

Balsamic vinegar, according to a recent poll, is now considered an essential store cupboard ingredient by a quarter of all Brits. I detest it. This dark, syrupy fermented grape juice is like Marmite – you love it or hate it. Partly because it is overused, and also the numerous versions produced, I find myself flinching

The secret to learning a language quickly

Becoming proficient in a so-called ‘easy’ language (for English speakers, French is relatively easy) often takes hundreds of hours; a difficult language (Mandarin anyone?) takes several thousand. That’s good for language teachers, but not so good for the learners.  Language teaching today is where medicine was in the 18th century Even after putting in all

The night my friends went missing on a Spanish train

Twenty years ago, the Spanish railway company RENFE stole my girlfriend’s father. There were four of us – my girlfriend, her dad, and a university friend of ours. We had been in Spain for more than a month, walking the Camino de Santiago. Now it was time to head home, first by train to Bilbao

The drudgery of airports

Having a child growing up in Italy means regular flights there and back from Stansted airport. This is unfortunate, as I find nearly any other form of transport preferable. It isn’t so much the flying itself – I lack the imagination to envisage what it really means to hover 38,000 feet above the earth in

Save our unmessed-with pubs!

From the outside, it appeared derelict – not an uncommon thing to find when visiting an unknown establishment based solely on a listing in an old copy of ‘The Good Pub Guide’. But a chap walking past with his labrador reassured us: ‘She usually opens at noon.’ When we returned an hour later it was

How to hunt for fallen meteorites

At 1.17 p.m. on 1 February 2019, a daytime bolide exploded over Vinales, Cuba, showering down meteorites on the local villagers. Seasoned meteor hunters flew the stones back to the Tuscon Gem Show in a now-defunct Inn Suites where, from my display room, I watched enviously as they broke the stones apart with a hammer