Spectator Life

Spectator Life

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

Writing a will isn’t easy

It’s generally considered sensible for adults of sound mind to make a will. Many don’t bother. It’s a nuisance. They’ve scribbled their straightforward wishes in a letter at home. They think they’re too young. They’ve told a confidant their final wishes. Or they believe they have nothing to leave, or make assumptions about who’ll automatically

I was the NME’s squarest journalist

Before I went to medical school I had a hip alternative life. In the 1980s, as a 17 year-old schoolgirl, I wrote for the New Musical Express. My friends assume I had a great time with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but the truth is I was such a cautious Carla that I didn’t

Melanie McDonagh

The young are missing out on a proper breakfast

More proof, if it were needed, of the gastronomic generation gap. It seems one in ten young persons has never had a full English/Irish/whatever cooked breakfast and one in five only has it once a year. They are, of course, missing out on one of the pleasures of life. The cooked breakfast and afternoon tea

Alexander Pelling-Bruce

What happened to the London bus?

To understand Sadiq Khan’s tenure as Mayor of London, you need only ride one of his buses. Eight years of repeating that he is the ‘proud son of a bus driver’ have not yielded a single improvement to the experience of travelling by the famous red bus. In fact, many things are worse.  she suggested

A love letter to the Fiat 500

On visits to the continent as a child, what struck me was the strangeness of other European countries. Going to France or Italy, pre-internet, you cut off your connections to the outside world, and even got the British news a day or two late. People ate horse meat, tortellini in brodo or croque monsieurs, and

What Beatles critics don’t get

Not everyone likes The Beatles. That said, trashing cultural icons is a modern phenomenon amplified by social media and done, largely, to attract attention. Yet whether you hate them or love them (yeah, yeah, yeah), their influence on pretty much everything pop music has offered since is, surely, undeniable. Sixty years ago they left an

Why we read crime fiction

An exhibition dedicated to 20th century British crime fiction has opened at Cambridge University Library. The artefacts on show range widely through the history of the genre, from items associated Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle right up to modern exponents of the form, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin.  Lurking somewhere in many of

Two bets for Ayr

There is plenty of competitive racing at Ayr over the next two days, quite apart from tomorrow’s Coral Scottish Grand National. With some decent prize money on offer too, it is not surprising that the quality of the cards is high. The Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle (tomorrow, 2.25 p.m.), unlike its English counterpart at the Cheltenham

An only child is a lonely child

Lonely children often grow up to be lonely, not to mention anxious and depressed. In one study, after factoring in profession, parenting style and relationship, sleep patterns, and dietary habits, only children were more likely to display symptoms associated with anxiety and depression than those with siblings. One, it seems, really is the loneliest number.

Confessions of a fortysomething brace face

When I was a teenager, my grandmother would pick me up from school every week and drive me to the orthodontist, the aptly-named Mrs Crabbe, so she could stick more pieces of metal in my mouth, tighten something up, or twist some new jazzily-coloured elastic bands onto the brackets glued onto my teeth in a vain attempt

Olivia Potts

How Linzer torte stood the test of time

Linzer torte has quite the claim to fame: some assert that it’s the oldest cake in the world; others that it’s the oldest to be named after a place. It feels churlish to split hairs, but those two assertions are quite different, aren’t they? In any event, it’s certainly very old. For a long time

Tanya Gold

‘Five stars, no notes’: Arlington reviewed

Arlington is named for the 1st Earl of Arlington and his street behind the Ritz Hotel. It used to be Le Caprice, which was opened in 1947 by the Italian Mario Gellati, who would not, by the new rules, get into Britain now, but this is not a column about pain. In 1981 Le Caprice

Roger Alton

It’s no wonder Manchester City are top of the league

Well it was fun while it lasted, the closest three-way race for the Premier League in history, a title challenge as exciting as anything you will see on Netflix. It’s not over yet but it certainly feels like it. With six games to play, there’s still many a slip… But deep down even their most

The magic of Aintree

However hard some people try to make it a business, jump racing remains a sport and the Grand National its greatest race. Two fences out this year 20 horses were still in contention, ten still seemingly in with a serious chance of winning. As Ruby Walsh noted: ‘If that doesn’t convince people it’s a wonderful

Ross Clark

Smart meters could soon cost you a whole lot more

What remarkable power climate change has to turn the usual rules of fairness on their head. The poor pay the taxes and the wealthy get subsidised. It has happened with electric cars, where well-off early adopters were handed grants of £4,000 to buy a new vehicle – as well as being excused fuel duty and

Life lessons from the oldest people in the world

María Branyas Morera, aged 117, is the oldest person in the world. She was born in California on 4 March 1907 to Spanish parents who decided to return home in 1915. The voyage was an early lesson in adversity: her father died and María lost the hearing in one ear after she fell from the

The lost America of Palm Springs

California was once home to a certain vision of the American dream; Mamas & the Papas records, grinning surfers, chrome bumpers. Now LA and San Francisco are full of glass and steel and petty criminals. Escape their sketchy downtowns and you’ll find huge copy-and-paste estates of identical homes. Urban sprawl has choked off California’s charm

Hannah Tomes

My old friend went viral for all the wrong reasons

Last week, an old acquaintance went viral. Charles Withers had, according to his pregnant wife, disappeared around a year ago, leaving her to bring up one young child alone with another on the way. The pretty Massachusetts blonde posted a plea for information on Facebook. It was, she wrote, surprisingly difficult to divorce someone who refused to return

Italian food purists need to calm down

Last year, a large group of young people gathered outside the Trevi Fountain, one of Rome’s most popular attractions, to protest against ‘food crimes’ committed by tourists in Italy. Armed with signs reading ‘No more cream in carbonara’, ‘No more cappuccino with pasta’, and ‘Putting chicken in pasta is a crime in Italy’, they drew the attention of

Jonathan Ray

The Third Man fan’s guide to Vienna

The greatest movie ever made celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and I’ll be watching it – for the umpteenth time – with appropriately fine fizz at hand. Sorry, what? Oh, come on, I’m talking about The Third Man. There’s no finer film. I thought everyone knew that. You know, written by Graham Greene, directed by Carol

Britain’s roads are becoming a Soviet nightmare

In the dog days of 2021, I spent a grey Sunday afternoon driving around a part of London with a view to an eventual flat move. Why take the car? Because the bus routes didn’t match where I planned to go, I wanted to stay over ground, and I would be able to cover more

Why is Latin America so violent?

As locations go, they don’t get more humdrum than the address ‘Carrera 79B, #45D/94’. It is so anonymous it sounds encrypted. Nor, in reality, does it look like anything special: a flat roof, next to a shuttered language school, above a wall of graffiti, in a lower middle-class suburb of another Spanish speaking city. But

What next for the world of watches?

Every year, the world’s greatest watch companies and their biggest fans head to Geneva for an orgy of horological spectacle: Watches & Wonders. Here, companies pull out their latest, newest, most impressive goods, showing off the main products they intend to launch and the fans salivate and loosen their already pummelled wallets. It’s not a cheap

The plastic feminism of Barbie

Colombian pop singer Shakira caused quite the stir earlier this month when she revealed that her sons ‘absolutely hated’ the Barbie movie, which had a major cultural moment last year. Hot pink came back in fashion, people were hosting Barbie-themed parties and everyone was obsessing over lead Margot Robbie’s vintage Barbie-inspired clothing on the movie’s press tour. It

Four bets for Aintree and beyond

My suggested ante-post bets for tomorrow’s Randox Grand National (4 p.m.) have featured prominently in this column for several weeks now. The good news is that these wagers are looking promising. My three long-term tips for the big Aintree spectacle were all put up at juicy prices that are long gone. My fourth Grand National

Julie Burchill

Why we pity beautiful women

What do we talk about when we talk about Marilyn Monroe? Sex, death and everything in between. Unlike other legendary film stars from Garbo to Bardot, Monroe has become (to use that awful and over-popular word) ‘iconic’ – which is ‘problematic’ in itself. Being recognisable as a hank of blonde hair and a white dress failing

Sam Leith

The scrambling of Scrabble

When you’re playing a word game, don’t you sometimes feel how horribly unfair it is that players who know more words prosper? Wouldn’t it be better to have word games that didn’t rely so heavily on knowledge of the dictionary, that weren’t so, y’know, wordy? And, come to that, wouldn’t a kindler, gentler sort of

The glory of German wines

I have had three recent conversations, all lively if unrelated – and all well lubricated. The first concerned Anglo-Saxon England around ad 700. Recent discoveries of coin hoards suggested that economic activity during that period of the Dark Ages was more extensive than had been supposed. Without damaging the coins, it had been possible to

Women don’t want women-only clubs

In my experience, men offer this infuriating comeback when challenged about the continuing exclusion of women from clubs such as the Garrick (for now at least – the Garrick is voting on 7 May on the admission of women as members). ‘But why don’t you set up your own women-only clubs,’ they sulk, ‘and leave