Spectator Life

Spectator Life

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

Alexa is gaslighting me

Amazon has teamed up with Disney to launch a new app, Hey Disney! – a joint voice assistant feature which will allow your child to ‘Interact with Mickey Mouse, or Dory from Finding Nemo’. Just what we need. Customers can use Hey Disney! at Disneyworld theme parks – ‘ask “Disney Magical Companion” to request fresh

I’m an Aga convert

I never thought it would be possible to feel such emotion about a lump of hot metal but I am in love and like all new passions it’s threatening to become all-consuming. I find reasons to drop it into conversation, I seek out others and join groups on social media that share the same predilection

Melanie McDonagh

So long to the landline

So Debrett’s has really got behind the latest technology by issuing a guide to the appropriate use of the mobile phone, or rather, ten commandments. The oldies are warned that young people take fright at an unexpected call – text first to see if it’s convenient – and the young are told that they should

Flat-footed: welcome to the floorboard wars

Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, this wasn’t – at least not yet – and it probably passed much of the country by, especially given the rival distractions of recent weeks. It was nonetheless a lawsuit that will have been followed in compulsive detail by at least two groups of people: those who own their own flats –

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

Ross Clark

What’s stopping a housing crash?

Should we really believe that house prices rose by 0.9 per cent in September, as claimed by the latest release from the Nationwide House Price Index? The unexpected rise moderates the annual fall in house prices from 5.3 per cent in August to 3.3 per cent in September. There is a health warning on the

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

Bed bugs invaded my mind!

It isn’t just the Paris Metro. Even the very best hotels are not immune from bed bugs. I was blissfully unaware of this fact until a trip to New York a few years ago when a nightmare struck. We had booked a really top place, but within days of getting home, we discovered little red

Hell is a heat pump

‘So, as Rishi Sunak has announced that we’re now allowed to keep installing new gas boilers till 2035, and they last about 15 years, that means I’ll be able to keep a gas boiler till 2050, so I might even be allowed to die with a gas boiler still going in my house, and may

Dodgy developments deserve the wrecking ball

It used to be that an ‘artist’s impression’ of a proposed building development was just that; an architectural drawing designed to give planners an idea of what to expect. Then along came CGI and a new era of photorealistic visualisations. On the surface, these glossy new artist’s impressions are anything but impressionistic. Indeed the renderings are

Inside the Cornish home of John le Carré

Every writer needs a bolt hole. Novelist John le Carré’s was particularly picturesque, perched high above the waves on one of south Cornwall’s most glorious coastal stretches, between Lamorna and Porthcurno.  Tregiffian Cottage, made up of a trio of former fishermen’s homes, was where Le Carré conceived and wrote some of his most famous novels,

The tyranny of the tidy

A few years ago, James Delingpole and I were two-fifths of ‘The Manalysts’ a clique of agony uncles employed by a women’s magazine. The idea was to provide five answers to each problem from five disparate standpoints. James was the trenchant intellectual, I was (supposedly) the metrosexual adman and the other three were a practising

Inside the Glastonbury home of Mulberry’s founder

Roger Saul founded Mulberry in 1971. He created their now iconic range of bags, belts and purses, but was ousted from the designer label’s board in the early Noughties. Undeterred, he reinvented himself as the purveyor of organic spelt cereal and flour brand, Sharpham Park. His range of products is de rigueur on every health-conscious

The irritating rise of home renovation influencers

Fifteen years ago there was no such thing as a social media influencer, but fast forward to 2023 and there are now an estimated 50 million full-time ‘creators’ worldwide. It isn’t hard to understand the appeal; no nine-to-five, no domineering boss, no skills, experience or talent necessary. Little input for potentially incredibly high returns, especially if you

There’s nothing scarier than a panic room

It’s not crazy to worry about getting home. It’s not crazy to lock your doors at night and check that the alarm is set. It’s not crazy to avoid the man who keeps gurning at you on the bus every time you look his way. It’s not crazy to worry. But is spending £50,000 to

Why Crete is the ideal island for a second home

Crete has a long and illustrious history: birthplace of Zeus, king of the Greek gods, and the seat of the Minoan ruler King Minos who is said to have ruled from a palace of 1,000 rooms.  The largest Greek Island, and nearly the one nearest to Africa (bar it’s tiny neighbour Gavdos) it’s also the

Solar panels in, swimming pools out: 2023’s property trends

Inflation has finally dipped a little but is still riding high, and mortgage rates may still rise further: Britain’s households are suffering a pay squeeze. But what are home-owners still spending their money on – and what has fallen out of favour? Here is Spectator Life‘s guide to the winners and losers in the property

The growing appeal of the outdoor kitchen

For most of us the main ingredients of outdoor cooking are a smouldering barbecue grill, slabs of alternately under- and over-cooked meat and a light sprinkling of frustration. But these days, it seems, there is another option on the menu. Ever since the pandemic, more and more homeowners have been investing in lavish outdoor kitchens

What’s behind the bungalow boom?

‘Bungalows are almost perfect,’ as the old gag goes. ‘They only have one floor.’ But these once unfashionable properties are rapidly becoming anything but a joke. While the mortgage crisis is cooling most sectors of the housing market, demand for bungalows is growing. Estate agents report the properties receiving dozens of offers, selling for tens

In praise of the suburban semi

In 1939 George Orwell took aim at burgeoning British suburbia and its population of lower middle class lackeys in his novel Coming Up for Air, memorably describing the new homes being built on the fringes of cities as ‘semi-detached torture chambers where the poor little five-to-ten pound a-weekers quake and shiver’. More than eight decades on

What Japanese cities can teach us about architecture

There are three things that occur to you when you travel the length of Japan: that kimonos are surprisingly good for any occasion; that the country’s reputation for cruelty may partly derive from breakfasts comprising tea porridge and prawn soufflé; and that the hordes of camera-wielding Japanese tourists taking thousands of snaps – a comic trope in the 1980s,

Move over Brighton: is Folkestone the next coastal property hotspot?

As the recent heatwave simmered on, tempura oysters were being washed down with chilled rosé on the beachfront tables at Little Rock, an offshoot of Folkestone’s Michelin starred Rocksalt restaurant. Looking from the shipping container that houses it past a handful of palm trees down the long shingle beach, a huge crane punctuated the clear

Has the regeneration of Elephant and Castle been a success?

It has been ten years since work began in earnest on the regeneration of one of the few surviving sections of old-school central London. While the rest of Zone 1 seemingly saw wall-to-wall gentrification, Elephant and Castle remained an outpost of stubborn, scruffy ordinariness, an oasis of discount stores, greasy spoons and traditional boozers. Over the

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

The mysterious history behind an 11-bedroom country manor that’s up for sale

With its perfectly soaring Jacobean-style architecture, leaded windows and enchanting walled garden, all set within 17-plus acres of East Sussex countryside, Grade II* Listed Possingworth Manor is the rural idyll of an English country house.   Despite its tranquil appearance, however, the 11-bedroom, 8,500 sq ft manor near Uckfield has had a disproportionate share of drama over

The strange intimacy of flat-sharing

When I was younger, I dreamed of being a Jane Austen heroine. Nearly two decades on, in my late twenties, I am living in the guest room of a married older cousin in a leafy suburb of London, house-hunting in the middle of a housing crisis, waiting on a security clearance for a public-sector job,

Inside Denham Place, inspiration for the early James Bond films

House hunters nearly always have to make a compromise to suit their budget – the size of the garden, say, or those dated avocado bathroom suites, or the slightly inconvenient distance from the station. You might think that being a multi-millionaire would exonerate you from such stresses, making finding your dream home trouble-free.   Not so,

Laura Freeman

Can we know an artist by their house?

Show me your downstairs loo and I will tell you who you are. Better yet, show me your kitchen, bedroom, billiard room and man cave. Can we know a man – or woman – by their house? The ‘footsteps’ approach to biography argues that to really understand a subject, a biographer must visit his childhood