Notes on...

The unbeatable glory of a doner kebab

Ionce shared a bed with a doner kebab. I’d hungrily joined a 3 a.m. queue for much needed post-pub sustenance, only to pass out as soon as I sat down on my bed to eat it. It was a vinegary and leathery bedfellow to wake up to, but I’ve felt ever since that spending a

All boys should own a Swiss Army knife

Last week, Carl Elsener of Victorinox, makers of the Swiss Army knife (all other manufacturers must refer to their products as ‘Swiss-style knives’), announced that the company is working to develop a knife without any blades in anticipation of modern legislation and safety-conscious consumers. A cutting-edge Swiss Army knife will no longer have a cutting

Tom Cruise and the art of falconry

Last week, the Hollywood team making the latest Mission Impossible film was desperate to clear Trafalgar Square of its superabundant pigeons for a scene involving its star, Tom Cruise. But it was not an ultrasonic laser in Ethan Hunt’s high-tech kitbag that did the trick. What you apparently need to rid central London of its

In praise of the 1/3 pint

The worst thing that happened to me over the pandemic was I got ‘really into beer’. I was already into it in the most straightforward way: I liked drinking it and I liked getting drunk. I liked the ceremony of it: walking into the pub, ideally at noon on a balmy Saturday, inhaling that rich

Men, step away from the trainers

What is it with men and trainers? Or rather, men of a certain age and trainers. I’m still trying to banish the horror-show image of Rishi Sunak wearing Adidas Sambas in No. 10 in an interview to promote his tax policies. Has western civilisation really come to this? Are we destined to succumb to rubber-soled

Kippers could save your life

I miss kippers. My wife won’t let me eat them at home, and they have become a rarity in restaurants. I stayed in a luxury hotel last month, and the manager was telling me that if I wanted anything – valet parking, room service, breakfast after 10.30 a.m. – I had only to ask. When

City folk go wild for wild garlic

For a certain type of Barbour-clad middle-aged man, the best time of year is late summer, and the arrival of the grouse season. But if you’re in your twenties and living in Hackney, you’re more likely to get excited for spring and the arrival of wild garlic. Foraging has become a fashionable activity for twentysomethings.

Why I’ll never own a pair of jeans

North Korea has a problem with Alan Titchmarsh’s crotch. Last week a 2010 episode of Garden Secrets was aired on state television, but the network blurred Titchmarsh from the waist down. The offence was his gardening trousers – a pair of jeans. For the Workers’ Party of Korea, jeans represent an ‘invasion of capitalistic lifestyles’.

Easter, my grandmother and the trouble with caraway seeds

Which items of food from your childhood did your parents force you to eat which now, blessed with the gift of choice, you wouldn’t touch with a proverbial bargepole? Pig trotters, cow heels and various items of offal, such as hearts, brains and ‘lights’, may spring to mind. Brussels sprouts, of course, and possibly dubious

The trouble with apple cider vinegar

The snake oil salesman is back in town with an old favourite: apple cider vinegar – or ACV as it’s called by those in the know. The ‘wonder-juice’ has been around for centuries, peddled by Greeks and Romans alike. In recent years, it has become something of a panacea, a social media ‘superfood’. But just

How the shamrock became the symbol of St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick’s Day is coming up and you know what that means… a Shamrock Shake at Starbucks, featuring those well-known Irish ingredients vanilla, mint and green tea. And then there’s the Paddy’s Day merch: shamrocks again. If the Princess of Wales as Colonel of the Irish guards turns up to celebrate the day, she’ll be

The thrill of busking

They are, to quote Mark Knopfler, down in the tunnel trying to make it pay. Transport for London has this week been holding auditions for buskers, assessing the performers for licences that allow access to pitches on the Tube and, for the first time, the Elizabeth line. It’s a bureaucratic approach to a traditionally informal

Magnolia will never go out of fashion

Last week’s news that a mature magnolia tree had been felled in a suburb of Poole, Dorset, because wood decay made it a threat to nearby houses, will have touched the hearts of gardeners everywhere. For, in the words of the plant collector E.H. Wilson, after whom Magnolia wilsonii is named, magnolias are ‘aristocrats of

The joy of Tunbridge Ware trinkets 

Tunbridge Ware trinkets, toys and showpieces were the fridge magnets of their time; now they are the ultimate collectibles. When in the 18th and 19th centuries the aristocracy and middle classes travelled to Royal Tunbridge Wells for its curative waters, traders in West Kent saw an opportunity. The visitors needed souvenirs or gifts and with

Why Napoleon (may have) loved St Helena coffee

Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, Saint Helena’s French honorary consul, wants to set the record straight. Contrary to popular belief, he tells me, Napoleon wasn’t exiled to St Helena for life. In a highly idiosyncratic sentencing, drafted by the Russians and ratified by the other powers involved, Napoleon’s banishment was to last ‘until his deadly fame ends’. While

Why did Shakespeare find pancakes so funny?

The English have been eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday for a very long time. Originally it was a way of using up eggs before the Lenten fast: the Saturday before Ash Wednesday was called Festum Ovorum or Egg Saturday, when all the eggs would be collected in preparation for the pancake making. Shrovetide in early

Could prayer cure a sore throat? 

This Saturday, go to London’s oldest Catholic church, St Etheldreda’s in Ely Place, Holborn, and you will find a gathering of singers, along with actors, announcers and other public speakers, who have come to have their throats blessed. Two crossed candles are held up by the priest and either these or a piece of wick

Everyone should eat venison

Well, lucky little tiny tots at Top Days nurseries in Hampshire and Dorset. It’s Bambi on the menu for them now that the organisation running the schools has teamed up with the Eat Wild company, which promotes wild meats, to introduce venison into school lunches. They’re rolling out five dishes featuring venison, including deer mince

Why criminals love a tunnel

What is it about a tunnel that excites us so? Last week’s story about the secret one in a New York synagogue fascinated the world, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that no one knew why the thing had been built in the first place. Police attempted to close it, and indeed fill it

Lesson one of ferret racing: don’t pick them up

The British are fond of ferrets. There is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I at Hatfield House holding one on a collar and lead. For Yorkshire miners in the 1970s, tales of ‘ferret-legging’ – an endurance test whereby two of the rodents were put down competitors’ trousers – were legendary. (The world record is held