Notes on...

The cult of the gilet

Last summer I attended a reunion at my prep school. The occasion was the leaving of a much-loved master. I thought that the appropriate thing to wear would be a tweed jacket in honour of prep-school masters everywhere. I found myself woefully overdressed. Pretty much all of my contemporaries were wearing gilets. It was a

The senseless ban on snus

As the government considers banning disposable vapes because they are thought to appeal to children, it is worth reflecting on the strange saga of the EU’s ban on snus, a Swedish smokeless tobacco product that delivers nicotine into the body via a small pouch placed under the lip. The story begins when Edwina Currie was

The greatest – and strangest – prison breaks in history

Poor old Daniel Khalife. He must have thought his exit from HMP Wandsworth, hidden underneath a delivery van, would win ‘Most Creative Prison Escape of the Week’. But actually that title had already been nabbed by Danelo Cavalcante, who stood in a narrow external passageway at Pennsylvania’s Chester County prison, leaned forward so his hands

The pride of pouring perfect concrete

In the summer of 2020 I was awarded a degree in history from Bristol University – the culmination of three years’ work, late nights and great expense – but it is my concrete pump operator licence which sits above the mantelpiece. My father considers my ability to pump concrete at a rate of one cubic

Luis Rubiales and the weirdness of a kiss

A kiss is just a kiss, no? But when it’s Jenni Hermoso, the forward of the victorious Spanish women’s football team, on the receiving end, and the president of the Spanish football federation, Luis Rubiales, doing the kissing, and it’s during the official post-match ceremony in front of an interested global audience… it’s different.  Immediately

In praise of Boris’s nemesis: the great crested newt

Britain is not blessed with an abundance of amphibians. There are just seven native varieties. The loss of ponds – whether in gardens, farmland or in areas earmarked for development – has seen a dramatic decline in habitat for one of the seven in particular, the great crested newt (or GCN for short). Its rarity

My morning spin class with Rishi Sunak

It was 7.31 a.m. and I was late for my Notting Hill spin class. That meant the lights weren’t on when I entered the studio and scrambled to find my bike. Bleary-eyed, I noticed a man waving at me as I approached Bike 49. It was Rishi Sunak, on the bike next to mine. ‘I

Who’s afraid of giant hogweed?

Giant hogweed is a troublesome and expansive species. But it is not, as the tabloids inevitably describe it every summer, ‘Britain’s most dangerous plant’. Many garden favourites – yew, laburnum, castor-oil plant (the source of ricin), for example – can actually kill you. The answer to living with these difficult but beautiful organisms isn’t knee-jerk

The pleasures of pebble-spotting

P-p-pick up a pebble. Feel its weight in your palm. Roll it over under your thumb. Any good? Not sure? Shuck it back on the shingle. Plenty of fish in the sea and more pebbles still on the shore. In The Pebbles on the Beach: A Spotter’s Guide, Clarence Ellis, pebble-spotter par excellence, opens with

What’s the point of confetti?

All things considered, probably the least of George Osborne’s concerns on the occasion of his second marriage was being showered with orange confetti by a woman apparently sympathetic to the Just Stop Oil protestors. Bingo: a whole new form of protest came into being. What is the whole confetti thing about anyway? You used to

Open and shut case: the evolution of windows

Upstairs rooms in new houses are likely to be darker because building regulations now demand they should be at least 3ft 6in from the floor. Given the stingy heights of rooms these days, this reduces the glazed area. The regulators are worried about window safety. ‘Is there a plague of people falling out of them?’

The disappointing truth about Aperol spritz

I’m in Tuscany, where the piazzas glow orange at dusk, not only from the sunsets but also from the profusion of Aperol spritz. The bright orange drink has exploded in popularity in the past five years. Everyone’s drinking it: young women, middle-aged couples, groups of wrinkly tanned men, all sucking from straws sticking out of

Boozy lunches are back

The financial crash of 2008 didn’t kill the boozy lunch outright, but it took the wind out of its sails. Ever more Americanised work styles further deflated the tradition, before Covid stamped on it. But the boozy lunch is back. It’s certainly surprising. After all, we are in the middle of a cost-of-living squeeze and

Why I hate the new Pride flag

If you needed more proof that gay men aren’t in control of things any more – at least where the activist set is concerned – look no further than the evolution of the LGBTQ+ Pride flag. If, as Oscar Wilde once wrote, ‘Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter

The beauty of passport stamps

As a travel writer, I can get blasé about many aspects of travel: the free five-handed massage, the private plunge-pool out the back, those odd bits of overchilled orangey cheddar in an average Biz Class lounge. But one slightly childish thing that always pleases me is stamps in my passport. They should be emotionally meaningless:

Why I was evicted from a lesbian squat

Since my squatting experience back in the 1980s, the practice has gone somewhat out of fashion. Squatting laws in the UK have become much stricter, and eviction by police and landlords is easier. Spanish squatters have it relatively good at the moment, with criminal gangs targeting second homes in Spain, claiming to be homeless and

Meghan Markle and myths around mermaids

Disney’s latest remake of The Little Mermaid, out this week, has, it seems, a message for the royal family. When the prince wants to know the name of the mermaid, played by Halle Bailey, he tries to guess. ‘Diana?’ Nope. ‘Catherine?’ She pulls a face. Cue royal watchers identifying a snub of Kate, the Princess

The sex appeal of lobsters

The night before I moved a pet lobster into my flat, I ate agnolotti all’ aragosta for dinner. It was possible that my soon-to-be companion, Snips McGee – who I inherited from a friend – would outlive me (the oldest lobster on record was estimated to be 140 years old) and I wanted one last