The complexities of our colonial legacy

It happened by accident. In 1829 the naturalist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward was trying to hatch a moth pupa. He placed it in a sealed glass container, along with some soil and dried leaves, and set it aside. Sometime later he was surprised to find that a fern and some grass had taken root in the soil, despite having no water. As Sathnam Sanghera writes in Empireworld, the discovery ‘revolutionised the logistics of international plant transportation’. Suddenly there was a means of securely transporting seeds and seedlings across vast distances. Empireworld is a sequel to Sanghera’s wildly successful Empireland. Where the latter examined the legacies of empire in Britain, this book

In defence of instant coffee

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Ten or 20 years ago no one would have thought twice about enjoying Nescafé or its equivalent. There is soothing ritual in spooning, pouring, stirring and sipping the mud-brown concoction in a mug. But nowadays, for a generation nourished on slow-roasted Colombian cashew-milk cortados, instant coffee seems as primitive as campfire cookery. I recently stayed at Brownsover Hall, a grand Gothic mansion house near Rugby: a place where you can sit for a whole weekend in a Georgian wingback chair, gazing out at Warwickshire. In a wood-panelled bedroom, with ceilings loftier than millennial expectations, by the mini kettle and

How the coffee subscription ruined Pret

I have a deep-seated hatred of the hospitality QR code. It ripped through the industry as part of questionable social-distancing initiatives during the pandemic, taking the place of menus and human interaction – and has stubbornly refused to disappear, making my heart sink when I find one sellotaped to the table of a bar or restaurant. However, there’s one hospitality QR code that I found myself developing a fondness for – the one that comes with Pret a Manger’s coffee subscription. Launched in September 2020, the scheme is a financial godsend for coffee addicts. For £25 a month, subscribers can order up to five ‘barista-made’ drinks per day (coffees, teas,

Abolishing slavery was no cause for smugness

When the 13 colonies of the United States declared independence in 1776, the first country to recognise the new nation was France. Other leading European powers, such as Britain and Spain, acknowledged its arrival at the Treaty of Paris, two years after a decisive victory by American forces. Yet when Haiti asserted independence in 1804, it was ostracised by Britain, France, Spain and the US. During its first fragile years as a fledgling state, that self-declared guru of liberty Thomas Jefferson even imposed a rigid blockade while president. Washington then took more than half a century to recognise its Caribbean neighbour. The reason for such contrasting attitudes towards the first

Dear Mary: Should I return my pod coffee maker on moral grounds?

Q. I adore doing jigsaws and these days there’s an added bonus — by posting my progress on Instagram I can share the happy glow it gives me knowing that I’m reducing toxic screen-time habits. Recently I begged to borrow a magnificent 1,000-piece puzzle from a friend — a vast winter scene by Pieter Bruegel. Setting to, I succumbed to the meditative calm and satisfaction of puzzling. After two weeks of hard graft neglecting pretty much all domestic duties, the puzzle was finished, but with a piece missing! This maddening lost piece is an obscure blob of twiggy branch that nobody could love, but its absence mocks all my efforts.