Who was the original Terf?

Terf wars Who was the original Terf (trans-exclusionary radical feminist)? – The practice of some women’s groups in excluding trans women began almost with the advent of trans women themselves. In 1978, the Lesbian Organisation of Toronto refused membership to a trans woman who identified as a lesbian – saying it would only accept ‘womyn born womyn’. – The term ‘Terf’, however, dates only from 2008, when it was used in a blog post by feminist writer Viv Smythe in response to a ban on trans women attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (a ban which had been in place since 1991). – The festival, which had been going since

Matthew Parris

Price caps are a slippery slope

Sometimes it’s the little things that depress most. I groaned last week to hear the news item. The government is contemplating a ‘price cap’ on ‘basic items’ in ‘supermarkets’. Forgive the quotation marks, but each of these terms is so horribly problematic that one has to start by asking what they even mean. Has Conservatism in the 2020s lost its ideological moorings? Or perhaps one should start with a quick recapitulation of the history of this idiotic idea, because price control has been tried before, first by a Labour government, and then by their Tory successors who went on to consolidate the folly. The background to those repeated attempts to

Is it time for the £100 note?

Thanks to the recent spike in inflation, never have indisputable luxuries such as Sharwood’s mango chutney or Anchor butter quite so tested the domestic purse strings. The sad truth is, however, that it’s much worse than you think. Because unlike the watched kettle, the frog of devaluation hasn’t just arrived at a nice simmer, it’s begun to boil over. And mango chutney at £4.10 a jar is but the tip of the iceberg. For the long view consider the BBC’s new drama, Ten Pound Poms, about Brits who emigrated to Australia in the 1950s for the princely sum of a £10 processing fee. These days the closest you’ll get to

The scourge of London’s ‘American candy’ stores

Should US regulators ban short-selling of bank stocks? That’s a hot topic as investors refuse to accept reassurance from the Fed chairman Jerome Powell that the recent banking crisis-that-wasn’t is over. Following JPMorgan’s rescue of First Republic, shares in other regional banks such as PacWest in Los Angeles, Western Alliance (Phoenix) and First Horizon (Memphis) have fluctuated wildly and fingers have pointed at short-sellers – who borrow shares they think are about to fall in order to sell, buy back cheaper and pocket a profit. That’s bad, say critics, in the broad sense that it’s a negative form of investment, the reverse of backing companies you believe in; and much

The cult of Aesop

Do you think the luxury soap-maker Aesop would have been valued at £2 billion pre-pandemic? I don’t. Sure, the botanical Aussie cosmetics brand, famously seen in the prettiest restaurants and lining the bathrooms of the fashionable, has been valuable for some time, but ‘hands, face, space’ propelled its growing stardom into a multi-billion pound lather. Today, having one of the cult bottles on the basin is as ubiquitous a status symbol as driving a 4×4 around Chipping Norton.  L’Oréal announced this month that it has signed an agreement with Natura &Co, the brand’s owners, to acquire Aesop in a deal worth $2.5 billion USD (around £2 billion). In 2018, Aesop had

Save our sweet shops

There are only so many times I can watch Lord Sugar swivelling in his chair and reusing put-downs from three seasons ago before enough’s enough, so I’ve dropped in and out of the latest series of The Apprentice. But one contestant that has caught my eye is Victoria Goulbourne, the flight attendant turned online sweet shop owner (note: not sweat shop, despite what one unfortunate online review might say) from Merseyside. And while I pass no judgment on her business acumen, it did get me thinking: what a miserable thing an online sweet shop must be. Victoria’s company markets itself as the ‘UK’s most Instagrammable pick ’n’ mix’. Quite apart

Why Greggs is the modern-day Lyons Corner House

My family has a dirty secret. I’m ashamed of admitting it in writing because I feel I may be permanently marking my card in life. And not just my card. There will now be an upper ceiling against which the heads of my children will bump. The secret is this: we go to Greggs. I know, I know; there is a time and place for such a visit – you’re catching a train and starving, for instance, and nothing but a sausage roll will do. Those are the occasions when a grown man or woman might reasonably enter such a premises and stalk away, head bowed, clutching a steak bake

In defence of Waitrose

I recently had a call with my accountant, a miniskirt-wearing, swashbuckling bon vivant and wine connoisseur. To soothe myself before we rang off – tax is always depressing – I brought up Waitrose, saying by way of apology for my erratic finances that most of my money went in the supermarket, a large branch of which is between my nearest Tube station and my flat. She hemmed knowingly down the phone. We both agreed it was a good use of funds. Life’s short – or might be. If one can, surely one ought to eat what one wants? And if that means a pair of smoked salmon, pea and lovage

Why tax-free shopping matters

One initially overlooked aspect of Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s ill-fated mini-Budget was the plan to restore VAT-free shopping for tourists. The scheme, which allowed non-EU visitors to claim back 20 per cent on their purchases, was scrapped in 2020 by then chancellor Rishi Sunak but looked set for a comeback. This was excellent news where I live – Japan – and throughout Asia, where holidays are short and shopping plays a big part in overseas trips. But just as tourists were writing up their lists and planning their itineraries, Jeremy Hunt pulled the rug from under their feet by cancelling the uncancelling before it had even reached Kwarteng’s promised

Stop harassing me to review everything I buy

The email landed in my inbox one afternoon, as I frantically sandwiched work in between feeding the dog and doing the school run, its subject saying: ‘A quick reminder for you, Antonia Hoyle.’ Oh God, what now? Had I forgotten to pay a bill? Missed a deadline? It was worse. I hadn’t left a review for a company I’d purchased skincare supplements from – and six days after their initial request, they sounded disappointed, adding reproachfully: ‘We would like to remind you that writing a review of your experience will help us improve our customer satisfaction.’ Presumably they were referring to customers other than me, because, having already forked out

Best of British: Christmas gifts for under £20

Christmas shopping has its challenges at the best of times. Oxford Street crowds and high street tat; Black Friday generating more excitement than a White Christmas. And this year will, for many, be more challenging than ever. Who needs the Grinch when the cost-of-living monster threatens to steal Christmas? When looking to keep down the cost of presents, gravitating towards well-known British heritage brands might seem counterintuitive. The ‘big box’ instinct sometimes kicks in: the bigger the package the more expensive it’ll look under the tree, we reason. And many of us are guilty of buying presents that are more gimmicky and flashy than genuinely likely to get good use.

The curious story of Ann Summers

I always thought that ‘Ann Summers’ was one of those made-up names created by corporate brains, like Dorothy Perkins and Ted Baker. But it turns out that Ms Summers was an actual person.  The store’s founder Michael Caborn-Waterfield named his first shop after his 19-year-old secretary Annice Summers. ‘Dandy Kim’, as he was known, had been a roguish figure around post-war London, a gentleman adventurer who’d smuggled guns into Cuba, dated Diana Dors and served time in a French jail. Described in Jeremy Scott’s memoir Fast and Louche: Confessions of a Flagrant Sinner as ‘an amusing, good-looking man’ who ‘seemed to take nothing entirely seriously’, this one-time actor and trader in black-market nylons opened his first ‘sex shop’ near Marble Arch in 1970.  During our

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,

In praise of farm shops

As a city-dweller for 34 years, I am used to the hustle and bustle of other people. Cars, sirens, strangers chatting in the street: it’s the background noise of everyday life, a comforting reminder that you’re never alone. So when I moved to the Suffolk countryside in April last year, I found it a bit of a shock. Pregnant, freelance, with a husband often in London for work, I had a two-year-old for company, few friends and a big empty house overlooking fields, sky – and not much else. It’s a 20-minute drive to the nearest town, and there’s nothing but a ramshackle pub in walking distance. We switched to

‘Christmas creep’ has gone too far this time

For sale in the village shop last week: punnets of locally-grown strawberries, multicoloured bucket-and-spade sets, postcards featuring British beach scenes… and no fewer than 14 varieties of Christmas bauble. Down the street at the Post Office, you can buy Christmas cards, tinsel – in green, red or sparkly silver – and wrapping paper festooned with candy canes. The garden centre, meanwhile, is doing a roaring trade in tins of festive shortbread (expiry date: 26 October). Christmas, so the saying goes, comes but once a year. And this year, it seems to have come during a baking hot August. Before you suggest I live in a sort of Yuletide wormhole, it’s happening

What’s Helsinki’s nightlife like?

Finnish lines Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she had taken a test for illegal drugs after being filmed at a party at which some people were shouting ‘flour’ – Finnish slang for cocaine. What’s Helsinki’s nightlife like? — The Hostelworld website identifies a Helsinki venue, Kaiku, as one of its 20 top clubs in the world. — names Helsinki as the second best city in the world for socialising. — However, rated Helsinki as the 16th most expensive city in the world in which to buy a pint, although it did come out cheaper than Oslo and Stockholm. Screen out Cineworld was reported to be on the

How to save Oxford Street – and your high street

Oxford Street is ‘a dinosaur district destined for extinction’, says Marks & Spencer boss Stuart Machin – whose plan to replace its ‘flagship’ Marble Arch store with a new ten-storey retail and office block has been referred to a public inquiry by Michael Gove as Housing Secretary, despite winning approval from Westminster council. Machin points out that his real flagship nowadays is M&S’s website, which accounts for a third of the group’s clothing and home sales, while much of its pre-second-world-war store estate stands in sad need of repurposing or right-sizing. And he’s not wrong about the decline of what used to be Britain’s premier shopping boulevard – with its

My approach to wine? Wishful drinking

I fancy myself as a bit of an oenophile and during the lockdowns, when my local branch of Majestic was forced to close, I joined The Wine Society and started buying wine from a variety of online sellers such as Vivino and Goedhuis & Co. The upshot is that I get three or four emails a day from these companies and have become an expert in deconstructing their sales patter. The common theme is to coddle the self–deception of the buyers that they aren’t full-blown alcoholics – heaven forfend! – but are obsessed with wine for some other, entirely respectable reason. For instance, Goedhuis is currently promoting a ‘platinum selection

How profitable are Britain’s biggest oil companies?

A slip of the tongue George W. Bush condemned a political system where one man could wage a ‘brutal and unjustified invasion of Iraq’ before correcting himself and saying ‘Ukraine’. Some other Freudian slips by US politicians: – In the 2012 US election Senator John McCain, who had been the Republican candidate four years earlier, made a speech in which he attempted to look forward to a Mitt Romney presidency, but somehow managed instead to say: ‘I am confident that with the leadership and the backing of the American people, President Obama will turn this country around.’ – At another event in the same election, Romney himself introduced his running

Why nothing ever comes ‘for free’

‘It’s not as nice as it looks,’ said my husband, not leaving time to look it in the mouth before wolfing down the lemon and sultana Danish that I had thoughtfully bought him, reduced on account of its age. ‘Every day in this store,’ the till at Marks & Spencer’s had told me in a tone indicating that I might be interested, ‘someone gets their shopping for free.’ Yes, I thought, it must be that bloke that exits pursued by the security man. I thought other things too, since I am afflicted by what the French call déformation professionnelle and tend to sub-edit other people’s utterances – those of machines