Flora Watkins

The sad death of the pony ride

Pony rides were once a staple of every village, church and primary-school fête. A brusque, horsey mother would swing you up into the saddle, and the patient pony would trudge up and down while you clung to its mane, before it was the turn of the next child in the queue. No one ever plonked

How common is your garden?

As spring (finally) arrives, it’s time to turn our attention back to what’s outside the back door. Helpfully, garden designer Isabel Bannerman (Highgrove, Houghton Hall, Arundel Castle) has written a memoir, Husbandry, in which she declares there is no such thing as ‘U and non-U’ in gardening. She then undermines her argument by immediately setting out

The tyranny of voice notes

Ping! My phone vibrates with a message from a new friend. A mild spike of dopamine dissipates on seeing she’s left me a WhatsApp voice note. However, it’s short and, hopefully, it’s a one-off.  I reply with a text message, hoping she’ll register the switch in communications. Ping! Oh no. She’s a voice-noter. She’s a bloody

Welcome to Herne Hell, Boris

When I lived in north London as a postgraduate student, my flatmates amused themselves by shouting abusive names at the then member for Henley as he cycled past on his way to the Commons from his house in Islington. But judging by the reaction from my old neighbours in Herne Hill, Boris Johnson is likely

The scourge of the beach tent land grab

‘Ah,’ says my husband at the top of the cliff path at Overstrand, ‘it’s just like a Shirley Hughes illustration.’ There are sandcastles, wooden groynes, children and dogs running in and out of the waves. Then his eye falls on the first land grab of the day. Three generations of the same family are hard

The mystery and delight of English elderflower

There’s an old saying that English summertime begins when the frothy heads of elderflowers appear in hedgerows – and ends when the black elderberries have ripened. People have been picking these great white ‘plates’, as the flower heads are known, to make drinks since at least Tudor times. In Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery

The cult of the cockapoo

‘Have you got any advice?’ my friend calls to ask, ahead of going to pick up their pandemic puppy. ‘Well, um, as first-time dog owners, I’d say steer clear of spaniels and poodles… but it’s a bit late for that, ha!’ ‘Ha,’ she says, thinking I’m joking and off they go to fetch their cute,

The return of English patriotism

Back in the summer of 2015 as I awaited the birth of my second son, when people asked me about my burgeoning bump — as they are wont to do of heavily-pregnant women — I kept receiving the same, curious response. ‘Oh you haven’t timed that well,’ random strangers would say. ‘August babies don’t do

Bring me sunshine: 8 novels about heatwaves

‘Freezing winter gave way to frosty spring, which in turn merged to chilly summer,’ was how Jessica Mitford recalled her Cotswolds childhood in her memoir, Hons and Rebels. Our inclement climes have rarely been as hard to bear as they have this year, with the unusually cold, grey spring — coupled with the prospect of

Eight unmissable places to dress up for

After 14 months of subsisting in loungewear, with a social life largely provided by Netflix box sets and Deliveroo, many would gladly attend the opening of an envelope in order to get out of the house. Thanks to the vagaries of British weather, ‘dressing up’ has hitherto meant extra layers and grabbing the blanket off the

London’s best sky-high dining spots

Pity the poor panoramic restaurant. They might boast the best views of the capital, but the lack of outdoor space on the 42nd floor means they haven’t been able to take advantage of the easing of restrictions for the hospitality industry — until now. But from 17 May, they’ll be sashaying out of lockdown like

Six literary adaptations that outdo The Pursuit of Love

The actress Winona Ryder once declared that if anyone attempted to film The Catcher in the Rye, she’d have to burn the studio down, such was her love for the book. There’s many a Mitfordian wishing they could enact this retrospective action on the new BBC production of The Pursuit of Love. RAGE-messaging amongst my

The dos and don’ts of hosting friends

According to the Yale sociologist, Professor Nicholas Christakis, we are on the verge of a second Roaring Twenties. Just as the 1918 flu pandemic ushered in an era of excess, so too will Covid, as people ‘relentlessly seek out social interactions’. This could take the form, he believes, of lavish spending and ‘sexual licentiousness’. Or

Lunch like a Queen: royal picnic spots to sample this spring

Even before the news of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh was announced, Buckingham Palace had had to suspend ticket sales for visiting its gardens this summer, due to overwhelming demand. With the annual summer opening of the State rooms cancelled for the second year running due to the pandemic, the opportunity to picnic

Why is cinema obsessed with remakes?

The game is afoot! Yes, yet again! Hot on the hob-nailed heels of Enola Holmes, the Netflix film about the great detective’s younger sister, comes yet another spin on Sherlock. This time the streaming service brings us The Irregulars, a gaggle of Victorian urchins hired by Dr Watson to investigate crimes with a supernatural element.

Why there’s never been a worse time to move to the country

It began with a sourdough starter. Then we dabbled with home delivery cocktails. This time round, I watched The Dig and bought a Fair Isle tank top and a blouse with a big collar to wear for Zoom calls. Then, when my husband’s company announced they’d be hiring remotely, we embraced the biggest lockdown cliché

Mother’s Day made easy: sumptuous surprises she’ll love

If I could pinpoint the the moment last March when I could no longer pretend that lockdown wasn’t coming, it was the phone call from my favourite neighbourhood restaurant cancelling our Mother’s Day booking. The rising terror I felt was akin to the bit in The Handmaid’s Tale, just after women’s bank accounts have been

10 literary teachers who are worse than you

When my early efforts at homeschooling faltered amidst bitter recriminations and shouts of ‘You are literally the worst teacher in the world!’ (from a six year-old), my husband stepped up. Rubbing his hands, he declared, ‘This is going to be just like Dead Poets Society‘. Yet cries of ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ were not forthcoming.