Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

Ross Clark

Smart meters could soon cost you a whole lot more

What remarkable power climate change has to turn the usual rules of fairness on their head. The poor pay the taxes and the wealthy get subsidised. It has happened with electric cars, where well-off early adopters were handed grants of £4,000 to buy a new vehicle – as well as being excused fuel duty and

My strange and wonderful tenants

You might find it a bit rum to open your front door to a stranger and hand over your door keys and alarm code as they head for an upper bedroom. Around a third of erstwhile landlords would now agree with you and have ceased renting, while the call for such affordable room at the

The Nazi next door: inside my grandmother’s house

Each time I return to Hamburg (about once a year, on average) I pay a sentimental visit to my grandmother’s magnificent old house, where she spent her cosseted, idyllic youth, during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. It’s a robust Teutonic villa, a bombastic relic of the Gründerzeit – that flamboyant building boom which followed

Tanya Gold

Airbnb has ruined Cornwall

Michael Gove’s restrictions on Airbnb are too late for Mousehole, the next village along. It mirrors Dull-on-Sea in The Pirates Next Door: ‘Too busy in the summer and in winter it shuts down’. Last year there was so much traffic in Mousehole that the bus couldn’t get through, and it dumped trippers at the top of

I loved my landlord

My favourite home in London was a neat three-storey townhouse in Haringey right next to Wood Green. It was at a strange junction between the rough and mildly frightening Finsbury Park and the hilly Eden of Crouch End. When we needed to get the tube we walked south, past halal butchers and kebab shops –

Inside Kelly Castle (baronetcy optional)

For most of us, a cursory flick through an in-flight magazine might lead to the purchase of a G&T, or a bottle of perfume. For Alun Grassick, it was a slightly more substantial investment. When he spotted an ad for a crumbling B Listed castle in the Angus countryside, with its towers, turrets, an associated

I’m trapped by the village WhatsApp

I live in a village in Oxfordshire. Before we moved here, a WhatsApp group was set up to help the community navigate the pandemic. It was, other villagers tell me, a lifeline. But the village WhatsApp is still going. No longer a herald of government diktats, it is now a busy forum with photos of abandoned parcels,

Gus Carter

Why don’t my local police work nights?

Every few weeks, I leave my front door to find a car missing its side window and a pile of glass on the pavement. One morning there were four windowless cars, all in a row; someone had already been out with duct tape and some bin bags in an attempt to keep the rain from

My life in storage

I’m off to South Italy for a few months having recently sold my late mother’s house and, if I can find a nice immigration lawyer, perhaps longer. This means my home is now full of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, marker pens and panic. It’s a feeling I’m perfectly familiar with, having changed my living space

I’m addicted to property programmes

Holed up with Covid recently, I decided to binge on some undemanding TV and selected property programmes, knowing that the genre satisfied some basic human instincts – nosiness about other people’s lives, other people’s taste, other people’s money and other people’s dreams. I was happy with my choice – confident that property programmes were the

The importance of marshland mindset

We have in our kitchen a mug purporting to belong to ‘Romney Marsh Mountain Rescue’. There is, of course, no such organisation – the mug is a reference to a long-standing family joke, about how my brothers and I love mountaineering despite having grown up in one of the lowest, flattest parts of England. The

Should you buy a vineyard?

Sometimes you only realise a trend is happening when you inadvertently become a part of it. Last summer we moved house within the southeast from town to country, having deliberately sought out a property with land that would be suitable for planting a small vineyard. A lot of the big English wineries like Chapel Down

Why are writers obsessed with Tunbridge Wells?

It’s just a moderately sized town in Kent, but Tunbridge Wells seems to have a literary status disproportionate to its size. And, perhaps as a corollary, it seems to occur in fiction much more frequently than considerably bigger towns of otherwise greater significance. Or certainly this has been my impression over a lifetime’s reading.  I

I’ve been priced out of East Anglia

We have finally found a buyer for my late mother’s Suffolk house, but I’ve fallen into something of a trap. After the money’s divided and the bills are paid, I shall have a lump sum but nowhere near enough to buy a home. I’m 54 next month, not much more than a decade off official

Why I had to leave London

The summer of 2013 was the third hottest on record in London. At the time I was living in a mouldy semi-detached in Clapham South; what happened in that house has left a lingering horror in my memory that changed the way I feel about London forever. In the flat below us there lived an

My 1970s kitchen nightmare

During the Covid lockdowns, I accrued a number of kitchen implements I used only once or twice before confining them to the back of the cupboard. One item that lurks among the mismatched Tupperware is a rather expensive chip pan, namely a deep fat fryer with a whacking three litre capacity, in stainless steel, with

The sad decline of Piccadilly Circus

It’s always sad to see a beloved landmark lose its identity – but when the landmark in question is one of the most recognisable places on earth, it’s doubly troubling. In recent years, Piccadilly Circus, once described as ‘the hub of the world’, has descended into a shamefully hollowed out sideshow. Stately Edwardian buildings, once

Inside the fading beauty of Crowland Manor

Ceramicist Sophie Wilson’s Christmas decorations at her Lincolnshire manor house are calmingly analogue. For her, there are no flashing lights, tawdry tinsel or store-bought baubles.   ‘I love to have bare trees around, and always have a huge one in the main kitchen, big enough so I can tilt my head back and gaze up

Ross Clark

What to expect from the housing market in 2024

The housing market indices have stabilised, started rising even. So is that it? Is the great housing market crash over, before it had had a chance even to begin? Not according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). Buried in its latest Economic and Fiscal Outlook report is a prediction that the slump is far from over.

Letting go of my mother’s house

My mother passed away last year and it fell to me to sort out her house. Returning from four years in Russia and the Caucasus, I moved into her Suffolk home to get it ready for selling. There was a huge amount to do. Alongside organising my mother’s headstone – no small or hasty business

Alexa is gaslighting me

Amazon has teamed up with Disney to launch a new app, Hey Disney! – a joint voice assistant feature which will allow your child to ‘Interact with Mickey Mouse, or Dory from Finding Nemo’. Just what we need. Customers can use Hey Disney! at Disneyworld theme parks – ‘ask “Disney Magical Companion” to request fresh

I’m an Aga convert

I never thought it would be possible to feel such emotion about a lump of hot metal but I am in love and like all new passions it’s threatening to become all-consuming. I find reasons to drop it into conversation, I seek out others and join groups on social media that share the same predilection

Melanie McDonagh

So long to the landline

So Debrett’s has really got behind the latest technology by issuing a guide to the appropriate use of the mobile phone, or rather, ten commandments. The oldies are warned that young people take fright at an unexpected call – text first to see if it’s convenient – and the young are told that they should

Flat-footed: welcome to the floorboard wars

Jarndyce vs Jarndyce, this wasn’t – at least not yet – and it probably passed much of the country by, especially given the rival distractions of recent weeks. It was nonetheless a lawsuit that will have been followed in compulsive detail by at least two groups of people: those who own their own flats –

Inside Jerome K Jerome’s nine-bedroom Oxfordshire house

Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat – a tale of three hapless, hypochondriac London clerks who take a trip along the River Thames in the hope of curing their ailments – became an instant bestseller when it was published in 1889, and hasn’t been out of print since. Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux and

Ross Clark

What’s stopping a housing crash?

Should we really believe that house prices rose by 0.9 per cent in September, as claimed by the latest release from the Nationwide House Price Index? The unexpected rise moderates the annual fall in house prices from 5.3 per cent in August to 3.3 per cent in September. There is a health warning on the

Britain’s most haunted country houses

For centuries, the English country house has provided the setting for some of the most terrifying fiction in our history. These isolated buildings, with their many empty corridors, secret backstairs, shut-up attic rooms and dark corners, their inherent eeriness has made them iconic settings for chilling encounters. But which real country houses inspired their fictional

Bed bugs invaded my mind!

It isn’t just the Paris Metro. Even the very best hotels are not immune from bed bugs. I was blissfully unaware of this fact until a trip to New York a few years ago when a nightmare struck. We had booked a really top place, but within days of getting home, we discovered little red