Spectator Life

Spectator Life

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

What next for the world of watches?

Every year, the world’s greatest watch companies and their biggest fans head to Geneva for an orgy of horological spectacle: Watches & Wonders. Here, companies pull out their latest, newest, most impressive goods, showing off the main products they intend to launch and the fans salivate and loosen their already pummelled wallets. It’s not a cheap

Confessions of an egg snatcher

April is nesting season and with it comes egg collectors, an illegal band of very specialised and, in some ways, very British of criminals. Many would consider themselves wildlife enthusiasts. Most see their crime as a hobby, ignoring the effects of stealing a clutch of eggs and thus accelerating the species decline in a particular

A beginner’s guide to finding a good nanny

When an au pair or nanny writes ‘I was wondering if I could talk to you this evening,’ it is rarely good news. At best, it is to ask for a pay rise; at worst, to give notice of a departure. ‘I’d like to go to Madrid,’ said our beloved au pair one evening, confirming

Now’s the time to join the Garrick

Amelia ‘Milly’ Gentleman, the Guardian’s fearless investigative reporter, has ‘exclusively’ revealed some of the Garrick Club’s filthy secrets. It’s ‘the final gasps’ of ‘a declining patriarchal elite’, she writes. ‘A lonely slice of an England that forgot to modernise’. All over the country, fair-minded folk must be thinking ‘woo, when can I join?’   Clubmen

Watches satisfy a strange masculine urge

A year or two ago I got my first expensive watch, a Longines Conquest Heritage. It wasn’t quite my dream timepiece – that was a 1960s Omega Seamaster automatic (think Bond films at the Sean Connery stage) but these are priced off the scale and need plenty of specialist upkeep. The Longines Conquest, very much

Why don’t people like my cowboy hat?

The presence of ‘The Hat’ has already raised disputes within my family. My wife refuses to walk with me in our village, which I think is unreasonable. ‘Well, would you walk around with me if I were wearing a witch’s hat?’ she said. I know what she means, but she’s wrong. This is not fancy

In praise of peculiar names

It began, as these things often do, in the Births, Deaths and Marriages column of the Times. ‘On 29th February, to Olivia von Wulffen and Rupert Oldham-Reid,’ the announcement read. ‘A daughter, Antigone Elizabeth Anna, sister to Peregrine Yorck von Wulffen and Otto the dog.’ The ad was spotted by journalist Harry Wallop who posted it

Carrie Johnson and the tragedy of pond life

As so often, Hello! magazine had the scoop. Carrie and Boris Johnson are expecting again. This time it is ducks. For her 36th birthday Mrs Johnson was presented with an incubator and some duck eggs. Any day now there will be a splintering of shell and a chorus of incipient, high-pitched quacks as another waddling brood

Max Jeffery

Unhappy? What a luxury

Rob Stephenson is trying to produce a sonic representation of joy. He’s DJing on stage at the World Happiness Summit in London, pumping out a kick drum at 124bpm. The sound represents the subliminal satisfaction you get from a walk round the park, Rob says. He adds bongos and the dinging noise of a triangle

What my strange old friends taught me

As a young man I sought out the company of much older people in the arts, feeling they had some secret to life, often the same one in different guises, which I wanted, needed to discover. In the let-it-all-hang-out youth culture of the 1990s I felt awash, and the elderly (which to a 20-year-old meant

Love Desert Island Discs? Try this

In its primary Sunday morning slot, Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 finishes at noon. This is the cue for radio cognoscenti to turn the digital dial a single notch – to BBC Radio 3. Because as Desert Island Discs ends, Private Passions, its lesser known twin, is about to begin. I wrote here recently

Why Apple killed its electric car

After spending over $10 billion, screwing over corporate partners, hiring and firing talent and a decade of work trying to develop a flagship product for a new, massive market, Apple has killed what could have been its most ambitious product yet: an electric car. The failure of the electric vehicle project singularly reflects the culture

The joy of going solo

Managing other people’s expectations takes the joy out of pretty much any excursion. Most things are better enjoyed alone. This hit me many years ago when I decided to risk a bullfight in Las Ventas in Madrid. My grandfather wasn’t long dead, and had been a fan of la corrida; I felt that this was something I wanted

Magnolia will never go out of fashion

Last week’s news that a mature magnolia tree had been felled in a suburb of Poole, Dorset, because wood decay made it a threat to nearby houses, will have touched the hearts of gardeners everywhere. For, in the words of the plant collector E.H. Wilson, after whom Magnolia wilsonii is named, magnolias are ‘aristocrats of

Why have women stopped smiling at me?

No one seems to be talking about how the faces of most of the female population appear to have frozen. I increasingly find myself gazing admiringly at groups of young men – like some sort of proud avuncular patriarch – who seem the only people left capable of smiling. Like knights of old, they are protectors of

Every woman needs a nemesis

My nemesis is a student at another university. She has not always been my nemesis. We were friends until I realised that she was not who she purported to be. Her interests had been systematically poached from the people around her. Talking to her always felt like an interrogation from a particularly insecure detective. Real

The unbearable rudeness of the thumbs up emoji

Years ago, in the midst of a dating spree that involved numerous encounters with erratic and callous young men, I often consulted my cousin. She’s a cool, emotionally controlled New Yorker who seemed to have an innate knowledge of how to seize and maintain power in sexual or would-be sexual entanglements. She often advised me

Melanie McDonagh

Why is John Lewis selling sex toys?

Well, for the Waitrose classes, it seems you can get all the accessories for middle class eroticism at John Lewis. The store has started selling sex merchandise and the good news is that there’s been a restock this week for Valentine’s Day, which used to be sacred to roses, Charbonnel et Walker chocolates and scent

Lara Prendergast

Beauty tips every man should know

British men are getting into ‘beauty’. ‘Now it’s men’s turn to hog the bathroom,’ reports the Times, as spending increases 77 per cent year on year. Beauty industry types argue that all men should want to look more groomed, even Anglo-Saxons. What’s wrong with some light fluffing up here, a bit of patching up there?

Celibacy isn’t chic

Abstinence doesn’t typically come to mind when one thinks of Valentine’s Day. But this year it coincides with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, when we traditionally give something up. (Bear in mind that Christianity recognises a very gruesome torture and death as the ultimate gesture of love. For us, a little bit of

Inside my mother’s purse

I’ve been carrying with me a little black silk purse with a tortoise shell closing since my mother died 11 years ago. I suppose it’s one of the last things left from my beloved, stylish mother. To help me pick out a replacement, I enlisted my seven-year-old granddaughter, Maélle, a fashionista like me and her

Retailers are hacking your brain

While perusing bins on the John Lewis website, having heard great things about the Brabantia 60-litre, I noticed my stress levels rise – and it wasn’t just because the lid-up height meant the bin wouldn’t fit in my new cabinet. It was because for my whole shopping session there had been a dribble of information

Julie Burchill

Once you wear black, you’ll never go back

Like most clever people, I’m not over-fussed about clothing; there have been numerous studies showing that successful types – unless they’re in entertainment, showbiz or fashion itself, obvs – tend to wear the same thing every day. Whenever I hear the phrase ‘I like to express myself through what I wear’ I know we’re dealing

Tanya Gold

In praise of the big, fat Range Rover

Cars mirror humans: that is what they are for. (If they didn’t, everyone would drive a 2012 Ford Fiesta). And so, cars are obese too now. They are growing 1cm wider every two years, and only half of new cars now fit into on-street parking spaces, though car parks – presumably elitist! – fare better.

The strange psychology of dog owners

I’m writing this in a coffee shop. I write most things in coffee shops but I’ve never been to this one before. As I paid for my latte, I noticed the sign (below). Never mind Brexit or Palestine, I can’t think of an issue that will divide the nation like this will. People will immediately

The depressing truth about January birthdays

You can change practically anything about yourself these days, from your appearance through to your gender. But one thing remains practically immutable: your birthday. And here some of us are markedly less fortunate than others, as those of us who made our entry into the world in early January well know. Having a birthday at this

Flavour of the month: January – robots, Dr Who and The Beatles

Welcome to the month that faces backwards to last year and forwards to this – which is why it’s named after Janus, the Roman god of transitions, who himself has two faces. Read on to discover January’s trivia, including a joke from Stevie Wonder, a mistake by David Blunkett’s officials, and the reason Heather Mills

The mind-altering potential of fire walking

Thirty of us gathered in the upstairs room of a local hospice, subdued as we contemplated the imminent laying of our raw flesh onto fire. Steve from Peterborough arrived to give a pep talk to prepare us for what awaited us in the car park below. We sighed empathetically when Steve told us he had