Notes on...

Are you a Gail’s or a Wimpy voter?

Liberal Democrat activists were reportedly told to ‘get out the Gail’s vote’, targeting people who visit the over-priced artisanal cafés. There are 131 Gail’s in the UK and around half are in Lib Dem marginals. If you’ve never come across one, think spinach, feta and filo pastry for £6, sold by a stressed Spanish girl

The cult of the water bottle

The water bottle is no longer just a water bottle. It is a status symbol. It is an extension of oneself. It is the source of good skin. It can hold 2.2 litres of water and keep it cool for 11 hours. It can be personalised, stylised and bastardised. It is Gen Z’s version of

Gins in tins – the Yummy Mummy’s ruin

I’m writing this in my car, laptop on knees and a delicious can of Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla gin and tonic in the drinks holder, while my sons are at cricket practice. It’s an inclement evening, but were it a sunny summer’s day, the Yummy Mummies would be sprawled around the boundary in their Veja

My garden decor advice for Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has three lifesize, carved wooden elephants in his garden, given to him by his wife for his 60th birthday. But here’s a warning for them both, for when they return from Sardinia to join their elephants again: garden sculptures are horribly addictive. Once you have one, you want more – and most of

How to bet like a politician

If you’re going to fleece a bookies, it would be wise to ask a friend to place the bet on your behalf, or do it with cash down the local Coral. Craig Williams didn’t. The Gambling Commission is investigating the Prime Minister’s parliamentary private secretary after he placed a bet on the date of the

Madrí wouldn’t fool a true Spaniard

Four years ago, Madrí didn’t exist. Today, the faux Spanish lager is sold in a quarter of British pubs, which makes it one of the fastest-growing beers of all time. ‘Madrí’ is the historic name for Madrid, which is peculiar for a beer brewed in Tadcaster – or Tada as the Anglo-Saxon mead-drinkers called it.

What war graves teach us about peace

Hugh Jones was 29 when he was killed in action. On Wednesday, the eve of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, his grave at Bayeux – and those of 22,000 Commonwealth war dead in cemeteries across Normandy – was illuminated in a vigil to these silent witnesses to the pity of war. All Commonwealth war cemeteries

The unbeatable glory of a doner kebab

Ionce shared a bed with a doner kebab. I’d hungrily joined a 3 a.m. queue for much needed post-pub sustenance, only to pass out as soon as I sat down on my bed to eat it. It was a vinegary and leathery bedfellow to wake up to, but I’ve felt ever since that spending a

All boys should own a Swiss Army knife

Last week, Carl Elsener of Victorinox, makers of the Swiss Army knife (all other manufacturers must refer to their products as ‘Swiss-style knives’), announced that the company is working to develop a knife without any blades in anticipation of modern legislation and safety-conscious consumers. A cutting-edge Swiss Army knife will no longer have a cutting

Tom Cruise and the art of falconry

Last week, the Hollywood team making the latest Mission Impossible film was desperate to clear Trafalgar Square of its superabundant pigeons for a scene involving its star, Tom Cruise. But it was not an ultrasonic laser in Ethan Hunt’s high-tech kitbag that did the trick. What you apparently need to rid central London of its

In praise of the 1/3 pint

The worst thing that happened to me over the pandemic was I got ‘really into beer’. I was already into it in the most straightforward way: I liked drinking it and I liked getting drunk. I liked the ceremony of it: walking into the pub, ideally at noon on a balmy Saturday, inhaling that rich

Men, step away from the trainers

What is it with men and trainers? Or rather, men of a certain age and trainers. I’m still trying to banish the horror-show image of Rishi Sunak wearing Adidas Sambas in No. 10 in an interview to promote his tax policies. Has western civilisation really come to this? Are we destined to succumb to rubber-soled

Kippers could save your life

I miss kippers. My wife won’t let me eat them at home, and they have become a rarity in restaurants. I stayed in a luxury hotel last month, and the manager was telling me that if I wanted anything – valet parking, room service, breakfast after 10.30 a.m. – I had only to ask. When

City folk go wild for wild garlic

For a certain type of Barbour-clad middle-aged man, the best time of year is late summer, and the arrival of the grouse season. But if you’re in your twenties and living in Hackney, you’re more likely to get excited for spring and the arrival of wild garlic. Foraging has become a fashionable activity for twentysomethings.

Why I’ll never own a pair of jeans

North Korea has a problem with Alan Titchmarsh’s crotch. Last week a 2010 episode of Garden Secrets was aired on state television, but the network blurred Titchmarsh from the waist down. The offence was his gardening trousers – a pair of jeans. For the Workers’ Party of Korea, jeans represent an ‘invasion of capitalistic lifestyles’.

Easter, my grandmother and the trouble with caraway seeds

Which items of food from your childhood did your parents force you to eat which now, blessed with the gift of choice, you wouldn’t touch with a proverbial bargepole? Pig trotters, cow heels and various items of offal, such as hearts, brains and ‘lights’, may spring to mind. Brussels sprouts, of course, and possibly dubious

The trouble with apple cider vinegar

The snake oil salesman is back in town with an old favourite: apple cider vinegar – or ACV as it’s called by those in the know. The ‘wonder-juice’ has been around for centuries, peddled by Greeks and Romans alike. In recent years, it has become something of a panacea, a social media ‘superfood’. But just

How the shamrock became the symbol of St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick’s Day is coming up and you know what that means… a Shamrock Shake at Starbucks, featuring those well-known Irish ingredients vanilla, mint and green tea. And then there’s the Paddy’s Day merch: shamrocks again. If the Princess of Wales as Colonel of the Irish guards turns up to celebrate the day, she’ll be

The thrill of busking

They are, to quote Mark Knopfler, down in the tunnel trying to make it pay. Transport for London has this week been holding auditions for buskers, assessing the performers for licences that allow access to pitches on the Tube and, for the first time, the Elizabeth line. It’s a bureaucratic approach to a traditionally informal