Arabella Byrne

Have you had the school gate VAT chat?

Another day closer to the general election and I’m at my daughter’s prep school in Oxfordshire. As has come to be the norm, I’m having a ‘VAT chat’ with a fellow mother. Of course, we’ve known about Labour’s plan for months. It will lead to a likely 20 per cent rise in private-school fees. Recently,

The desperate world of babytech

In the penumbra cast by the light of my phone, I can dimly see the wreckage of a night with a newborn baby: half-drunk bottles of milk, the tangled cord of the monitor, muslins strewn across the bed. It is 3 a.m. and the baby has gone back to sleep. I, however, am wide awake. Or rather, the consumer in me is wide

Why Mummy smokes

It’s 7.02 p.m. and I’m standing outside my house by the bins smoking a fag. Upstairs, I can hear that my six-year-old is awake but I’m choosing to ignore her. How repellent, I hear you murmur. And it is repellent, in many ways. I am a smoker and a mother, hardly the Madonna and child.

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,

The strange feminism of Ivana Trump

For a woman whose life was all about ascent, there is a cruel irony to the fact that Ivana Trump was found dead at the age of 73 at the bottom of the stairs of her Upper East Side apartment last Thursday. Born in 1949 in Communist Czechoslovakia, the girl whose father was an electrical

What Wimbledon gets wrong about tennis fans

Brace yourself for the unmistakable sound of a tennis ball thwacking away in the background of your living room for two weeks – Wimbledon is finally upon us. As skilled as the players on the court are, it’s the delightful spectacle of my family’s amateur commentary that I enjoy the most. ‘Who on earth is

Nothing beats a vélo in the Vaucluse

Michelet may have called Northern France ‘la vraie France’ and the wild and rocky outpost of Provence the ‘rude pays’, but for me, France is in Provence, in the dusty and strange contours of its angular landscape, in the rhythms of the day dictated by the heat. This is a feeling as much as a

Americans are as class-obsessed as the British

The ‘American Downton’ has just hit our screens in the form of The Gilded Age on HBO, a busty, curtain-heavy romp through the moneyed boudoirs of late nineteenth-century New York starring Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski. Written by Julian Fellowes, the man who has done more PR for the upper classes than the Windsors could ever dream

The fatal flaw of Keeping up with the Aristocrats

‘An aristocracy in a republic is like a chicken whose head has been cut off; it may run about in a lively way, but in fact it is dead’. So said Nancy Mitford as far back as 1955 in her Enquiry into the Identifiable Characteristics of the English Aristocracy. More than half a century later,

The rise of dream therapy

‘The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.’ So said Freud in 1899 as the world was about to tip over into the dream obsessed twentieth century and its many decades of tortured introspection. For years, Freud has been roundly discredited. But it seems that,

The rise of Emma Raducanu

British teenager Emma Raducanu’s straight set victory (6-1, 6-2) at the US Open last night was exciting. Exciting for all the reasons we love to watch tennis; the thrill of the underdog triumph, the inevitable comparisons with other, prodigal, teenage stars like Becker, and of course, the very fact of her Britishness. In this, our

Something borrowed: the rise of the pool renter

Here’s a question for you: if you were lucky enough to own a swimming pool or a tennis court – or indeed both – would you want to rent it out per hour to the hoi polloi, the great unwashed, the General Public? Although I am not in the happy position of being able to

It’s time we stopped treating dogs like gods

News that the gourmet dog food company Butternut Box has raised forty million pounds to expand its services in the wake of the pandemic puppy boom will surprise no one. More dogs means more chum, after all. But this isn’t just any old chum. This is gourmet dog food, the like of which you may

Why the British love charity shops

In Mary McCarthy’s 1954 novel The Group, Mr Andrews describes the contents of a charity shop (or thrift store if you hail from the States) as an ‘instructive inventory of the passé’. And indeed, all charity shops are repositories of the recent past – a perfect distillation of expended trends and fashions. Worthy of an

‘Gumtree for the posh’: why Sloanes have embraced Radio H-P

In 1983 Cambridge academic W.G. Runciman, reviewing Peter York and Ann Barr’s The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, described the work as an ‘anthropological survey’ in the mould of such distinguished scholars as Malinowski and Veblen. Veblen’s late-nineteenth century The Theory of the Leisure Class was, Runciman explains, an ‘earnest social-Darwinian exercise in the analysis and

In praise of Prince George’s suit

To some, the sight of Prince George wearing a suit and tie at Wembley on Sunday night was simply too much. The Mum mob on Twitter roared ‘Who dresses a child like that?’ presumably hoping that the future King would be wearing a football shirt and shorts like the rest of the child population lined

How Macron was outfoxed by a dead Napoleonic general

Skeletons don’t always lurk in cupboards, some of them hide under dance floors waiting for a particularly rousing party to dislodge them. Such is the story of one of Napoleon’s favourite generals, César Charles Étienne Gudin de La Sablonnière, whose missing remains were discovered under a dance floor in Smolensk in 2019, over 200 years

Why a dog is a politician’s best friend

Is there a better way to boost a politician’s fortunes than a puppy? Everyone knows that dogs buy a certain degree of political capital. Boris knew this when he acquired not simply a puppy, but a rescue cross from across the Union in Wales. Joe Biden was well aware of their political potency when he brought dogs back

The sport of the Royal Box

Yes, we tune in for the tennis on Wimbledon fortnight. But lovers of SW19 also tune in for another kind of spectating on any given day: the sport of the Royal Box. A championship of notoriety and celebrity in its own right. Raised feudally above the Centre Court, the Royal Box has seventy-four Lloyd Loom

The rise of the retronym

‘Should I pay in actual money, in-person, in the shop itself?’ I asked my husband incredulously the other day. Yes, he replied, sounding rather bored. Prior to the pandemic such an exchange would not have taken place. I would have simply gone to the shop with no thought of government restrictions to my personal liberties,