Flora Watkins

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

What do we mean when we talk of ‘home’?

Given that I know the author, would I feel inhibited about reviewing her new book critically, I asked myself. But other than meeting her once at a party for two minutes, I realised that I know Clover Stroud only through her raw, ravishing memoirs and – like the rest of her 37,000 Instagram followers –

Inside the chaotic Household Cavalry stables

Churchill had his black dog tailing him around. I used to have black horses galloping through my head. They careered around out of control, rendering me so anxious that I couldn’t sleep the night before I was due to heave myself into the saddle as a civilian support rider for the Household Cavalry. So the

The Xi files: how China spies

38 min listen

This week: The Xi files: China’s global spy network. A Tory parliamentary aide and an academic were arrested this week for allegedly passing ‘prejudicial information’ to China. In his cover piece Nigel Inkster, MI6’s former director of operations and intelligence, explains the nature of this global spy network: hacking, bribery, manhunts for targets and more.

How the Jilly Cooper Book Club turned toxic

The Jilly Cooper Book Club was set up about a decade ago by two friends who’d had enough of book groups where someone would insist, ‘We really must do Dostoevsky this year.’ Members of the JCBC, in a co-founder’s words, just wanted to get together to ‘drink champagne and shriek about Jilly’. ‘Book clubs are

Give me back my codeine

It’s a long time since I took a powerful drug that wasn’t dispensed by a pharmacist. Last winter, during what has become the annual post-Christmas Covid collapse, I searched in vain for the codeine cough linctus I’d been prescribed when the virus first struck four years ago.  Why must we suffer because a few scrotes

Private school isn’t worth it

In the end, it was the sports kit that persuaded us to pull the plug: two technical training tops at a cost of £90. A directive had come down from the senior school that all pupils must be in new gear from Kukri (official supplier to county cricket clubs and Commonwealth Games England) by the

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