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The Spike

Clothes, recipes, kids, interiors, London…

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December 2016

The Spike’s Christmas appeal

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This year’s Christmas charity appeal comes via Clarissa Ward, CNN’s senior international correspondent.

Here she is giving evidence to the UN.

Clarissa recommends a charity called INARA; they are primarily a children’s medical charity – they are small but that means that when you donate, you know that your money is going straight to care, not on publicity, overheads, fund-raising, leafleting… you know the sort of thing I mean.

“It’s not Aleppo-specific per se,” adds Clarissa, “but you really know where your money goes.”

Donate here.

Thank you.

 

SJP

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I have got such a massive crush on all the costumes in Divorce at the moment. It’s all modern Seventies, close-patterned floaty dresses, boots and long coats.

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I never wear anything approaching to that style of dress, yet I covet it madly. I think it’s because there is no need for smart daywear in my life and perhaps at times I wish there were.

But that does mean that I don’t have any smart daywear, which is problematic the three times per year when I need it.

I was alerted to a red Gucci-esque skirt on Twitter that was from M&S, so, home alone as I was as Giles is in Lapland (don’t ASK), I hopped on the M&S website and found, verily, many things that might pass for SJP-esque Divorce-wear. And I bought the lot! Serves Giles right for going away. DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!?! (I am not drunk.)

Of course the truth is that the costume designer of Divorce did not buy all SJPs costumes from one shop, not even from Marni or Prada (let alone from Marks and Sparks) she got them all from vintage dress shops and had them fitted to Sarah Jessica. Ergo most of the things I have bought from M&S will have to be returned – but a girl’s got to have her fun somehow.

Just by the by, I saw an episode of Divorce last week where SJP does a sort of Carrie-esque turn and smile in the street having seen a hot man. My little heart skipped a beat.

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Paisley print dress

 

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Sorry, such a lazy screen grab from me – red floral midi skirt 
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Printed dress 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb stew for the grieving

It wasn’t a nice weekend, just now.

Adrian died and also another friend, Tessa.

Tessa was a little older than Adrian, she has grown-up children. I am so sad not to see them both again. I am so sad for their families.

When you are not family and not very very close friends, but still friends, it’s hard to know what to do when someone dies.

You do not want to inundate the family with sentimental tosh; they are close to tears at all times, just barely holding it together, you don’t want to Greek chorus them into the third sob of the day.  Neither do you want to put them in a position where they have to bloody comfort you. And you do not want to nag them to give you a role, to give you a task so you can “help”. That’s just annoying.

The kicker, post-mortem, is always the stupendous amount of administration left to the bereaved. The decisions! This form and that form, registering the death. Funeral? Where? Close family and then a memorial later, or what? What on the gravestone? Made of? Positioned…? And then there’s all the clothes, the stuff, the things, just the admin. You do not, as a friend, want to be the extra admin.

My husband is often critical of my occasionally stone-cold front. I don’t really cry much. He values crying quite highly. And shouting. Crying and shouting = emotion.

Do you know what I think equals emotion? Cooking. Putting down what I am doing and getting my damn apron on is how I show I care.

And I think the most useful thing you can do for a grieving family is take them stacks of food. One person in the house will not be hungry or feel like cooking – but others will. And takeaways are only interesting for so long.

This has the added bonus of making you, the satellite griever, feel useful – and the act of cooking will take your mind off the whole thing.

This is a very simple, seasonally-appropriate and highly delicious lamb stew, which I have been making for my family and others. I recommend it to you.

Lamb stew

for 4 people

3 x lamb neck fillets, diced (try not to think too hard about it. I’ve really gone off meat recently)

2 medium carrots

2 sticks celery (not essential)

3 big handfuls of barley

1.5 pints stock – from a cube or whatever

1 glass leftover red wine (if you have it)

salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 150C

1 Brown the meat in a casserole, which has a lid, in peanut oil or goose fat – not olive oil please. Just turn it all over until brown, then remove to a plate or a dish.

2 Chop up your veg and then cook in the casserole dish on a medium heat for about three minutes, turning so it doesn’t catch. Turn all this out onto a dish with the lamb

3 Pour the red wine into the casserole and cook it over a high heat, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan until it has reduced and thickened. If you haven’t got wine, a glug of water from the kettle will do – you just want to get all the brown sticky stuff off the bottom of the casserole.

4 Now put the lamb and veg back into the dish, pour over the stock, a large pinch of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder. Sprinkle over the barley.

5 Cook on the hob until the whole thing starts to simmer and then put in the oven for about 1.5hrs. Check half way through cooking that it doesn’t need a top-up of stock. Barley grains aren’t half thirsty little bastards.

Portion off into those foil takeaway containers (you can get them on Ocado), seal well (do not overfill) and write on top what it is. Put in a bag for delivery and try not to burst into tears, even though you said you’re not a crier.

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Tessa

Dobble

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Ought to be about £10, available all over the place

 

I am always astonished at what parents find to be the most tedious games to play with their children. I know a woman who finds playing cards with her kids so dull she sneaks off for a line of cocaine, actual cocaine, during sessions. Other parents say that they would rather play “shops” or “at the doctors” or “monster chase” for hours rather than, e.g., Snakes and Ladders.

Me? I love playing cards and board games. But finding one that all my children can understand and that doesn’t descend into a full-on fist fight after three minutes is tricky.

But behold: Dobble! Many of you will know about Dobble already – it’s kind of like snap and it’s easy but also a bit tricky and even Little Sam, who has no patience for this sort of caper, can understand it and enjoys playing it and screaming DOBBLE!!!

A terrific stocking-filler.

Adrian

I had a dream about Adrian last night.

He was sitting at a large, square low table on a small chair – the sort you get in nurseries, there were lots of tables pushed together and he was surrounded by small children sitting on little chairs, too.

It was a busy scene, there were adults standing about, people moving around. The tables were covered with paper – everyone was drawing a huge picture of the sea. Adrian was painting waves, using white paint, with his finger.

“Look,” he said to a small child next to him. “See how I drag my finger with the paint like this, and then you smudge it like that, and it really looks like a wave.”

Then he sat back and clasped his hands in front of him – such a typical gesture, so Adrian – and looked down at the child next to him with kindness and amusement.

Bloody wrapping

Every year I think I am going to be so amazing at wrapping presents with, like, themed paper and contrasting ribbon. And yet every year it is an utter bad-backed scramble, completely random wrapping paper, some left over from last year, bulging corners, lumpy ends.

Too late for me this year. I had a spare hour just now and so I’ve wrapped pretty much everything – but it’s possibly not too late for you? Or it’s not too late for me next year to get a grip. My mistake was not having a good old perve over Pinterest before I started.

It’s the story of my life, really. I’m constantly all up in my head with ambitious ideas about how I’m going to do this and that, and then the reality falls so incredibly far short of expectation, (like a cartoon character attempting a leap across a canyon and peddling wildly in mid-air before falling…. *paff* into the valley below), that my usual berserk high self-esteem takes a tiny prang.

Anyway, here from me to you (and also from me to myself in one year hence) are my favourite wrapping themes off Pinterest:

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Not so much feeling the copper ribbon, (makes it look like a gift from a posh chocolate company: not what I’m after), but I love the mini-star dark blue wrapping paper – still available at Cox&Cox.

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Dark blue wrapping paper – just generally classy? Kids would hate this though – WHERE’S THE NAFFING GLITTER IS THIS CHRISTMAS OR WAHT????

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I don’t expect you or myself or anyone to attach actual baubles to a present, but I like this idea of gold, brown and white. That way to don’t have to commit to any one type of wrapping paper.

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This is all brown kraft paper, with all different kinds of red ribbon going round. Clever, as the brown paper is practical and inexpensive (and can be reused as fire lighter) and you can go crazy with all different sorts of ribbon. God damn it.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to have a cry while picking sellotape out of my hair.

 

Keep Cup

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About £10

May I please encourage you for 2017 to consider getting yourself a reusable coffee cup? Many of you probably already have one, but for those who don’t, or who have one but never remember to use it, shall we all, like, get together and have a go at using one next year?

I, like many, was appalled by news this year that takeaway coffee cups can’t be recycled and I am more acutely conscious each day of the importance of not contributing to landfill.

So I went in search of a good reusable coffee cup. I didn’t want anything heavy or massive – I don’t especially need my coffee to be kept the temperature of molten lava for 2 hours. I also wanted to buy at least two, so that one could be on the draining board and one could be left on the hall table to remind me to tuck it into my handbag in the morning – fully prepared for any coffee opportunity that presented itself as I went about my day.

And I came across this Keep Cup. I got the 6oz cup, which holds a restrained amount of flat white (about 150ml). I love the fact that it is so little and light and that its lid is not silicon, therefore doesn’t soak up every slightly yucky taste and smell going. It does make it a little bit more of a bugger to get the lid off, but this is a small price to pay for saving the planet.

I love the fact that my plan of buying two worked out and I now never leave the house in the morning without one somewhere about me. It feels efficient and streamlined and good.

You might need something with more of a thermal capacity, or one that holds more liquid or something. The details are not important, what’s important is that we all do this. Let’s make it as normal as taking your own bags to the supermarket.

Don’t worry, I won’t be on about MoonCups next. Or will I…?

 

Dear Husband…

… or boyfriend, or “partner” or wevs.

Your wife wants a good present this year and so far you’ve given her rubbish, which is why she has emailed and Tweeted me in her thousands, begging me to write to you and give you some direction.

She doesn’t want to tell you how shite you are at “gifting”, she doesn’t have the heart. But I don’t have a heart, at all – famously, ask anyone. My husband.

And I am here to tell you that a sodding Dyson handheld, a set of knives or a charging case for her iPhone doesn’t constitute a good gift.

SO THANK GOD FOR ME, YES? Just think of me as your guardian gift angel.

And also just by the by, thank god that I am not actually friends with your wife. I am the most nightmarish friend-of-wife. Husbands quail when they see me, with my arms folded and my laser eyes boring into them, going “I see you, fuckhead…”

So give thanks I’m not literally in your life and humbly read these words.

1: Charlotte Olympia Kitty shoes  £££

I don’t know why these are popular, they are just mad. But I want some, so I can only conclude others want a pair, too. Just think of them as that impulsive third child/third ear piercing/tattoo that your wife wants, and just be grateful that she hasn’t gone fully Mrs Bercow. Yet.

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2: Anina Vogel necklace £££

Anina Vogel is niche and prohibitively expensive, therefore just cool. The fact that everything she makes is fall-to-your-knees-gorgeous is by the by.

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4 Astley Clarke Evil eye tiny earring £

If your life is perfect, you need an evil eye about your person somewhere to ward off bad spirits, which seek to undermine your happiness. This is quite a confident gift to give – it says “I know I’ve made you so happy, baby” but if you reckon you can pull it off, do it.

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5 Charlotte Tilbury WonderGlow £

Your wife will like this, it will make her skin all pretty.

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6 Wyse cashmere sweater ££

And this is cuddly and soft, from a cult cashmere house, meaning not every other bronde on the school run will have one, naming no names Bella Freud.

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7 Canada Goose parka £££

This is a tiny bit of an edgy gift – it veers into man-gift (i.e. too practical) territory. Look out for signs that she wants one/is constantly cold/admires someone else’s. Its extortionate price tag means that most people do want one. It’s the Birkin bag of parkas -when you’ve got one everyone else has to COWER BEFORE THE GOOOOOOOOOOSE.

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8 Eve Lom Kiss Mix £

Best lip salve ever, but this is definitely an add-on gift. If I see this as anyone’s “main” present I will hunt you down, Mr Husband Sir, and run you over.

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9 Bodas pyjamas £

These pyjamas are slightly impractical with their tie rather than elasticated waist, but they are soft as satin and walk a very straight and perfect line between dowdy and mimsy.

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10 YSL bag ££££

Errrrrmaaghaaad. Just… want… this… so… bad…lyyyy

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11 Dinny Hall earrings ££

Everyone needs a very good, solid, quality pair of gold hoops. What we usually have is a clattery collection of old shit from Accessorize. The problem is that a good solid pair of gold hoops is something we’d never buy for ourselves because we, I don’t know, can’t be bothered? It’s the kind of thing that a stylish godmother would get for you but we mostly all do not have godmothers, stylish or not.

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12 Scarf  ££

Black and white gingham just like this is going to be ultra-fashionable in about three months’ time and everything by Isabel Marant is cool. Note: do not get an Alexander McQueen skull scarf. They are over. I mean, fine to wear around and about if you’ve already got one, but you do not want to be buying one now.

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N.B. Obviously please do not be a total penis about this: if she openly states how much she hates pyjamas, don’t get her the pyjamas or doesn’t have pierced ears don’t get her the earrings. I can’t believe I have to say that but I know how dim some of you are. And also fuck’s sake keep the receipt because if she doesn’t like it, you can blame it squarely on me and then she won’t feel guilty taking it back.

Ready, steady… CHRISTMAS!

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Don’t think I don’t I see you, there.

I see you!

I see you all stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. So now Rejoice! Because the game really is afoot and today after those long lustful days since Bonfire Night, you now have my permission to go completely WILD with yuletide insanity. Because it is now actually actual Christmastime. It is advent. It is December.

Up go the advent calendars and the wreaths, down goes the faux ivy garland, on goes the Christmas sweater, round and round go the fairy lights…

You can eat mince pies without thinking “hang on, it’s November, this is a bit fucked up”, earnestly discuss wrapping schemes with a fellow aesthetic maniac on WhatsApp, do all your shopping, adjust your 23rd December 11am Ocado order nine times in one day, write out elaborate menu plans in the manner of the Duchess of Downton Abbey and put Now That’s What I Call Christmas on repeat.

As previously discussed, without my husband here most of the time, (he is abroad, working), there is no-one to cast a disapproving eye over some of the madder purchases that flow through my front door. And I have gone really quite insane with my Christmas decorations this year. There is a new pot pourri wreath, two new sets of coloured fairy lights – I am really feeling coloured fairy lights this year – a light-up little wooden church, candy canes and whatever exciting shit I can lay my hands on at the Alexandra Palace Garden centre tomorrow morning.

Is it just me? Is it just me feeling like this Christmas the is year is going to be (has got to be) the best Christmas ever?

I am doubly excited about my pan-European, cross-faith “Christmakkuh” celebration I am having at my house in a few weeks’ time. Our usual massive Christmas party is cancelled this year because a) Sam doesn’t like it and b) Giles is away so much it’s a bit tricky.

So instead my friend Simon who is Jewish is bringing dreidels and chocolate money for the kids and also my friend Max who is Catholic is coming with his wife and their new baby. Also Dr Chris off Operation Ouch and his wife – faiths unspecified.  Dr Xand is joining us from New York over Skype. We are going to have doughnut eating competitions and play with the dreidels to the sound of Now That’s What I Call Christmas, while Kitty and Sam sulk with their iPads upstairs because they get freaked out when people off the telly arrive at our house (get used to it, kids).

It’s going to be so Christmassy!!!!! I might start mulling the wine now.

Happy advent, tout le monde! And God bless us, every one.

 

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