The Spike

Clothes, recipes, kids, interiors, London…


June 2017

Next week on The Spike…

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Gratuitous Tom Hardy pic. He’s got nothing to do with this 

An email I quite regularly receive from readers is about capsule wardrobes. Although they don’t call it that, they usually just go WHAT THE FCUKK AM I SUPPOSED TO WEAR?!?!?!!? in the subject line and then say something like “I wan this emerald green jumpsuit and patent leather boots but I dhitnk I won’t wear them?!?!! Esther HELOP!”

They invariably reveal that they have two children under 5 and have slightly lost their way when it comes to getting dressed. The emails most often come in at around 9.20pm.

I am sympathetic. The armfuls of inappropriate shite that I bought when I was pregnant or my kids were really small, (because they’re still little), beggars belief.

I skipped over that stage where you get yourself white t-shirts and comfy jeans and smart/casual shoes and went straight to Chelsea slapper via crazed Instagram fashion person – and never had anything to wear.

But then I really thought hard about it and packed loads of shit away and started all over again. No pattern, not much colour. Simple things. Just normal stuff I could put on and feel okay about.

That, I suppose, it what a capsule wardrobe is. There are many shops who will try to sell you a capsule wardrobe – “Buy better, buy less [but first buy this, yeah]?” – but I look at these Seven Easy Pieces or whatever and think “That is too floaty, that looks dry clean only to me, that hem will get caught in the car door. Next!”

I have written before about essential wardrobe pieces – sorry, “pieces” – but I think I may have kind of thrown the subject away. So ALL next week, I am devoting The Spike and my Instagram (@esthermcoren) to the subject of the capsule wardrobe.

Not that I don’t love receiving those emails! Keep them coming. I also kind of get a thrill out of the idea of creating this, like, army of Spike clones.


When you get to a certain age and level of fed-upness and general exhaustion and rage – not to mention just being sick of the sight of your damned face – make-up can seem like very much of a muchness.

Whatever, you think cynically, it’s all the same, who cares! Now that the only thing that makes you look really good – sleep – is in short supply, make-up is a mere elastoplast on a broken leg.

So just pass me that ancient panstick from 10 years ago and the one eye pencil I have that is actually sharpened (because I cannot be bothered to find the eye pencil sharpener), who cares if it is electric blue? Who’s going to see me? WHO CARES??

So in this way I have been bumbling along using the same old make-up for years. Same stubby Mac eyeliner. Same Guerlain Terracotta compact. Same, same, same.

But then! bareMinerals came into my life.

I have always slightly dismissed bareMinerals as some sort of stinky hippy brand, trying to curry favour with hysterical West London ladies with its mineral-y credentials.

But then I came across some actual real-life bareMinerals products and they are amazing.

The no.1 thing that I have been using is their Matte Liquid Lipcolour in Cult – literally every single day. But not on my lips!!! Don’t laugh but I mistook it for concealer, because it’s the colour of concealer and it’s an amazing concealer!

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Imagine how great, then, must an actual concealer from bareMinerals be?! Their BareSkin Complete Coverage Serum Concealer is £22 and gets rave reviews on the John Lewis website and we JLP customers are some fussy bitches – amirite?

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I have also been tucking into their bronzer, called Invisible Bronze.

I love this. Love, love, love it. I thought I would never deviate from my Guerlain bronzer but this is superb. Just the right  amount of sparkle (too little glimmer in a bronzer and you look dirty, too much and you look … dirty). You can also choose how much to huff on – a light sprinkling or full-on Texas hooker. I’ve got this in Dark and haven’t looked back.

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This is all coming from someone who does not “contour” by the way, or highlight their cheekbones.

I have also been using the Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream £27. Light coverage, a mild blurring effect and an SPF30.

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If you, like me until recently, hadn’t got around to getting yourself some proper make-up brushes, just wiping everything on with Weetabix-smeared fingers, you could do worse than get this blusher brush for starters for £20. Nice firm, dense bristles and a good shape.

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Standard Deviation

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Amazing fact! Heiny’s husband used to be in MI6

If the novel Standard Deviation is not already on your to-read list, please put it on there! I read it a few weeks ago and it was magnificent, good-natured, easy to read.

I am very lucky that the author Katherine Heiney, agreed to take some questions from me. Here they are, with her answers.

1 Can you tell us more about yourself? (If you don’t mind). Where do you live (approximately), married? Kids?

I live just outside Washington DC with my husband and two sons and three dogs.  If you count human years, dog years, and reverse dog years, I live with five teenage boys.  And yes, that’s a lot of teenagers but I like it.  Someone is saying “That’s what she said,” pretty much ​all the time

2 Where did the idea for Standard Deviation come from? It seems to be such a venn diagram of ideas – the origami, the infidelity, the marriage, the Aspergers… you’ve crammed about six different books into one! Did it start out that way?

A​ long time ago—seriously, like twenty years ago—a friend of mine went to a wedding where she knew nothing about the bride other than the fact that bride gets very wet during sex.  Much later, I began writing about that wedding, or how I imagined that wedding​, and I developed a character who has no filter, who would not only know such a detail but have no problem revealing it. And then I wondered what it would be like to be married to such a person.  The rest of the novel grew from that idea. My older son was going through a period of intense infatuation with origami, so a lot of that found its way into the book.

3 I talk to writers often about “The Wall” – i.e. the seemingly unshiftable blockage that occurs about 1/2 way, 3/4 of the way through a novel – or really any creative project. Did you experience that? how did you break through it? Do you write on, just blamming words down on the page hoping to write your way through the chaos, or leave it and come back to it – Feng Shui it? Crystals?

We just had our garage converted into an apartment and the contractor told me that about half-way through, he lost faith in the project but he just kept going and it all worked out. I got super excited and told him writing was the same way and described what happened to me in the middle of writing anything.

I’m sure he was like, Um, great, I‘m going to have lunch now.  But I was really interested that he used the phrase “lost faith” because I think having faith is the only way to move past The Wall.  You have to believe you’ll find a way to make it all come together. It’s not necessarily faith in your own ability, more like faith in something presenting itself—something you’ll be able to use.

4 When you’re not writing, what do you like to read? 

When I’m writing, I can only read familiar, beloved books — I need the comfort of old friends.  So when I’m not writing, I try to read current books, things that will make me feel excited and inspired and jealous. Every time I get caught up in a book, I feel this intense moment of gratitude to the​author:  thank you making me feel this way again.  I’m always afraid that someday books will lose their power over me and then where will I be?

5 How much of a praise junkie are you? Does it really spur you on? Or is it nice to have but not necessary?  

I think all writers write for two reasons 1) it makes them unhappy not to write, and 2) love from strangers. But it’s not necessary by any means — at the end of the day, writing is just you sitting at your desk.  You have to blo​ck​ out everything else.

6 What is a recent clothing item purchase that you are very excited about wearing?  

I bought a black jumpsuit from the thrift store and I just love it.  Also I recently did a reading where the stage was three feet high with no stairs or railing and the first five minutes of the event was me struggling to climb up there.  I was glad it was a jumpsuit and not a skirt.

7 What are you having for dinner tonight?  

I’m addicted to the baked sweet omelet from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything.  If I don’t have it for breakfast, then I definitely have it for dinner.

8 Complete this sentence: Tomorrow, I am most looking forward to… Rollerblading. Writing.  Drinks with my husband.  Gossip.  Teen Mom.  A Krispy Kreme donut.  ​You know, t​he finer things in life.

Black flat sandals

I’ve come to one of those sickening conclusions that I have got the wrong sandals for this year. I’m bothered by such trifles. I know! Go ahead and pity me, I don’t care.

But the fact is that my sandals this year are navy blue Birkenstocks or tan and gold Ancient Greeks. I love them both, don’t get me wrong, but in order to be absolutely and totally up to date, which you know I care passionately about, I ought to be tripping about in a pair of studded black numbers. I have re-named them “City Sandals”, quite sturdy jobs, that cover a reasonable amount of foot, with war-like embellishments. But still sandals.

This is particularly on my mind because when in town last week I saw this really beautiful girl wearing a pair of black studded sandals, shorts and a blue pie-crust collar from Cos (I know it was from Cos because she walked past Cos while I was stalking observing her and the shirt she was wearing was inside. On sale! But only size 400 left.)

Too late for me! Too late, too late, in so many ways. I think my shorts days may be coming to an end and I cannot justify buying a new pair of sandals now… but, there is still hope for you. I know it is raining and you are not thinking about sandals right now, but you ought to be taking this Warren Buffet-like opportunity and running with it as it means that while everyone else is buying umbrellas, you can clean up on these.

I have found a really ace collection of black flat chunky sandals at John Lewis – some are reduced. Pick whichever pair you like best and get them.

I will be just over there in that corner having a small cry.

Somerset by Temperley, £64

These are my pick for fabulousness and also for most money off – if I had a spare £64 knocking about I’d get these.

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Dune, £60. I mean, phwoar…

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Dune, £50


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Jigsaw, £90

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We need to talk about your eyebrows

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About £20

I used to occasionally read in magazines about products for “unruly” eyebrows.

“Who”, I thought, “has these ‘unruly’ eyebrows?” My eyebrows were not unruly. They were basically the opposite, they lay flat and were quiet and did their homework and did not whine for snacks.

Occasionally I plucked them a bit if I was home alone and didn’t have anything better to do.

But recently they have become unruly! They refuse to be ruled! The individual hairs leap and plunge from their designated pathway and I guess it might be my imagination, (or just an habituation to the current fashion for very dark eyebrows), but they seem to be getting paler with age. Or perhaps I’m spending more time in the sun.

Whatever the reason, my eyebrows need attention. And if mine do, yours do. I don’t mean colour them in with a crayola, you do not have to channel Frida Kahlo (unless you want to).

I had a couple of photoshoots where the otherwise sane-looking and genial make-up girl went at my eyebrows like they were an insult and the results were horrendous. There is no anger like the anger you feel towards someone who has made you look ugly and stupid shortly before you have to have your picture taken for a national newspaper. This is why I don’t do photoshoots anymore!

Where was I?

You do not have to make them very dark, just perhaps a shade darker. Before you get a special actual eyebrow product try with any brown eye pencil you have lying about and shade your eyebrows in a bit to see if it makes your whole face look any better. It might. It really really might!

Then buy this, from Blinc – it’s absolutely tremendous – a very subtle colour and also broadly holds any crazy Dad-brows in place – it is also, like all Blinc products, sweat-and-smudge proof.

Mine is Light Brunette – I can find a range of colours on the Feel Unique – none of them is Light Brunette but I wager Light Blonde would work fine on me, too.

Edamame bean salad


This doesn’t *sound* like it is going to amount to much, but it is totally delicious. Where is the umami in this edamame, you will think – well, it’s there, somehow.

You will need:

2 large handfuls of frozen edamame beans per person

1 bunch parsley

1 bunch mint

lemon juice

vinegar – any sort

some dried chilli flakes

olive oil

salt and pepper

a spring onion OR any old onion

1 small clove of garlic


1 In the bowl that you ultimately want to serve your beans in, blobble about 2 glugs of olive oil per serving.

2 Then finely chop in the parsley and mint and spring onion (if using). If you’re using onion, grate on the smallest grating setting a splodge of onion juice – about 1/2 a teaspoon.

3 If you’d like some garlic, again grate a tiny amount in, merely three or four strands. Too much garlic kills a thing stone dead, I find – and you only need a hint for something to benefit from it.

4 now add the juice of half a lemon and a tablespoon of whatever vinegar you’ve got

5 boil and drain the beans then add to the dressing and toss while still warm. Add salt and pepper and sprinkle over some chilli flakes.

You can have this alongside fish or fried halloumi, or sprinkle over some feta. Or, to be honest, it’s pretty nice on its own.

Sale advice

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I mean, who the hell am I to give advice about the sales, really? Nine times out of ten I go to the sales and then buy something not in the sale as I can’t bear that hellish sorting-though of shite trying to find something not weird that is your size.

But, if you have waited for the sales to buy a few things to modernise your summer wardrobe a bit, which is what I did, (and which is basically only sensible) – here is what I bought.

This looks minging on the model, but actually very nice on. I’m sure you’ve got peasant blouses aplenty, but this is a fresh take on it – more very specifically Bulgarian peasant blouse. Note the lack of neon. Neon is massively over.

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Zara embroidered blouse, £29.99 was 39.99. I got mine in an M. I am 5’6″ and a size 10/12.

If you haven’t got any blue stripe, check or gingham yet, the sale is a good place to find it. I got this from Next, (not in the sale, natch), for £24. It is very J Crew and nicer than it looks in the photo. It is also very long and flowy so you can easily tie the tails together if you don’t want to tuck it in but don’t want it hanging out quite so much. I got this in a size 10.

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Sleeveless gingham tiered shirt 

There is absolutely masses of gingham/check about, just pick something you like and don’t feel drawn into buying a giant gingham check skirt.

Also don’t worry if you don’t suit bardot tops or cold-shoulder tops (I certainly don’t) – dodge them and go for something you do like.

Ditto those deconstructed shirts, all cut-out and hanging off in places… the clock is really ticking on how much longer you can wear those for. If you don’t yet have an oversized, mannish pale blue or blue striped shirt, get one of those as that will last.

A thing which will update pretty much any outfit you have right now is a pair of giant, colourful earrings. Wear them with a white t-shirt, a jazzy skirt and your best sandals.

These from H&M (not on sale, but so cheap they might as well be) are good because they are quite an unusual colour, sort of mustardy. Unfortunately I can’t find them online but this is the kind of thing I mean.


Yellow tassel earrings, £8.99.

Mind out, just by the way, if you’re looking at earrings with fabric tassels on them – a lot of the ones I saw in the shops were sort of bent out of shape and if you order these online and arrive all bent and wonky you’re a bit stuffed, I guess you could have a crack at ironing them, but, I dunno… best get ones made of chain or heavier cord.

And these are the best things I’ve ever seen, pretty  much – bright pink flowers from J Crew, down to £33 from £48.

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If I could justify a pair of new sandals, which I can’t, and I was looking to clean up in the sales I would get some black, chunky sandals like these:

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Frustratingly, I can’t find a good pair on sale to show you – and so many sizes online are out of stock (another reason online sales buying can be dodgy) – but if you grace the sales with your actual person, these are a very now thing to look out for to update your wardrobe generally.

Finally, remember the golden questions you must ask yourself before every sale purchase.

1 Do I have something exactly or almost exactly like this at home?

2 Would any of my stylish friends wear this?

3 Can I think of at least 2 other items in my wardrobe this goes with?

4 Does it have anything in common with other items of clothing I own and like but mysteriously never wear?

Happy shopping or, if you just can’t face it, not. More sale finds and fun as I find them.

Granny trollies

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Do you dare?

I posted on Instagram a few days ago a picture of Soraya Khashoggi wheeling along one of those granny shopper trolleys covered in a cute pattern (it was dogs in all different colours). I said “Is it wrong to want one of these?” (If you missed it, hop over to my Instagram – @esthermcoren)

The response was huge! 44 comments I got! And counting! Everyone said “No, I want one, too” or “No, if you find a good one tell me.”

Ever since my kids were too old to go in a buggy I’ve been toying with the idea of getting one of these – as once you’re rid of the buggy you realised how insanely useful it is for piling all sorts of shit in. I was one of those mums at the playground whose buggy keeled over backwards when the kid got out.

My mum always had a granny trolley, well before she was an actual granny. It was a giant wicker thing with rumbly wheels and she wheeled it down to the shops when she wanted to walk rather than get in the car. Along with our hideous car and house covered in cat hair and her habit of skip-diving, it was the most embarrassing thing that she did.

Does it put me off? Hell no! Because whereas my mum would have just shrugged her shoulders and thought “Give a shit whether you’re embarrassed or not” I reckon there might be a way to make it “work”.

I’m torn – between getting one so insane and hideous while wearing it with reasonable clothes, so that it is so clearly ironic it raises my outfit to untold stratospheres of coolness. (See above.)

On the other hand, I could get this Smart Cart, which is an insulated box on wheels, in which you can fit the contents of a small flat, but which will elevate no outfit, or look cool even if Kate Moss was wheeling it to a party at John McEnroe’s house, while chatting to Huey from Fun Lovin Criminals (before he got fat).

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Oprah Winfrey – YES THAT OPRAH WINFREY – favours a brand called Rolser, and her favourite is this one. But Oprah Winfrey is the richest woman in the entire world and the things that would make me look like a dickhead of the first order on Oprah are simply charming eccentricities.

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I also find something extremely comforting and literal about this one, also from Rolsen, via Amazon:

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But listen if we all do this together, we can make it happen. Someone needs to send Rosie Huntingdon Whitely one. And Cara Delevigne. Joss Stone probably already has one.

Next stop: bumbags.

Why I’m not painting my toenails anymore

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These are not my feet 

It started at the end of the last hot spell we had (not as hot as this one). I took all the nail varnish on my toes off. And I just didn’t put it back on. And I think I’m probably not going to for the rest of the summer.

I don’t mean I’m going for Hobbit feet. I don’t mean that I’m just going to let my toenails grow yellow and curly, see how groady the rough bits of my feet can get, I just mean I’m not painting my toenails any more. Not sure how long for – maybe the rest of this summer, maybe the rest of my life?

I’ve always loved painting my toenails. Before I watched telly while messing about on my laptop, I watched telly while painting my toenails. The ritual of it… it would take ages. The soaking, the dabbing, the massage, the filing, the bottom coat – really letting it dry – and then the shiny laquer. The new toes, the new feet. The feeling that if your toes were twinkly, neat and lovely then life must be under control.

But now having to paint my toenails has become something else – a tedious chore for me or an hour sitting about while someone else does it when I could be doing other things.

I don’t want gel because that stuff is freaking monstrous – you basically have to hack your toes off to remove it – and a normal pedicure is just another ticking cosmetic time bomb, like fake tan (can I push it for another day??)

There’s something else going on, too. When I was about 27 I decided for a while to stop wearing eye make-up because I realised that I hadn’t actually seen myself without my eyeliner and mascara on for about 10 years. I had grown to assume without questioning it that I was a hideous monster without my eyes done and that felt wrong and frightening. Was it possible to feel pretty without effectively drawing a face on?

It was time to get to know my own face again. So I went without eye liner or mascara for a few weeks – I did the rest of my face as normal, just no eye make-up. And it was incredibly freeing. And, yes, I felt pretty enough.

And I think recently the same is true of my feet. I’m not kidding myself that I have these beautiful feet but I have not let them see the light of day without nail varnish for years. And in fact, if you look after your feet properly – they actually look rather sweet and appealing unpainted.

But you do have to look after them. That means a light brush with a foot file once a day – not too hard because that encourages cracks – and keeping nails neat and tidy.

I also use Vaseline intensive care hand and nail cream on my feet at night – it absorbs in really well so that you don’t have infuriatingly slimy feet all night. I find that most for-feet creams are hellishly thick and horrible, as if your feet were some kind of vile medical anomaly for which only goose fat will do as an emollient.

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Sally Hansen’s cuticle oil stops emergent Hobbit feet.

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If I’m actually invited to a very smart party I will concede to paint my toenails with clear varnish, but that will be it.

The revolution starts here ladies.

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