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The Spike

Clothes, recipes, kids, interiors, London…

Month

May 2018

Please don’t make me go camping

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But my kids want to go camping! So I turned for advice to my friend and fellow Spiker Cindy V – who is verily the soi distant deputy editor, spirit, raison d’être and pain au chocolat of what I’m trying to do here.

Because Cindy goes camping. WITH HER CHILDREN! FOR FUN! Jesus.

I asked her to explain herself.

CINDY SAYS:

I was at a wedding recently with a group of friends and we were arranging the next get together, when someone mentioned the c-word.

“Camping?! But how do you bath the children? No. No. NO.”

We all stood there in our nice new dresses, talking about how camping requires you to tip everything that makes life smooth, and clean, and bearable, out of the (plastic zippy) window, and I could see her calculating the ratio of fun to hard work involved and deciding to cut her losses and make some new friends instead.

I don’t blame her. I hate the whole idea of camping too. I hate the cramped quarters, the shared facilities, the constant fight against the cold, the creeping dirt and discomfort, the way my hair looks like it’s been blow-dried in an oven by the end – not to mention the spiders so wicked looking you should probably drop a house on them before they send their flying monkeys after you.

Then the packing, oh god, the PACKING, of absolutely everything and yet, nothing really, when you actually get there and look at it all.

And then when you get there, is it all worthwhile? Well no, because you’ve got nowhere to sleep until you’ve built it, have you?

Your kids cry with hunger while your husband drives circuit after circuit of the field in search of the perfect pitch, finally depositing you next to Bongs, Bongos, and Bunting, with their suspicious-smelling campfire, and you want to cry as well. And sometimes do.

Anyway, I’m going again next week, for half term, like I do every year.

In fact I am the one who insists on it. Yes, even after that time a deflated airbed triggered a migraine SO hellish that my husband had to drive me around Lyme Regis like a newborn baby in order to get me to sleep. It’s hard to explain why I go.

All I can say is it makes me think of this homework my son had once, that asked him to make a list of good and bad reasons for having a cup made out of chocolate. He came up with a ton of reasons for it being a grand idea, and only one against.

When he finished it he said he thought it didn’t really matter how many reasons you could think of, because one reason might just be more important than the rest.

That’s how it is for me with camping. I can come up with a list as long as my arm, and yours too, as to why it’s a terrible idea, but in the end, there is one compelling reason for going and it’s this: time spent with your children on a campsite is the slowest moving time there is, in the best way.

There’s time for long walks milking the hedgerows for berries, for conversations about butterflies, and The Beano, and all the things you can’t fit in on the school run, when time shrinks and pinches and you have to say to them “later, later, later”.

There’s time for barbecues and marshmallows and silliness, and still time, after all that, for you to sit and look at the stars, and think you realise why Van Gogh painted them the way he did, all big and swirly – when you go camping you can really see them.

CINDY’S LISTS FOR CAMPING “SUCCESS”:

Essentials

1. Torches and led lanterns – head-torches are fun and useful for kids
2. Pegs
3. Something to put shoes in so they don’t take over your life
4. First Aid kit – take Piriton! There will be stings and unexplained rashes.
5. Tin foil and bin bags. Don’t cook your jacket potato in the wrong one.

Tips

1. Self-inflating mats are better than airbeds. They take less space in the car, and less time to put up. Better still is booking a hotel.

2. Take more warm clothes than you think you might need. It’s hard to get warm again once you’ve got cold, even using a small child as a hot water bottle.

3. Remember to take proper pillows

4. Some sort of mat at the door to stop the outside coming too far in.

5. Box of Lego and colouring books for children. It will rain.

I have heard people suggest cat litter and a bucket is useful at night if you’re a long way from the toilet block and have young children. I’ll leave that up to your discretion. Camping is awful isn’t it?

Cindy likes Deepdale Backpackers and Camping for “independent shops, a cafe and bike hire etc nearby” and High Sand Creek for “minimum facilities, maximum stars”.

 

I am hugely grateful to Cindy for sharing this with us.

 

Sasha Samuel

I quite often get emails from people asking me what they want.

“It’s my birthday next month,” a reader will say “what do I want?”

Occasionally it’s a man. “It’s my wife’s birthday next month,” he will say, “what does she want?”

Well to save you all the RSI from the typing, I’m going to tell you right now that what you want, going forwards, for any major celebration in your life, is something from the New York jewellery designer Sasha Samuel.

Sasha got in touch with me last year because she had read my blog and thought it was funny. That was all. There was no deal, no please-mention-me (she doesn’t need the PR frankly) nothing. Just, hi. You’re fun.

As it happens her jewellery is beautiful, properly outstanding, special and gorgeous. SJP wore one of her headbands in an episode of SATC, and the lockets are constantly being swung around on Girls. I won’t lie, I wanted in. But I don’t like to drop hints of that sort, I’d rather go for a million years without a freebie than ever suggest one.

But, like I said, I wanted in. So on a Christmas post last year (“Ding Dong”) I mentioned at the end how good her stuff was and then 6 months later…  FUCK … SHE SENT ME SOME and, you know, there’s nothing quite like getting your hands on the merch to understand, to have your suspicions massively reinforced, how good something is.

This is really seriously delicious. I haven’t been so excited since Tilly Sveaas.

This is NOT “fun” jewellery to buy for yourself because you’re pissed and bored, it all averages around the £200 mark – so this is a celebratory thing… (except the cowrie shell necklaces below… those you can just get).

When it comes down to it, these are a thing you buy so that when you flash it about at the school gates and people go “Oh my GUARD where is that from?” you can  say “It’s a birthday present. It’s from New York DON’T TOUCH IT.

The best thing about it – aside from the quality, the design, the beauty and the general air of excitement at something being from America is that the catches are so fine that you can make the necklace any length you like as the tooth of the catch will fit through the little rings of the chain; you’re not at the mercy of designer-placed jump rings and you can wear any of the necklaces dangling near your belly button or right up near your chin if you like.

She also takes custom orders – send her a little email and I bet you anything she can make you a copycat SATC “Carrie” necklace, you just see if she can’t…

Enough from me; lucky for you, Sasha has a store on Etsy, so you can avoid the hassle and scary shipping fees incurred on ShopBop.

Here are a few of my favourite things:

Vintage-inspired round locket:

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Starburst pendant:

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Vintage-inspired locket with 8 crystal stars:

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Cowrie shell necklaces are about to be HUGE here – get ahead of the curve and get yours now:

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“You look amazing. I missed you.”

I MEAN … it’s not like I want to BE HER, I’m not a PSY-CHO. Because what could be worse than being a royal? Except for being a jobbing actress in Hollywood, aged 30-someting, amirite?

I just… we just… want a part of it, that’s all. We want Prince Harry – anyone! – to look at us that way. WE WANTED TO BE AT THE PARTY. Not have the door slammed in our faces.

I had so much love to give.

God I can’t talk about it anymore or I will have to start drinking – I have already spent £500 online at John Lewis this morning as a sort of cry for help.

Anyway in my head I am not here, working, diary open, booking babysitters and taxis and frowning at reams of unpaid copy-editing I have agreed to do out of the kindness of my heart, (I think she would do the same), I am embarking on a cultural tour of Florence and am wearing an appropriate outfit for this.

I don’t know why a “cultural tour of Florence”; I am a drooling philistine and Harry and Meghan are going to Namibia on their honeymoon and I’ve been there and the only clothes you can wear there are desert-ready and I’ve done the desert already once this year and I’m actually kind of feeling like Europe now.

Clothing credits:

Panama hat – this one I’m wearing is from Ecuador but I really like the look of this one from Mint Velvet:

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If you want to invest in a serious panama hat,  try this one from Net:

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Here’s my blouse:

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It also comes in blue:

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Nice generous fit on these blouses, so take your usual size or size down.

Those brocade slides in action:

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I cracked and bought a straw bag!!!! At least it’s not round:

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Alas the trousers I am wearing are last season Masscob. They have updated versions here, and here, which are dreamy but might not be for everyone, not least because they are over £200.

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The Spike has been reading…

Circe by Madeleine Miller – the story behind the goddess of Greek myth. It starts a little slowly and weirdly but if you press on you are rewarded with a gripping and emotionally complex story.

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In one of the brief periods when I was awake and genuinely engaged with my English Literature degree, I remember reading someone declaring that Milton was “audacious” to attempt to conjure up  the voices of angels and the voice of God in Paradise Lost, but that he ultimately pulled it off and you can’t imagine angels or the voice of God sounding any other way.

Circe performs the same trick – how would the voice of Helios sound? What would Dedalus be like? In quiet moments, how would Odysseus talk? Having read this and also her previous modern masterpiece, The Song of Achilles, I feel very much the same way. It’s an absurd, daring undertaking – but it works.

You don’t need any previous knowledge of the story to appreciate this book – my knowledge is pretty good but I constantly forget who turned whom into a swan or WTF exactly was Kronos, what is the difference between an Olympian and a Titan etc, and I had Wikipedia on hand as a sort of explicatory text.

 

Compton Marbling

When I walked out of my job as a features writer at the Independent in 2007 – or was it 8? – I was unemployed and had no work and no prospects for months and months. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in that situation, but it was quite frightening.

I made a lot of half-hearted notes to contact people, the names of commissioning editors jotted down on scraps of paper, names that if they replied at all, usually said “no thanks” to my ideas. ONE woman I remember, just wrote back “no thanks” – that’s IT – on her email. I can’t quite remember who it was now. If I could remember I would say because I’m still quite cross about it, as you might be able to tell.

Anyway one of these names was “Hannah Shuckburgh” – the newly-arrived commissioning editor at Easy Living  (also, like the Independent, closed… are you detecting a theme?). I knew that it was a good plan to get in touch with people who have just arrived at a magazine within the first 6 weeks as they are panicking and need ideas.

And so I emailed Hannah and not only did she write back, she said “I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you.” And then she commissioned me – to write a piece about how I was scared of having kids (I was only 27). She was the first person who made me think that I was a good writer and I did some of my best work for her.

Anyway Hannah left Easy Living years ago, had some kids, and has now reappeared at the helm of a company that specialises in marbled products – and in particular they have some beautiful and suspiciously affordable lamps and lamp shades.

I do love that Pooky look, I really do, but they are bloody everywhere and if you are looking for something a bit different, try one of Hannah’s.

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Two summer sandals

One of the reasons why I’m always banging on about buying the most plain, everyday “capsule” things is because I have in the past made slightly wacky purchases and then regretted it at my leisure.

I bought the pink, not the navy; the leopard print and not the black; the fluffy one, not the plain one. And then found the thing awful and unusable.

And I need some new slides, (p.s. aren’t “sliders” a tiny burger?), by which I mean backless summer sandals that you just shove your feet into, which are not flip flops or Birkenstocks.

I have twisted myself into many knots about this. Which ones, which ones?? Which ones would Alison Leohnis, CEO of Yoox/Net a Porter, choose? Fret, fret. Which ones will I see very stylish people wearing at daytime summer events and be wildly jealous of?

Past performance has suggested that I will, on the basis of probability choose the wrong ones and beat myself up for the rest of the summer. In previous years I have managed to buy sandals that either won’t stay on my feet or rip my toes to shreds.

But I do think, my beloveds, that I have nailed it this year. And it’s thanks to Accessorize, who have a superb range of sandals this season.

I was so excited by them that I bought two. And I finally gave up on two pairs of unwearable sandals that have been sitting on my shelves for three years.

Anyway here are my new Accessorize sandals in all their glory and NO REGRETS. They are NOT toe-shredding, they are glinty and cute in the sunshine and they stay on your feet as much as slides ever do.

These first ones, the Cleopatra,  £29, in particular are very comfy.

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And these Star Stud Sandal, £25, are a more wearable version of an Alice Temperley gladiator sandal around last year.

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Of course, to be completely and totally fashionable and up-to-date of course, you want a pair of these from Dune. But not only do these look to me a tiny bit like something someone else would wear, sometimes I wonder if maybe being completely and totally fashionable and up-to-date isn’t just a tiny bit naff.

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In other high street news, I am THRILLED that my Missoni ripoff H&M hairband is unexpectedly BACK IN STOCK!! as I lost mine in Kenya. Absolutely everyone mistakes this for Missoni, people don’t believe you when you say it’s H&M… it’s very handy for holidays or weekends or just any time really. I am buying 3.

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Wedding guest 2018

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Christy Dawn Paloma dress

My dad was for a long time a management consultant, because that’s what non-specifically “clever” people do when they suddenly discover there is an unexpected child on the way and they need to make some money.

Management consultancy is where all business-speak started. All, like, “let’s touch base” and “run it up the flag pole” – that started with them. Because they needed to invent a language that only they understood between them, so that clients thought they were smarter than they actually were.

They talk in this gobbledegook and their clients would think they were very modern and advanced… but in fact it was for another reason. It was to befuddle them.

“It was so,” my Dad has said guilelessly “they didn’t think they could manage without us. When they could! But we didn’t want them to know that.”

Then my Dad probably picked up his dinner plate and licked it all around, declaring: “Your mother hates it when I do this.”

(Dad’s book about Karl Marx is available here, by the way. Very reasonably priced. I could even get you a signed copy if you want.)

Anyway a genuinely useful business phrase I picked up from my Dad’s time was “opportunity cost”, which means all the alternatives you sacrifice when you pick one option.

So I want you to think about that for a bit and I also want you to think about the banking term of “optioning”. I’m actually not totally sure what this means but I think it means you like buy the option to buy something. Or some shit like that.

It’s like when you have a baby privately you have to pay a (whopping) fee for the anaesthetist even if you don’t intend to have an epidural because you might want one and how can you possibly know now? And anaesthetists are damned expensive so you have to pay for the option to have one.

And this idea of “opportunity cost” and “optioning” can be applied to what the fuck you are going to wear to any weddings you have to go to. Or frankly any event in the summer.

Dressing for events in the English summertime is a nightmare and it is a nightmare because we don’t know what the weather is going to be like. It might truly be 32C and sweltering. It also might be 17C and VERY WINDY. It might just rain and rain and rain. Who knows!?! Truly, truly – there is no telling.

So before we even vaguely discuss specifics of what kind of dress or general outfit, attitude or ambience you are going to adopt for your events this summer, I present to you A THING to get your head round.

What you are going to do – if you even need to buy a new outfit, that is – is to buy yourself OPTIONS. I know, it is a radical idea.

In approximately the fortnight before the event, you will assemble three different outfits to suit three different weathers and on the day choose whichever is appropriate.

You will then assiduously send back any item of clothing you don’t wear, (this is your opportunity cost), and any non-refundable delivery charges incurred will be the cost of your “option”.

Me? I don’t get invited to summer parties, and if I did, I would stubbornly wear the Christy Dawn Paloma dress – above – which I have just bought and think might be the answer to all my problems. (I often think this).

In order to avoid taxes and freight charge I am having this shipped to Becky B who is STILL in fucking LA, and sending her a box stuffed full of Curly Wurlys, Chomps and Fudges in return for her posting it on to me. Sort of like a bartering system. Not sure what Marx would make of it… but, like, who cares.

Holiday shop 2018

Once upon a time I barely packed any clothes to go on holiday because I didn’t have any clothes. I was not brought up in a family that went on a lot of glamorous hot holidays, so I didn’t know what you were supposed to wear. On our holidays to Wales we wore what we normally wore, occasionally with a pac-a-mac over the top.

Then I went on a few holidays with my husband and his super duper glamorous friends who had wives with powerful jobs and the most amazing wardrobes. They brought suitcase upon suitcase of clothes with them and changed about three times a day.

We once stayed in a villa in Greece with such people and I had one dress with me – a white cotton thing from H&M and one morning the villa’s cook, (I told you he had glamorous friends), showed up wearing the same dress. She looked better in it.

Anyway hot on the heels of that came Instagram and the faint feeling that I ought to be dressing for best at all times – which led me swiftly to the Overpacking years.

I would pack all these absurd outfits and then get to my holiday and look at my children, who would be fighting over who got to keep the woodlouse they’d found on the verandah as a pet, and think: “Who the fuck am I kidding?”

Most of the clothes would return to England, unworn.

And now here we are. I know, now, that I will never be one of those Instagram people who poses for a photo in 34C heat wearing a broderie anglais romper and a straw bag with my hair ruffed over my face just so.

And anyway holidays are supposed to be a holiday, hello? They’re supposed to be a break from fretting about what to wear. When we go on our hot holiday this summer I will relish taking only what I can fit in my pockets.

So, in this punchy frame of mind, I’m here to tell you that you probably have everything you need for your summer holiday already.

Some sort of swimsuit, some sort of sleeveless thing to wear to the pool. 1 black dress for the evening, flip flops. Suncream. Done, babes. Don’t sweat it, no-one is watching. At least they shouldn’t be. Bye. Have fun.

…..

BUT if you are in the mood to do a bit of updating – if the elastic has gone in your bathers and you just can’t face that dress for one more summer, here is my guide to what you might consider getting.

First – practicalities.

If you can get your hands on some, get this. A sheer, lightweight, non-sticky swipe-on SPF70 sunscreen stick from Neutrogena, (I found some on Amazon), which makes getting some SPF on small children about 40% less traumatic for everyone. Probably not for all-over body but very good for neurotically topping-up back of neck and also for the face if they object to cream-on-face. (I mean, who doesn’t?)

(UPDATE: following this post a few people have pointed out that this isn’t approved by the USA and contains some weird chemical, so if you are bothered by things like that, approach with caution.)

If it’s really hot, your attitude to your hair changes dramatically.

You won’t be arsed to do it, ever, and it will be covered in sweat and suncream and crap and sort of damp all the time anyway so you will need a lot of colourful stretchy headbands. Unfortunately the high street are only doing those ghastly ones with a knot at the front, but look I found these on Amazon, which look sort of jolly and gap year:

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I am tempted by this Missoni one:

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But frankly a multipack will do:

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I have forgotten my super-absorbent hair-drying turban my last three holidays in a row and literally gone AUGH at the airport every time and smacked my palm on my forehead. I have missed it sorely on each holiday. Get one!

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If you are going somewhere with sticky sand, take some talcum powder – it gets sand off feet like a magic trick.

Mrs White’s Unstung Hero is a natural mosquito repellant which, if applied assiduously, really does work.

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Clothes and swimsuits:

My quite bold and possibly controversial view is that kaftans are over – and are starting to look quite ageing. I am aware that for some people in certain life stages kaftans are not optional, in which case don’t let me tell you what to do. If kaftans ARE optional don’t buy one now.

Instead, I think sarongs are about to come back. I’ve seen a lot of one-piece-and-sarong combinations recently that look rather terrific.

I, personally, plan to wear my red and white keffiyeh that my Dad brought me back from Saudi in 1984 in a kind of Do Do Bar Or pisstake.

You will probably have an old sarong knocking about in the back of a cupboard – drag it out! Or, Monsoon are doing a terrific line in sarongs at the moment (did they ever stop?).

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Kimonos also look very modern and beautiful, but you have to make sure they are made of a soft, washable cotton and not something that stains easily or of some sort of hateful viscose that will be like nails on a chalkboard sliding over sun-hot skin.

I have yet to find a kimono made of such practical material –  this might be one, from Anthropologie, but it’s very hard to say, having not seen it in person.

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If you want to do a printed trouser, that’s fine – but for modernity, make sure it’s wide-leg.

Swimsuits.

I am not going to go into too much detail about swimsuits because they are so personal, it’s a bit like talking about bras, there’s sort of no point because everyone is so completely different.

BUT, what I will say is that all the smart ladies this year will be wearing one-pieces in sludgy or unexpected colours, like burgundy or teal. OR in crazy stripes. Also look for scallop detailing – very now.

Something like this from Arket:

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Or from Other Stories:

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Here’s one with some scalloping:

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And here’s another one from Mango, not in stock yet, which I think is going to be very popular this summer. I can’t see the point in a one-shoulder swimsuit myself, but this IS very smart, and worn with the navy sarong from Monsoon (above) I think you would cut quite a dash, if that’s something you’re into.

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And stripes here from Hush:

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(Personally I wear mini-micro slag bandeau bikinis from Mara Hoffman or Heidi Klein, but that’s no use to anyone.)

It is very hard to get yourself in the “hot” mindset when you are packing in England, but when you are really hot to want to wear NOTHING, certainly nothing even vaguely, remotely tight. If it’s got sleeves, they need to be mega wafty, like on this really dreamy dress from Maison Maillot

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I had a feel of this in store yesterday and the fabric was really beautiful, very light and soft. Generally H&M are having a pretty knockout SS18:

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Ugh, bugger… sorry about crap screenshot.

I am heartened to see a lot of tank maxi dresses around like this one

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or this one from Stories:

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Or this from Hush:

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For breakfast in the village on my holiday I will be wearing my Rouje Gloria skirt with a printed t-shirt like this

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with the sleeves cut off, some round sunglasses and a battered old leather bag from Marks and Spencer.

Une cafe creme and give it wings, garçon.

Then you need 1 black dress for the evening and possibly 1 smart day dress, just in case you meet the British Ambassador to Portugal playing frisbee on the beach and he invites you to the High Commission for tea. It’s not impossible!

I’m sure you’ve got one somewhere, but if not there are smart day dresses a go-go on the High Street right now – I’m suddenly really in love with this one from Anthropologie, but I may possibly just have been looking at too many dresses now and have gone fully mad.

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You’re now going to ask me to do a stay cation round-up but I’m afraid that just consists of telling you to get a raincoat from Rains or Stutterheim. Maybe this hat.

 

Manebi

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These arrived today as the clear winners of the nude-platform-espadille hunt; they are the absolute A1 boss of smart summer espadrilles, gorgeous, really comfortable, ankle-slimming; worth every one of the £105 they cost. I am so, so happy!

Yes obviously not for all day, every day due to super-soft blush suede upper – only for smart lunches and parties, but utterly dreamy and perfect for it.

 

 

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