The Spike

Clothes, recipes, kids, interiors, London…


May 2018

Alternative hats

I have had a few questions on email about what to do if you have a large head or just basically hate wearing a hat, but need a hat – (I am sorry not to reply personally) – but you could do worse than a raffia sun visor – something like this.

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This one is a little less scarily cheap.

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I like this one from H&M:

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Or look you can get your initial on this one, if you’re feeling a bit Instagrammy.

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You need a black tank dress

I know I keep on going on about this, but if you are going on a hot holiday this summer with any children under, say, 10 – you need a black tank dress.

(If you are one of those women who believes the world will implode if you wear a dress without sleeves, then I’m sorry and I will attempt cool-dresses-with-sleeves suggestions soon. )

I don’t mean wear a black tank dress all the time. Not as your best, best, best dress that you will scrabble to wear on the first night when you realise that you have accidentally booked yourself into somewhere really chic.

This will be your saviour dress. The one you roll up in your bag and change into at the airport after you land and realise that you have accidentally flown to a country where it is 38C at all times.

It will be the one you wear to the pool or the beach and it doesn’t matter if it gets covered in ice-cream and snot and suncream and god knows what else.

It will be the one that you will wear – along with a pair of stout tan sandals, new sunglasses and a sunhat – (I really feel like we’re all getting the hang of hats this year) – to the pharmacy in town when the toddler gets a mysterious bite/rash.

It will be the one at the end of the bed that you can pull on when the doorbell unexpectedly goes or you have to quickly rush outside with the kids because there is one of those fire-engine seaplanes zooming overhead, heading out to sea to scoop up loads of seawater.

It will be the one you look at at the end of the holiday and think to yourself “Why didn’t I bring two?”

Don’t forget your accessories!

Search and search for a good, light panama-style hat that suits you that you can fold or roll up and pack (you will never make it from the UK to your holiday destination with all your bags and the buggy and the hat). Most hats, even if not strictly packable can be sorted out after a rough ride in luggage with a sprinkle of water an a cool iron.

Wear your tank if you must with a long necklace or a collection of necklaces once there are no small children to yank on them and a smart pair of sandals when flip-flops are no longer required.

Here’s one from Toast

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This chick has most DEF forgotten to accessorise

And from good old Hush 

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This might not work on everyone but I like the idea of black broderie anglais – from Next 

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Size up on this for that “all you can eat” feeling… from Gap

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And H&M one – of course it does.

This one (size up for comfort):

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A quick note, unrelated to black dresses: approach the vast number of “shirred” bandeau dresses around at the moment with caution as “shirred” is basically “smocking” and on the over-10s it can look terrible. The models wearing them look terrific because they are all very skinny and flat-chested – anyone over a B cup might want to take a view. I’m not saying no, I’m just saying, you know, not definitely yes.

Another note: I am coming across a lot of people singing the praises of these plain bandeau tops from Topshop – yes of course, not to be worn by anyone with a massive bust, but I am a good 34C or something and I can wear one.

NOT ON ITS OWN OBVIOUSLY but under a sheer shirt or a ratty band t-shirt that I have cut the sleeves off. I don’t know what it is about holidays, but they make me really really not want to wear a bra.

Bear in mind that the model in that linked pic is 5’9″ so the top looks like a belt on her – in fact the tops are quite long. I have one in white and when I wear it with a pair of high-waisted culottes the two edges of material meet perfectly neatly.

T-shirts AGAIN

Thank you so much for such rich enthusiasm in The T-shirts! An updated link to the shirts is HERE.

We only printed 15 to start with – (I had no idea if they would be popular and didn’t want to underwrite a whole load of stock) – but now we are go there shouldn’t be a problem getting hold of them.

Kate makes to order, so just put in a request and you should have it within 4-5 days!

I hear all of you about colour and v-neck options – we are working on it! I will update you asap.





The t-shirts are go! Made by kindred spirit Kate, of Cornwall-based Syrup and Salt. You can get yours here.

My prototype was a size S, and it is really quite S, so Kate made the first batch made up in M and L. Because even if you can easily fit into an S, it’s a bit cooler and more modern to wear your t-shirt loose.

But, one of the reasons I chose Kate to make the shirts is that she can make these to order with a quick turnaround, so if you want an S one, just ask.


They are a snip at £20. They are a lovely t-shirt, pre-washed with a cute, discreet “the spike” logo in navy flock. FLOCK, GUYS, FLOCK!! LIKE THE WALLPAPER. It’s very touchable.

The t-shirt is a perfect weight with plenty of stretch and give. It falls nicely. I love mine. Buy yours here!


Kate uses no plastic in her packaging and your t-shirt will come wrapped in brown paper and sealed with recycled tape. I know these things are important to you.

Those of you not on Instagram will not know that I have hired a web designer to turn The Spike from blog into more of a website.

This only means good things for you: it will be easier to navigate, I will import the best recipes from Recipe Rifle on here, there will be a books section and some kind of bit where you can ask fellow Spikers questions and we can all reply.

We have, I’m sure you will admit, become a sort of community, a hive mind (without the sting in the tail of, say, Mumsnet) so I hope this will be useful.

My web designer, Cat, is a marvel. She came highly recommended and she is brilliant and making me do all sort of work on this that I have been too lazy to do before but should have done.

And as you know, good things don’t come cheap; my initial plan was to make the t-shirts a sort of not-for-profit thing but in fact that’s kind of babyish of me.

The t-shirts are a little bit more expensive than they absolutely have to be, but all my share of the profits will go to paying for the new website. I will have to sell 300 t-shirts to break even, so this is definitely not a money-spinner – but every little helps.

And also, I think I personally would rather pay a bit more for a t-shirt to financially support and feel genuinely invested in a blog I quite liked, rather than pay less just to have a t-shirt with the name of a blog I quite liked on. I hope that you feel the same way.

My dream of course is for two people to see the other wearing one of these t-shirts and strike up an instant best friendship. It could happen!



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.


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.



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.


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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